MOTOR RACING: Coulthard and Hill refuse to be distracted

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The Independent Online
BOTH Damon Hill and David Coulthard were buoyant, even defiant, as they arrived for a race that could determine the immediate prospects of one and the long-term future of the other.

For Hill, another victory in Sunday's Portuguese Grand Prix is almost essential. It would leave him one point behind Benetton- Ford's Michael Schumacher when the championship leader returns from suspension to contest the final three races of the season.

For Coulthard, the second driver currently representing Williams- Renault, this weekend provides a last chance to convince the team he would be a better choice than Nigel Mansell to partner Hill next year. Hill, having secured a contract for 1995 and the support of Coulthard, should he require it, maintains he is capable of completing his championship campaign without the assistance of the young Scot or, for that matter, of the veteran Mansell.

'I'm not worried about the David or Nigel situation, because I can look after myself. I always have, and I'm quite capable of doing so again. I've been doing the job my way,' he said.

Hill's way has not yet seduced every observer of Formula One. There are those who believe he is fortunate to be within striking distance of Schumacher, and that he has still to prove he can assert his authority over a race.

John Watson, the former grand prix driver turned pundit, is the latest to ruffle Hill's feathers. Watson said: 'He's got to sharpen his game. . . he needs to take control.'

Hill, declining to make a direct response to Watson or anyone else, said: 'No one can criticise me for what I've done so far. I'm not going to get dragged down to having to defend myself. I won the last race and I had the fastest lap at Spa and Monza. I know how to feel about my achievements and I won't be put off by detractors.

'I'm here to win this race and I can do it, with help from Williams and Renault, and be in contention for the championship. I have a lot of supporters in England, they will be behind me and rooting for me.

'What I have to worry about is unforeseen circumstances. I said before the last race that I needed four wins from five grands prix, and it's asking a lot of the reliability of my car. I'm on tenterhooks about that, but not from the driving point of view. My approach is that I'm going to be difficult to beat.

'Should I win, we are talking about a straight fight with Michael over the last three races. A win is always going to be slightly devalued when Michael is not around, and I'm hoping we'll be on the same start-line when he gets back.'

Coulthard acknowledges he may have to come back next year with another team, or return to test driving with Williams. However, he intends to stake his claim to the top job, despite the possibility of having to bolster Hill's cause.

He said: 'For me to win, Damon would have to have a problem, but I honestly believe I can win. I feel very much a part of Formula One and it wouldn't be easy to step down. It's my last chance to show what I can do but I feel confident. You've not seen the best of me yet.

'I'll be watching Nigel with more interest than most, and if he's blindingly fast it will be fairly clear-cut as to who will be in the car next year. I don't know about that, but Nigel will still be quick and he knows every trick in the book. He does things Schumacher hasn't even learned yet.'