Motor Racing: Back on title track after tactical victory

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The Independent Online
It was crucial to do well in the Canadian Grand Prix. I would be lying if I said I wasn't upset about not having scored in the previous two races, particularly in Spain where I felt the retirement was very much my mistake. The pressure was on last Sunday, especially as my team- mate, Jacques Villeneuve, was on home turf and really pumped up to win. I knew he would be on top form and he proved it by pushing me all the way. I came out on top and a one-two for the Rothmans Williams-Renault team was the perfect result, certainly from my point of view.

There is a tremendous sense of achievement after a race like Canada, particularly when it had been hard-fought all the way; a fascinating tactical battle. We had battled for pole position and I won it by just two- hundredths of a second over 2.7 miles. It was incredibly close and gave an indication that there would be nothing between us in the race.

The strategies chosen by Jacques and I were very different. Jacques opted to make a single pit stop and that helped me decide to stop twice. In fact, my information indicated that two stops would be faster overall - but by a very small margin. However, if I wanted to beat Jacques then I felt I needed to be on a different strategy.

If we were using the same tactics, then the two cars in close company throughout the race would have made it difficult for me to pass, had I needed to. And, had I been in front, then the crowd would be urging Jacques to do something about it at every turn. Going my own way - in every sense of the expression - meant I was on a different part of the circuit altogether and I could concentrate on running my own race.

Above all else, I needed to finish the eighth round of the championship and start scoring points again. It would not have been the end of the world had I finished second, but I thought only about winning when I was in the race. The two-stop tactic gave me precious little advantage.

I had to keep the hammer down all the way. The crucial point would be the second stop; I had to get out ahead of Jacques. But, having said that, the start was just as important because, if I hadn't made a good getaway, then I think that would have been it.

There was a very slim chance that I might have been able to win even if I had been stuck behind Jacques in the first phase of the race but, in truth, I would have had to absolutely fly all the way once I had made my first stop.

As it was, the lead I managed to pull out in the opening laps was barely enough. At the end of each lap, the computer allowed my engineer to give me an indication of whether I was ahead or behind my target to beat Jacques by the end of the race. At one point, for example, the projected result showed that I was two seconds to the good; on another occasion, there was a deficit of 1.5 seconds after I had been stuck behind a back-marker.

Generally, though, I have to say that back-markers were not a serious factor in my case, whereas I believe Jacques had a costly problem and lost about four seconds at a critical point. That was bad luck, but that's the way the race was ebbing and flowing.

I really enjoyed this tactical element; it kept me concentrating from beginning to end. I knew I could not afford to let up because I was racing against an invisible man. Jacques was always out of sight but I could sometimes learn about his progress by glimpsing the pictures on the big screens dotted around the spectator enclosures.

Occasionally, there would be shots of an incident and that would give me advance warning when I was approaching the corner in question - or perhaps they might flash the gap between Jacques and I.

Once I had rejoined after my second stop, it was a matter of maintaining an eight-second lead. I knew Jacques would be on a charge but if I could keep him at arm's length while avoiding unnecessary risks in the final laps, then I would have my fifth win of the season.

The timing was perfect. I won the first race in Australia and now I have won at the half-way point of the season. But chapter two is about to open and it is absolutely vital for me to do well in the next three races in France, Britain and Germany. We had a competitive edge in Canada, and Michael Schumacher and Ferrari did not have a good weekend. But they will bounce back, particularly in Germany - Schumacher's home race - and on Ferrari's doorstep in Italy.

Despite such an excellent result for the team, there is no danger of sitting back and allowing complacency to creep in. We must press on and, to that end, I will be busy for most of this week testing at Silverstone. The only way we are going to win the championship is to really push hard in the next five races.

Of course, my main competition at the moment is coming from within the Williams team. Jacques is learning all the time and I think he is a quicker driver now than he was at the start of the season. There is no question that he has set himself the goal of beating me and winning races in order to close the 21-point gap between us.

During the closing stages of the Canadian Grand Prix, Jacques was giving it everything. He set the fastest lap two laps from the end of the race and he was receiving terrific support from the capacity crowd. But I could see quite a few Union Jacks - they really stood out - and I fully intend to have them waving en masse in France in two weeks' time, and particularly at Silverstone on 14 July.

Damon Hill Grand Prix Ltd

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