Motor Racing: Hill given green light for 1995 by Williams: Mansell 'on trial'

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DAMON HILL can make a single-minded assault on this season's Formula One World Championship, secure in the knowledge that he will retain his place at Williams-Renault next year.

Frank Williams, the team principal, removed Hill's anxieties yesterday when he announced that the Englishman had been retained to drive one of his cars for a third consecutive season. Williams also said there would be no decision on his other driver for 1995 before the end of the current campaign, which effectively confirms Nigel Mansell will be on trial during the final three races.

The way for Hill's deal to be sealed was cleared by Michael Schumacher's statement on Sunday that he was '99 per cent certain' of staying with Benetton- Ford next season. With every top team's No 1 choice taken out of the equation, Williams reverted to half their original plan.

A relieved Hill, who always insisted he was up to the job, said: 'There is no question in my mind that the Williams-Renault team would provide me with a winning car again in 1995.'

Hill is patently seen as the banker, if not a man in the Schumacher bracket, but within the Williams camp there remain doubts about Mansell's ability, at the age of 41, to rediscover his best form. David Coulthard, the 23- year-old Scot, has acquitted himself creditably in less than half a season of grand prix racing and he has growing support.

Williams said: 'Everyone in the team is delighted Damon will be with us next year. Apart from winning seven races for us, he has made many other contributions towards the team, both in and out of the car.'

Four of the wins have come this year, putting him within reach of Schumacher the championship leader. Hill, 34 last Saturday, has undeniably had fortune on his side - circumstances hindered or took Schumacher out of the reckoning in each of those grands prix - yet he has made the most of his opportunities and if he does so again in Portugal, on Sunday, his deficit will be reduced to just one point.

The clarification of his immediate future should enable Hill to focus on the task. Schumacher completes a two-race suspension at Estoril and will be back for the concluding three rounds of the championship, the grands prix of Europe at Jerez, on 16 October, Japan on 6 November and Australia on 13 November.

Hill, who was given Coulthard's assistance in Italy, nine days ago, will expect similar cooperation this weekend from Coulthard and from Mansell when he takes over.

Mansell, who has the backing of Renault and the sport's impressario, Bernie Ecclestone, has had a wretched season in defence of his IndyCar title in the United States yet contends he is capable of mounting a genuine challenge for a second World Championship.

A memorial to Ayrton Senna will be unveiled at Estoril just before Sunday's Portuguese Grand Prix. The three times world champion won his first Grand Prix at Estoril in 1985.