Motor Racing: Hill expects to close title gap

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The Independent Online
The extra week appears to have cleared the sights, as well as the air, at the Williams-Renault camp. That, at least, is Damon Hill's conviction. If it proves an illusion, the Formula One world championship may all but disappear from view after these next two races.

Sunday's French Grand Prix here and the following round at Silverstone a fortnight later could represent a watershed in Hill's season: the chance to reel back Michael Schumacher's Benetton-Renault and resist Ferrari, or another confrontation with disappointment.

Hill, outpaced by both Schumacher and Jean Alesi before he broke down in Canada earlier this month, vented his exasperation before critical witnesses.

He insists his "shouting" was misconstrued, that it was necessitated by the continuing roar of less vulnerable machinery. Be that as it may, he left Montreal a disconsolate figure.

This week, however, his spirits have been revived and his perspective changed. Testing at the British Grand Prix track was dominated by Hill and his team-mate, David Coulthard, while a frustrated Schumacher was left not so much in their wake as in the pits. Williams' new "bits and pieces" carried them forward, Benetton's set them back.

Hill, trailing Schumacher by seven points and only five ahead of Alesi said firmly: "Canada was not representative. I still believe we've got the edge over Benetton. It's just that we've been up one or two blind alleys.

"An enormous amount of effort has been put into improving our reliability, and I've been working hard, trying to provide the feedback. It will be too much to bear for it to happen again. I am confident the guys have sorted it. Nothing radical, but now the car feels very good.

"We were looking more reliable than most at the start of the season and it was all a big surprise that it should have gone wrong. Benetton have adapted and gone back ahead in the championship but I don't believe they are going to be in that position for long because we have all the resources at Williams and I feel we will be strong in the next couple of races.

"We are more optimistic for the future. We have a new engine, and not before time because Ferrari are marching forward and it will help us to stay ahead of them. I am here full of expectation to win and I believe there are plenty more wins for us to come. Seven points is nothing. I was much further behind Michael at this time last year."

Schumacher concedes he has fallen behind this week. The German's "extras" did not provide the eagerly anticipated improvements in testing.

The world champion said: "The changes have not worked and we have taken a step backwards. The rest of the season looks like being as interesting as the beginning."

That remaining programme will, it has been confirmed, include an Italian Grand Prix. The government has given assurances that the race at Monza will go ahead as scheduled on 10 September.