If I had stopped only twice, I might have made a stronger challenge

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The Independent Online
If told in advance that I was going to finish second in Sunday's Hungarian Grand Prix, regardless of what I did, then I feel confident that I would have been satisfied that I finished in the best way possible by crossing the line less than a second behind my team-mate, Jacques Villeneuve.

In order to achieve that result, I had to use every ounce of energy and strategy I had in me throughout the one hour and 46 minutes race.

I was pleased with my drive. The car drove beautifully throughout the 77 laps and, by placing first and second in Hungary, Jacques and I sec- ured this year's constructors' championship for the Rothmans Williams- Renault team.

The entire team has worked at an unrelenting pace this season and deserve nothing less than to win this award. They have organised the season superbly and the equipment has been fantastic. I cannot praise them highly enough.

This eighth constructors' title, which equals Ferrari's record number of championships, will lift the spirits of the team to an even higher plane for the final four races.

All that remains to be resolved this season then, is the drivers' championship, which we know now will definitely go to a Williams driver. Jacques is not going to give me any respite between now and the end of the season and, of course, I'm not about to surrender my lead without a fierce fight similar to the one we had on Sunday.

The one item I have to attend to is my starts. There is no question that the first few seconds of the race in Hungary proved very costly.

Bad starts have caused me problems in three races this year. I will be testing in Barcelona this week and most of my attention will be focused on improving that part of the equation; there is no question that starting is the weak link in an otherwise excellent package.

Sunday's race was a typical Hungarian Grand Prix in that overtaking was almost impossible. After my bad start, I found myself in fourth place, stuck behind the Benetton of Jean Alesi. I was capable of going two seconds a lap faster, but I was simply unable to pass on such a tight and twisting circuit.

I found myself stuck behind him for the first 20 laps. On that basis, I was going to make just two pit stops. When Alesi pulled in, I made the most of a clear track ahead of me to try to pull out some time on the Benetton so that once my pit stop was complete, I could come out ahead of him.

But to my dismay, when I rejoined after my pit stop he just squeezed ahead of me and I was horrified to face the pros-pect of being trapped behind him for another 20-lap stint. I reckoned I would be lucky if I finished third at that rate of going.

My only hope was that Alesi could be pressured into a mistake somewhere down the line: it came just after he passed a back-marker. Alesi went off the racing line on the pit straight, got dirt all over his tyres and, at the next corner, he slid wide and I managed to nip through on the inside.

Immediately I was able to lap much faster and push harder in pursuit of Michael Schumacher's Ferrari and Jacques, who was in the lead, about 30 seconds ahead of me.

At that point, I thought I was still on a two-stop strategy, but then it turned out that I would be stopping three times. I assumed the team made the change in strategy because they were looking for ways of helping me get ahead of the Ferrari but, as I write, it is difficult for me to say exactly why the plan was altered.

After the race, I had to leave the circuit straight away to catch a flight to Bulgaria, so I did not get a chance to discuss the race in detail. I tend to think that had I only stopped twice and therefore not spent that extra 30 seconds in the pits, I might have been able to make an even better challenge for the lead.

Regardless of that, I drove as hard as I could and I was able to cut down the gap to Schumacher. That was my main objective because, at the time, I thought I had very little chance of getting near Jacques. I caught the Ferrari and as soon as Michael had made his third and final stop, I was able to lap much faster during the six laps before my stop and I pulled out enough to jump him in the pits.

Now I had a clear track and I set off in pursuit of Jacques. I was within striking distance with about six laps to go. Despite the pressure, he did a good job and he was able to hold on to his lead. I was always going to have a hard job finding a way past him on that circuit, so, all in all, I was satisfied because I felt I had driven a great race.

The championship, as a result, is going to be more of a cliffhanger, but I'm confident that I can produce more performances similar to Sunday's and to maintain my advantage right to the end of the season in Japan.

I feel I have more in reserve should I need it. The Hungarian Grand Prix is always very tough, but I felt that I could have continued driving at that speed for another 10 laps or more after the race had finished. In fact, I wish it had gone on a bit longer, because I feel I could have pushed Jacques to the point of making a mistake.

The next grand prix is on the fast, wide open expanses of Spa-Francorchamps. The Belgian Grand Prix will be a different proposition entirely, but the competition will be just as tough.

The drivers' championship looms, but there's no time for wishful thinking. I aim to continue striving to get on the top step of that podium.

Damon Hill Grand Prix Ltd