Damon Hill approaches this race not only with his 21-point lead intact, but also with his reputation enhanced, not least in comparison with that of his nemesis, Michael Schumacher. Hill's dominance at Monaco until a rare engine failure put him out, and Schumacher's first-lap mistake have altered the balance of recognised power.
Of course, Schumacher is the best out there, and by some distance. He is not on course for a third consecutive title because the Ferrari, as he forecast, is not yet up to the task. It is essentially down to him that the car has been anywhere near the Williams, let alone on pole at the last two grands prix. However, Schumacher is not superhuman, his shunt at Portier the consequence of his pushing too hard on a slippery surface. It will have been on his mind ever since. And it will have been on Hill's mind ever since.
Schumacher will have to wait perhaps another two races for the significant modifications which should improve his car, but will be content enough if conditions are dry on Sunday. While the Ferrari proved even more of a handful on the wet streets of Monte Carlo, the Williams in Hill's hands eased away from the rest with calm assurance.
Whatever the weather, the setting and atmosphere will be far removed from the scenario of the last meeting as the Circuit de Catalunya has proved no more alluring for the locals than Jerez. But while Barcelona may lack spectators, it is acknowledged and respected as a genuine race- track, complete with a long straight to accommodate overtaking manoeuvres.
Hill and Schumacher have a win apiece here and should be at the forefront again this weekend. Jacques Villeneuve, in the other Williams, will be anxious to make more of an impression after being seemingly overawed at Monaco, while Benetton could be back in contention after signs of progress and McLaren will seek another step forward in their revival campaign.
n David Coulthard has ruled out a move to Jackie Stewart's new Formula One team. The McLaren driver was reported to be at the top of Stewart's shortlist for a place in the Formula One team he is launching in 1997. Coulthard's manager, Tim Wright, said: "David is supremely happy at McLaren and believes they are on the verge of great things again."Reuse content