I heard it was very quiet in the grandstands after I beat Schumacher's time, but it wasn't quiet in my cockpit

DAMON HILL
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Last week, before the German Grand Prix, I had dinner with Gerhard Berger. We had a good chat about many things and Gerhard mentioned that he was a bit down because things had not been going so well for him and he didn't hold out much hope of winning a race this season.

I remembered this conversation while we were fighting for the lead last Sunday, and I knew that there was no way Berger was about to give up this opportunity to win.

It was a tremendous battle which ended when Berger's engine failed with three laps to go, leaving me clear to score my seventh win of the season. I was giving it everything, but will never know whether I would have been able to pass the Benetton.

Regardless, I must compliment the teamwork within Rothmans-Williams-Renault which enabled me to be in such a challenging position after making another poor start.

There's no way I would call my start an impressive one, but it was still better than Silverstone! At the start in Silverstone, too much wheelspin resulted in losing valuable places. At Hockenheim, I hardly had any wheelspin and the revs dropped too low, resulting in too little acceleration.

There's a very fine line between a perfect start and a poor start. I have to work hard with my engineers to give me what I need to make a perfect start every time. I do not want to waste a pole position advantage with a bad start.

The annoying thing was I wasted a pole position from one of the most exciting qualifying sessions I can remember. I had been furious with myself for throwing away a really good lap by making a slight error in the final section of my third qualifying run. I was telling myself everything would be OK if I just completed a nice neat lap. I did exactly that and I could see from the read-out on the dashboard that it was a good lap time. I knew I had beaten Michael Schumacher's time. I was ecstatic and I punched the air with delight. I heard it was very quiet in the grandstands after that, but I can tell you it wasn't quiet in the cockpit.

There was a fair amount of talking going on between myself and my team on the pit wall in the early stages of the race as I held third place behind the Benettons, and we worked out a strategy which would allow me to attack in the final stages. I planned to stop twice (Berger, as it turned out, would stop just once) and our plans would have been perfect had things gone a little better in the middle phase of the race.

I had the misfortune to catch a back-marker just as we reached one of the chicanes at a time when yellow warning flags were showing. It is forbidden to pass under the yellows and the back-marker was painfully slow as he made his way through the chicane. That alone cost me about three seconds.

When you consider that I later came out from my pit-stop two seconds behind Berger, it is easy to see how much small setbacks during a race can make all the difference between winning and losing. In the meantime, I was now embroiled in a tremendous scrap for the lead.

I had the thought in the back of my mind that I had to finish, but I certainly intended to give Berger a go and try and push him into making a mistake. Because we both had Renault engines and our cars were running the minimum amount of downforce on this very fast circuit, we were running at exactly the same speed on the straight.

Gerhard is a very experienced racer and he knew how to block me at the right time. Once or twice he made small errors while cornering, but he would recover and drive in the middle of the track, waiting to see which way I was going. Then he would simply move across and destroy my opportunity to pass.

He wanted to win, no question about that and he did everything in his power to keep me back. I didn't think he would do anything silly. But you just can't tell - racing drivers can be unpredictable characters when the chips are down!

Coming out of one of the chicanes, I suddenly heard a strange misfire, but because I was so close to the Benetton, it was impossible to tell which engine it was. I thought for a moment it might be mine. Then I realised it was Berger. Gerhard started to go to the left and I moved to the extreme right, because I knew what was going to happen next. Sure enough, the guts of the engine began to pour out of the back of the Benetton. I managed to avoid getting drenched in engine oil. There was so much of it that I would definitely have spun off and I darted to the right.

With my team-mate, Jacques, finishing third, we are now in a very strong position in the constructors' championship. Jacques, of course, remains my rival for the drivers' title. Last Sunday's result has gone some way towards restoring the advantage I had before Silverstone. But there are five races to go and I am definitely not counting any chickens at this stage. I'm ready for anything and I am simply going to try and keep racking up the wins.

Damon Hill Grand Prix Ltd

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