Motor Racing / British Grand Prix: Hill mishap helps Prost's giant stride towards title: Frenchman cruises to record victory and increases his world championship lead after displaying full range of driving skills

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The Independent Online
ALAIN PROST reached the landmark of his 50th victory a mite uneasily, conscious that this probably should have been Damon Hill's British Grand Prix. Hill led from the start yesterday and seemed destined for his first victory until his engine capitulated little more than 17 laps from the end.

And yet there was in Prost's display so many of the elements which have made the Frenchman the most successful driver in the history of the World Championship. His discipline and judgement during the early dicing with Ayrton Senna were evident again in his measured post-race assessment; he demonstrated the pace his smooth style often belies to make up ground on his English partner; and he controlled his run-in to the line, wary that he might be subjected to Hill's fate while sustaining his momentum sufficiently to keep the charging Michael Schumacher's Benetton-Ford at arm's length.

He has seen it all before and done it all before. That know-how and the pre-eminence of the Williams-Renault are carrying him inexorably to a fourth title.

Senna's McLaren-Ford ran out of fuel on the last lap - as his car had done here two years ago - and he slipped from third to fifth, behind Riccardo Patrese's Benetton and Johnny Herbert's Lotus-Ford. He may also consider this was the day he effectively slipped out of contention for the championship. He trails Prost by 20 points, or maximum points from two races, with seven rounds remaining.

Hill lost third place in the standings to Schumacher, though the greater loss was the opportunity to win the race which always eluded his father.

Hill's departure from the race when he was leading on his 42nd lap left Prost at the head of the field. A disbelieving Hill climbed from his cockpit, acknowledged the applause of the spectators and slumped disconsolately against the barrier. He gathered his thoughts, his gloves and helmet, and strolled back towards the pits.

Prost's emotions were mixed. An unprecedented half-century and greater security in the championship beckoned, but perhaps his race, too, would be sabotaged. He also had genuine sympathy for his team-mate. He said: 'I saw Damon's problem and wondered if he was pulling more revs. I did not know if I would have the same problem, so I slowed, but Michael was pushing hard. Fortunately I was able to keep the pace to make it.

'I had wanted to wait for the right opportunity to try to overtake Damon, but it would have been very difficult and I would have been happy to finish second. I may be happier about my 50th win tonight. I am sorry for Damon. He deserved to win this race at home. I would have liked to win in a different ambience. It's not good to see the crowd so disappointed. '

Hill made an excellent start and pulled away as Prost, wheels spinning furiously, found himself third behind Senna. Since Prost had won five times previously this season, despite trailing at the first corner, it was scarcely a catastrophe for the little man. This time, however, he had to contend with an uncompromising Brazilian for five tense laps as Hill built up his advantage.

All the old enmity seemed to fire Senna and stiffen his resolve. Several times Prost came up alongside, and then had the door slammed in his face. Once he appeared to have done enough, but twitched alarmingly as Senna again retaliated. He eventually passed the McLaren going into Stowe and Schumacher soon duplicated the manoeuvre to go third.

Prost said: 'I missed my start and it did not help when Ayrton pushed me a bit on to the grass. It was difficult to pass him. He did not want to let me through and there were some dangerous situations. There is no point to comment further. I was not sure how to overtake. I just wanted to be careful. I lost time.'

He was, in fact, about eight seconds down on Hill and each time he made up some of the deficit, Hill managed to go away again. Prost at last made significant progress after the pit stops, the gaps suddenly coming down to 3.3 seconds, then 2.1 seconds, then 1.3 seconds. They crossed the line at the end of the 37th lap a mere 0.6 seconds apart, and Hill braced himself for the inevitable attack when the arrival of the safety car - to facilitate the removal of a stricken vehicle - put the contest on hold.

Whether Luca Badoer's Lola-BMS Ferrari was in a genuinely dangerous position was open to debate, but Prost did not care to enter it. The upshot was that we were left with a 20-lap race for victory and most of the places.

Hill rose splendidly to the challenge, recording not only the fastest lap of the day but also a lap record to go 1.3 seconds clear. The doors eased open for a new British hero and, although Silverstone's attendance was barely half that which witnessed Nigel Mansell's triumphal demonstration here 12 months ago, the next wave of patriotism was possibly under way. It was, alas, an illusion.

Hill's race was about to be won. Martin Brundle manfully defended the position of leading Briton, competing with his compatriot Herbert and Patrese in what the Italian described as a 'wild fight' until the gear box of his Ligier-Renault capitulated. Herbert stayed the course to end a depressing sequence of races and collect three points, while Derek Warwick, elder statesman of the home contingent, took advantage of Mark Blundell's excursion to claim his first point of the season in the Footwork- Mugen.

(Photograph omitted)