Motor Racing: Hill faces the labyrinth with a tradition at stake: In Sunday's Monaco Grand Prix an inexperienced Briton will try to emulate his father by winning Formula One's toughest race. Derick Allsop reports

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The Independent Online
DAMON HILL stood on the harbour front, peering through the rain, up the hill towards Casino Square and a million dreams. Just as, 40 years ago, men of 'British blood and breed' conquered Everest, so his countrymen were once masters of this, the peak of all Formula One challenges.

In modern times, Britons have assaulted the world's highest mountain with rather more conviction than they have the Monaco Grand Prix. Those who tried and failed here include five British world champions: Mike Hawthorn, John Surtees, James Hunt, Nigel Mansell and even Jim Clark.

Through the 1960s and into the 1970s however, the principality was under British rule. Stirling Moss, who first raised the Union Flag here in 1956, did so again in 1960 and 1961: Jackie Stewart won the race in 1966, 1971 and 1973; and, on a record five occasions, the sport's blue riband event fell to a man who was the very embodiment of the Bulldog Breed, the swaggering, moustachioed Graham Hill.

At the Hotel de Paris, at Rosie's and at the Tip Top, they remember Hill as much for his persona off the track as on it; how he revelled and regaled them until day-break. He raced and celebrated with equal gusto. He particularly relished his third win, in 1965, which he described as one of the highlights of his career. He led the early part of the race only to confront an ailing back-marker as he approached the chicane. This, in his words, is what happened next:

'I couldn't get there first and I couldn't slow down in time to let him through ahead of me, so I braked as hard as I could and shot up the escape road. The engine stalled as I came to a halt and I had to get out and push the car backwards on the track. This lost me 30 seconds or so and dropped me back to fifth place. By now Lorenzo Bandini and John Surtees had their Ferraris in what seemed impregnable positions.

'I was pretty annoyed at this (no doubt a masterpiece of understatement) but there was still three quarters of the race to go and I chased after them and gradually reduced their lead. I broke the lap record several times as I carved through the field and at about half distance I managed to take Surtees for second place.

'Only Bandini was ahead and as I gradually closed the gap I had several attempts at overtaking him. But the Italian was giving no quarter. This led to a terrific duel before I finally got by him and put the BRM back into the lead with 33 laps to run.'

Damon Hill was 15 when his father, twice a world champion, died in a plane crash, on 29 November 1975. On Sunday, Hill Jnr will attempt to retrace those famous steps along the narrow, snaking streets to the most prestigious of victories. He was unable to put an uncompetitive Brabham on the grid last year, but this time he has a Williams-Renault, the best car in the business, and should qualify well. He could even win.

This, however, is Monaco, a track where nerve, judgement, and, perhaps more than anything else, experience can prove vital. Logic says that the first man to the summit will be Alain Prost or Ayrton Senna. Prost, in the other Williams, is the championship leader and has won here four times. Senna, in a McLaren- Ford, second in the championship, is the reigning King of Monaco. He has equalled Graham Hill's five successes, and four of them have come in the past four years.

Damon Hill, by stark contrast, has had only seven Formula One races and, although he has led and although he threatened to beat Prost in Spain a fortnight ago until his engine capitulated, his best results so far are two second places. It is a tall order.

'I have a tradition to protect,' he said yesterday. 'I hope I can live up to it and stop Prost equalling my father's record or Senna beating it. A win is not out of the question, but Prost and Senna have a lot of wins between them here and it will be difficult.

'What my father did here and the era he raced in bear no relevance now. I have to do my own thing and build my own career. You won't see the drivers out drinking at the Tip Top now because it's much more professional. It's still very exciting, though, and the jewel in the Formula One crown. It's a place where the show-off in a driver comes out because you are very much aware that you are being watched.

'The fact is that the circuit is not really suitable for Formula One cars and overtaking is almost impossible, but it's Monaco. It's special. Your heart is in your mouth driving here. Just finishing will be an achievement because it's such a race of attrition.'

The mountain of Monaco eventually broke his father. The old king failed to qualify for the 1975 race and decided to retire, at the age of 46. Now, 20 years after Britain's last triumphal climb here, the mountain might just be the making of the prince. 'If I win, I shall be buying drinks for anyone, anywhere,' he said.

Now dad would be proud of that . . .

(Photographs omitted)

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