Motor racing / British Grand Prix: Hill's angels hail their new hero: Guy Hodgson tests the Grand Prix tingle factor and measures a new mania at Copse Corner

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The Independent Online
MICHAEL Schumacher and the Benetton team were confused and they were not alone. On Copse Corner, where many had come in anticipation of Damon Hill's coronation, bewilderment reigned in his place.

The start of the British Grand Prix was incomprehensible chaos for the paying customer. There was a PA but that was drowned by the sound of engines and, deprived of information, the crowd had the appearance of people who had wandered in accidentally to a foreign film with no sub-titles. They knew they were watching something significant but what it could be was way beyond them.

'They're having another warm-up lap' a man on a chair pronounced. 'Why's Schumacher overtaken Hill, then?' another asked quite reasonably. It was a question that was probably being put even more forcibly simultaneously in the Benetton pit, but there they were able to ask the driver via the radio. On Copse Corner, with the race not even started, we were already missing Murray Walker's commentary.

Which prompts the perennial question: Why do people spend good money to watch something they can follow far more easily on television? It cost pounds 74 to stand on Copse Corner yesterday - seats started at pounds 105 - and for that you got the privilege of a fleeting glimpse of flying bits of metal viewed from a grassy hill with no protection from the elements. In freezing rain it must be a miserable experience.

But one man's inconvenience is another's day to treasure and there was a crowd of around 80,000 at Silverstone yesterday. They came ready to be cured temporarily of Mansell mania and join the chorus of Hill's angels instead.

'It's the atmosphere,' said a Liverpool man who had left home at 3am to grab one of the better viewing points. 'The one thing you should never do is put ear plugs in, I love the tingling sensation when a car goes past.'

The tingle factor raced through when Hill nosed ahead of Schumacher at the first corner in the start proper. We knew because we could see it on a huge screen 100 yards away and it was confirmed when the Williams flashed past us seconds later. Flags were waved and hands clapped but the veterans among us were only partially impressed.

'When Mansell was here the place went wild every time we got a glimpse of his car,' a spectator who first visited Silverstone in the 1970s said. 'Damon has to earn that sort of affection. Nigel was all aggression, Damon gives the impression he backs off sometimes.'

The crowd was similarly subdued until the black flag was unfurled for Schumacher. Celebrations broke out on Copse Corner and simmered gently in the warm sun until the imminence of a British victory allowed it to come to the boil again.

Hill was acclaimed and the crowd could begin the tedious job of trying to flee the scene. 'It was brilliant, wonderful,' a man bedecked in shirt embellished by Mansell's red five, said. 'I can't wait to find out what happened on the video.'

Ignorance, in more than his case yesterday, was bliss.