Motor Racing: Hill emerging from the shadows: Britain's Formula One rookie is coming to terms with life in the public eye

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The Independent Online
A YEAR can make only so much difference. Twelve months after scrambling through qualifying, virtually unnoticed in a Brabham, for his Formula One debut, Damon Hill was given the full media treatment here yesterday: lights, cameras, stunt pictures, interviews.

Nigel Mansell wallowed in it, of course, and provided the required responses in the build-up to the British Grand Prix. He was up on the barricades, brandishing his fist, unwilling even to contemplate anything short of victory.

Things have not changed all that much for Hill, however. He remains the rookie driver, grateful to be here, especially grateful to be with this team, and in this car. The vexed question of team orders shrouds his weekend and he cannot escape it. He does not beat his chest. Honest as he is, he does not pretend he has a free hand.

He was patently not allowed to challenge his team-mate and the world championship leader, Alain Prost, in last Sunday's French Grand Prix. Asked if that race had given him satisfaction, the Englishman declined to reply.

This Sunday, however, he just might be given the opportunity to compete with Prost. As he told a television interviewer, he hoped, for the sake of the British public, that he would be allowed to race.

He also said: 'I hope I am given the right conditions to drive 100 per cent from start to finish. We won't know until the time comes. As far as I know, there are no team orders, but I don't think Alain will be ordered to come second.

'The team is thinking of the championship. I'm part of the team. I owe a lot to the team. Frank Williams gave me this opportunity at the start of the season. I don't know what's going to happen. A lot of it is out of my hands.

'I drive for Williams Grand Prix Engineering. I have a contract with them and there are a lot of conditions. I have to get the right result for the team and at the same time I want to give of my best.

'Last season I saw the car winning races and I knew I could do the same job. As things stand, I'm going out to win. That's how I approach this weekend.' The reality is that we still have no idea how good Hill is or can become. Given licence to race here, he may grant us a glimpse. After the slow torture of Magny-Cours, Formula One desperately needs it.

Hill said: 'I was quicker than Alain in testing here, but with Alain you never know what he is doing in testing. I helped him qualify in France and he was hurt by that, so it should be a good battle between us.'

One theory inside the Williams team is that the physical demands of Silverstone will suit Hill rather than the diminutive technician, Prost. Hill said: 'The corners are mainly fifth and sixth gear, and you have to muscle your way round. By the end of the race you're going to be pretty exhausted.'

Hill gave respectful mention to McLaren-Ford and Benetton- Ford, and the prospect of unsettled weather will encourage those opponents. If, however, the track is dry on Sunday, we can expect another grand prix dominated by the Williams-Renault team. Hill alone would then have the means to make a race of it.

Warwick's optimism,

Britons abroad, page 34