Motor Racing: Hill leaves critics on the grid

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The Independent Online
Damon Hill delighted his fans and confounded his critics, not least his Arrows-Yamaha team boss, Tom Walkinshaw, with a strong performance to take 12th place on the grid for today's British Grand Prix at Silverstone.

It may have been a pale shadow of his pole-position performance last year, but Hill, the subject of intense media scrutiny amid accusations that his position with the team may be under threat, was relieved. "I think we can be pleased with that qualifying result," he said. "We are only 1.6 seconds away from pole, and given the resources of the other teams, I think that is very respectable."

Walkinshaw, who earlier in the week accused Hill of "going to sleep" in recent races, was forced to change his tune. "Everything went smoothly today," the multi-millionaire from Scotland said. "Damon has done a superb job and we are delighted."

Meanwhile, up at the sharp end of the grid, Hill's former team, Williams- Renault, registered their fifth one-two qualifying performance of the season when Jacques Villeneuve edged out Heinz-Harald Frentzen for pole position. The Canadian lapped in 1min 21.598sec, while his team-mate was just 0.3sec slower.

Villeneuve later admitted that he had not enjoyed the sight of Frentzen topping the tables early in the session. "Once Heinz-Harald got in front," he said, "I really went for it on the last run. It will make an interesting race as it is a very difficult track to overtake on - it's very important to start in front."

A win for either Williams driver would be the team's 100th grand prix victory. Behind the Williams pair, Mika Hakkinen's McLaren headed the Schumacher brothers,with Michael's Ferrari just ahead of his younger brother Ralf's Jordan.

Although Hill remains the darling of the majority of the Silverstone fans, he was out-qualified by all the other Britons in the race. David Coulthard's McLaren will start in sixth position, one place ahead of the Ulsterman Eddie Irvine's Ferrari, while Johnny Herbert, who won the race back in 1994, was delighted to take ninth place in his Sauber.

Irvine did have one nasty moment, when he ran over a hare at high speed. "I got a big fright," he said. "I was forced to pit to check over the car." He required a new nose. The hare, alas, was beyond repair.

British Grand Prix, pages 21 and 22