Hill relives his `shock' sacking

Motor racing
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The Independent Online
It was not just Michael Schumacher's helicopter that hovered over Formula One's controversy here yesterday. The spectre of the double world champion had much to do with the sacking of Damon Hill, claimed Heinz-Harald Frentzen, the man about to replace him.

Hill and his successor in the Williams-Renault team went public after a week in which the Englishman's six-year association with the team was terminated and the German was confirmed as the next partner for Jacques Villeneuve.

Hill talked of his "shock" at Frank Williams' decision, especially after being commended by the team's boss and their technical director, Patrick Head, for his "astonishing" performances. Hill declined to reveal the reason Williams gave for the dismissal, but maintained it had nothing to do with money.

An hour earlier, Frentzen had revealed his understanding of the thinking behind his appointment by Formula One's top team. Spookily, Schumacher's helicopter was coming into land as his compatriot and former Mercedes team-mate said: "I think Frank Williams signed me because he wants me to beat Michael next year. I think I can beat Michael, otherwise I would not be the right man for the job." The inference there is that Williams believes Hill is not capable of beating Schumacher in what is expected to be a significantly improved Ferrari next season.

Hill later alluded to the influence of engine deals within the sport, and there is a theory that Frentzen's arrival at Williams on a two-year contract points to BMW partnering Williams when Renault quit Formula One at the end of next season. But that has been discounted by a source within the sport.

Hill, who heads the championship by 13 points with three races remaining, starting with Sunday's Italian Grand Prix here, patently feels the decision is no reflection on his ability. "I feel I've been to Mars and back for the last 10 days. It was a shock but I've had worse shocks in life and Formula One. I'll get over it and continue to press on and get results," Hill said.

"I turned myself around in the winter and made myself a leading driver, if I wasn't before, and in my view the reward should be to continue to drive the best equipment. I thought the ace up my sleeve was leading the championship. You could say that's naive, but I've used that method to get into Formula One and through this year.

"I'm not here to sell myself, but I consider the input I have given to the team has played a significant part in their development, and I consider myself to be one of the best in the business at providing a car competitive in all situations."

Hill has been linked with McLaren-Mercedes, Jordan-Peugeot and Stewart- Ford, and said he would "not disregard driving for Ferrari should that improbable prospect materialise". Of one thing he was certain: he would not yield the championship to Villeneuve. "I've been through quite a lot of pressure situations and tend to thrive on it. I'm not a quitter, I want to win."

Frentzen confirmed he had maintained contact with Williams since he turned down the opportunity to join Hill after the death of Ayrton Senna two years ago. He said developments had been swift since the Belgian Grand Prix a fortnight ago. The 29-year-old, presently with Sauber Ford, said: "I was not sure I would get the opportunity, but now I am happy I waited. "

Schumacher said: "I'm very happy for Heinz-Harald. Now he has the chance to show what he can do. We've had good close racing together before and hope we can do so again."

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