Motor Racing: Hill goes flat out to justify his standing: Briton takes Belgian Grand Prix as Williams wrap up the constructors' title

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The Independent Online
NO ONE demanded proof more earnestly than Damon Hill himself, and yesterday he presented it with relish and enormous conviction. The Briton demonstrated genuine racing credentials to win a pulsating Belgian Grand Prix worthy of its setting here.

Hill resisted the assaults of an inspired Michael Schumacher, in a Benetton-Ford, and Alain Prost, his Williams-Renault team-mate, to register a second consecutive victory.

Even Hill acknowledged his success in Hungary, a fortnight earlier, had lacked the competitive edge to convince a sceptical world he had arrived as a force in Formula One.

Here, however, he shrugged aside Ayrton Senna early in the day and then held his nerve and sustained his pace to beat the other two leading exponents of grand-prix racing in a scintillating finale.

Of course, some recent questions can still be raised. What might Schumacher have achieved had his new, automatic starting device not failed to propel him from the grid and allowed him to be swallowed up by half the field?

And would not Prost have been able to elude him had he not lost vital seconds when his crew struggled with a wheel at his second pit stop?

To do so, though, would be somewhat churlish. The fact is that, when confronted with the challenge, Hill rose to it and had the pace and control required of him. He traded fastest laps with Schumacher, who came within 2.6sec of the Williams. But the gap shrank no more and at the end Hill was 3.6sec clear.

Prost settled for third place, ahead of his only world championship rival, Senna, in a McLaren-Ford. Johnny Herbert, in a Lotus-Ford, was fifth and Riccardo Patrese brought in the other Benetton sixth.

This win was the 50th for Renault in grand prix racing and completes Williams' sixth constructors' championship success. Prost needs only two points more than Senna from the Italian Grand Prix, on Sunday week, to secure his fourth drivers' title.

The Williams team principal, Frank Williams, insists he will not address the matter of Prost's partner for next season until the drivers' championship has been resolved, but the lobby for Hill to retain his job gained muscle on this spectacular swathe through the forest of the Ardennes.

Hill could have done no more. He was defiant and assertive. After the race, he looked as though he now belonged at the top of the podium. The awkward figure of a fortnight earlier celebrated with gusto.

He said: 'What concerned me was to prove I could race and I think I've done that. I had to keep pushing. That's what was lacking in Hungary. Here I had to push all the way and it was close all the way. It's what a racing driver wants.

'I'm under pressure but then I have been from the beginning of the season. I think I have proved people wrong all the way. I'm much more delighted with this than I was in Hungary. But that got me a win under my belt, and removed the albatross. I felt free. Hungary was more of a mental thing. This was a race. I didn't want to be beaten, particularly by Schumacher.'

Williams applauded Hill's performance, yet parried enquiries into his future. 'It's been a wonderful day,' Williams said. 'Damon was terrific. He's no novice any more. I was fairly sure Schumacher would not get him. We've won one championship but we've another to win. We'll do nothing about the driver situation until after that. I know Alain would like Damon to stay, but I don't want to be boxed in on the subject.'

At the start Prost, for a change, made a clean break while Hill was boxed in by Senna. But Hill required only a lap to line up his attack and duly took the Brazilian on the long climb up from Eau Rouge.

By then Schumacher was making stunning progress through the field. He was ninth at the end of the first lap, up to fourth on the fourth.

Senna, however, represented a more stubborn opponent for the Benetton driver and it was a smartly judged pit stop which effectively removed the McLaren from his path.

Prost, meanwhile, was hampered by traffic. 'Sometimes you have these days,' the Frenchman said. 'It was a big problem. Always I seem to come up behind a back marker in the wrong place and it held me up.'

It consequently enabled Hill to stay in touch and the finely balanced contest tilted the younger man's way at the second pit stops. 'That can happen,' Prost said philosophically. 'But it was not bad, and it is still a good result.

'I finished ahead of Senna. I want to win the championship as quickly as possible and if I get it at Monza I think it will be a nice fight between Damon, Michael and me in the last three races.'

Schumacher did not enjoy the final round of his fight with Senna. He explained: 'After the pit stop he turned left, which was not necessary, and I had to go on the grass otherwise I would have hit him. It wasn't a very nice thing to do. I was a bit angry.

'I believe if I had not had a problem at the start I would have had a good chance of winning. It was a disaster. The revs died and I thought I was going to stall. Then at the end, I really thought there was another lap to go. But Damon had a fantastic race. Congratulations to him. I am satisfied with second place.'

Britain's Martin Brundle, of Ligier-Renault, finished just outside the points in seventh place, while his team-mate, Mark Blundell, was 11th. Derek Warwick retired with an electronic problem in the active suspension of his Footwork-Mugen.

Alessandro Zanardi, the Lotus driver who crashed heavily in practice on Friday, missed the race but hopes to be back for his home grand prix at Monza.

Mansell on title track, page 23

(Photograph omitted)

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