Motor Racing: Hill agrees last hurrah at Silverstone

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The Independent Online
DAMON HILL cut through the mist of doubt and confusion to announce he will prolong his career for one more race and compete in the British Grand Prix on Sunday week.

As Jos Verstappen continued to test for Jordan-Mugen yesterday in the hope of taking over from the former world champion, Hill flew from his holiday home in Spain for talks with the team boss, Eddie Jordan.

It was apparent the saga was taking yet another twist and Jordan later confirmed that Hill would be taking his familiar place alongside Heinz- Harald Frentzen for the Silverstone race. In a brief, prepared statement Jordan said: "I'm delighted to give Damon this opportunity in front of the sponsors and fans who have supported his great career. I hope everyone will join us in making this a triumphant send-off."

Hill, who stated last month he intended to retire at the end of the season, gave every indication he would quit after a torrid French Grand Prix last Sunday. Jordan said he would accept Hill's verdict and that he had no intention of putting the driver under any pressure to race at Silverstone. He brought in Verstappen to test on Tuesday and the Dutchman seemed certain to take over in the British Grand Prix.

But then, as Jordan appeared at the circuit yesterday, it became evident the goalposts had been moved yet again. In mid-afternoon, Jordan, "waiting for a telephone call", returned to his factory across the road to prepare his statement. Ultimately, it appears commercial forces have swayed the issue. Hill's supporters have been clamouring for one last hurrah and Jordan's major sponsors were palpably concerned that their main attraction would no longer be on the bill.

Jordan were, above all, anxious to put out a strong driver pairing in their home race. Frentzen's victory in France had reinforced their status and declared objective of finishing third in this season's constructors' championship. Much as Hill was troubled at Magny-Cours, they believe home comforts, knowledge and support will motivate him to rediscover some of his old hunger and form.

Verstappen, meanwhile, would then have more time to test and prepare for the following race, the Austrian Grand Prix, on 25 July.

Another sticking point could be that the second payment of three instalments on Hill's retainer, which is believed to be pounds 4.5m for the year, is due after the British Grand Prix. Hill and his solicitor may well have negotiated a deal to receive that second payment, thereby effectively taking two- thirds of his fee for half a season's racing.

The 38-year-old Englishman made his Grand Prix debut at the 1992 British Grand Prix, at the wheel of an uncompetitive Brabham. He moved on to Williams where he won 21 races and the 1996 world championship.

He recovered from an indifferent first half of last season to give Jordan their maiden Formula One success, in the Belgian Grand Prix, at Spa, and the momentum carried the team to fourth place in the constructors' table. This season Jordan aimed to build on that achievement but Hill has struggled to find form and has managed only three points.

Frentzen's performances have compounded his anxiety. The German, who replaced him at Williams, has outpaced him and led the Jordan challenge with self-belief and consistency. Those qualities have drained from Hill and he acknowledged as much in France last week.

A puncture and then a misfire put him out of the French Grand Prix, which he conceded was a sign that the game was up. Now he is prepared to brace himself for one last effort before hanging up his racing gloves.

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