Motor Racing / British Grand Prix: Prost high and dry as Blundell escapes: Hill unable to threaten Williams team-mate after quick thinking by McLaren drivers avoids collision with Briton's stricken Ligier

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ALL hope for the rest drained with the rainwater in the closing minutes of yesterday's qualifying session and Williams-Renault were out on their own, giving an ominous taste of things likely to come in tomorrow's British Grand Prix.

Alain Prost, the championship leader, manoeuvred his car through the late rush to post a time of 1min 34.483sec. His team-mate, Damon Hill, found himself snarled up in the traffic and was 1.8sec adrift, yet still a comfortable second fastest, ahead of Ayrton Senna's McLaren-Ford. Michael Schumacher, in a Benetton- Ford, was fourth, followed by the Ferrari pair, Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger.

The rains which pummelled this circuit all yesterday morning abated early in the afternoon and the drivers held back most of their permitted 12 laps to take maximum advantage of the improving conditions. That drying process was afforded another 18 minutes by an interruption to clear the track of the remains of Mark Blundell's Ligier-Renault.

The Englishman lost control as his car aquaplaned at Abbey, hit a concrete wall and bounced back into the middle of the road. He was unhurt but still in his seat, contemplating his getaway, when the two McLarens came upon him. Senna and Michael Andretti veered either side of the stricken Ligier.

Blundell said: 'I was in fifth gear, doing about 150mph and it just went away from me. The grass was so wet I couldn't slow down at all. It was the biggest accident of my life. A wishbone pierced the monocoque, just missed my foot and snapped the brake-pedal. I was worried about when to get out of the car. I'm going to thank Ayrton and Michael for missing me. I was very lucky. I'm just glad to be in one piece.'

The McLaren drivers were as relieved as Blundell. Andretti said: 'We couldn't see anything because of the conditions. Then, suddenly, the Ligier was there and it was whoa. I chose to go to the right. There was debris from the front wing on the track.

Blundell had not registered a competitive lap but will have the chance to qualify today. Although the team have a spare car, another was sent from their headquarters, in France, last night. Blundell had unwittingly contributed to a rousing session. Alesi's earlier, cavalier lap was rendered academic as Senna led the charge. Prost, last of the principals to enter the arena, traded fastest laps with the Brazilian before putting himself beyond reach. By the final stages only Hill presented a realistic threat, but he was ultimately crowded out.

It will, of course, be a whole new contest if the track is dry this afternoon and Hill, who aquaplaned off at Stowe during the morning, will be able to attack Prost again. 'Fairly predictably, this session was going to be about the last 10 minutes,' Hill said. 'That number of cars on the circuit at one time is unusual. I was held up by traffic for most of it. . . I hope the weather gets better but I can't complain about the rain because that's what helped me get into the race for my debut here last year. Maybe it brings me luck.'

Prost's aversion to rain is well documented and he was more content than anyone when slivers of blue sky appeared. He said: 'The weather in the morning was awful, which was why I did not go out then. I tried to make the best of the circumstances.'

Hill may at least have an opportunity to challenge Prost in the race. Williams' technical director, Patrick Head, having confirmed that Hill is required to run to team orders, said: 'We understand that at a time when our cars appear to have an advantage on the others, we can make racing look very boring unless our two cars are competing against each other. It may be we will have to review that. Providing there is a reasonable gap of comfort between Alain and Ayrton, I think we can probably give Damon a bit more freedom to do his stuff.'

Senna, now enjoying engine parity with Benetton, considers only another deluge will keep Prost and Hill within his range in the race. He said: 'If it is really wet we'll have some fun. But even if it's damp they will be too strong. We shall be closer than normal, but not close enough.'

Senna, trailing Prost by 12 points, has committed himself to McLaren for the rest of the season but with no genuine optimism of winning the championship. He said: 'I made the decision here, before the start of the season, to continue and I am still convinced that that was the right decision for me, the team, and the many people who follow me. It is going to be a struggle but we are making improvements and we'll try our best. After this year, I don't know.'

Martin Brundle, in the other Ligier, was ninth fastest, immediately ahead of Derek Warwick, in a Footwork-Mugen Honda. Johnny Herbert, in a Lotus-Ford, was 16th.


1 Alain Prost (France) Williams-Renault 1min 34.483sec

2 Damon Hill (Great Britain) Williams-Renault 1:36.297

3 Ayrton Senna (Brazil) McLaren-Ford 1:37.050

4 Michael Schumacher (Germany) Benetton-Ford 1:37.264

5 Jean Alesi (France) Ferrari 1:37.899

6 Gerhard Berger (Austria) Ferrari 1:37.976

7 Michael Andretti (United States) McLaren-Ford 1:38.283

8 Riccardo Patrese (Italy) Benetton-Ford 1:38.371

9 Martin Brundle (Great Britain) Ligier-Renault 1:38.384

10 Derek Warwick (Great Britain) Footwork-Mugen Honda 1:39.433

11 J J Lehto (Finland) Sauber 1:39.821

12 Aguri Suzuki (Japan) Footwork-Mugen Honda 1:40.537

13 Andrea de Cesaris (Italy) Tyrrell-Yamaha 1:40.624

14 Pierluigi Martini (Italy) Minardi-Ford 1:40.851

15 Rubens Barrichello (Brazil) Jordan-Hart 1:40.869

16 Johnny Herbert (Great Britain) Lotus-Ford 1:41.037

17 Christian Fittipaldi (Brazil) Minardi-Ford 1:41.726

18 Luca Badoer (Italy) Lola BMS-Ferrari 1:41.838

19 Alessandro Zanardi (Italy) Lotus-Ford 1:41.908

20 Eric Comas (France) Larrousse-Lamborghini 1:41.926

21 Karl Wendlinger (Austria) Sauber 1:41.940

22 Phillipe Alliot (France) Larrousse-Lamborghini 1:41.985

23 Michele Alboreto (Italy) Lola BMS-Ferrari 1:42.844

24 Thierry Boutsen (Belgium) Jordan-Hart 1:42.957

25 Ukyo Katayama (Japan) Tyrrell-Yamaha 1:43.173

26 Mark Blundell (Great Britain) Ligier-Renault 9:32.793

(Photograph omitted)