Motor Racing: Hill may curtail his final season

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The Independent Online
DAMON HILL'S quip confirmed his sense of humour and irony, but he left unanswered the tantalising question of timing. "If I drive that way for the rest of the season Eddie's [Jordan] third place in the championship is guaranteed," he said after his flight had been held up by air traffic control.

Hill arrived for Sunday's French Grand Prix here a little later than scheduled, yet a relieved man, having announced his intention to retire from Formula One at the end of the season. However, he admitted he might have to bow out before then if he cannot raise his game and Jordan-Mugan decide they can no longer accommodate him. That could even mean a final race for the 38-year-old Englishman at the British Grand Prix, at Silverstone, on 11 July.

"It might be I will have to stop before the end of the year but that is not my intention," Hill said. "I certainly don't want that but at the same time I do not want to damage in any way Eddie's hopes of finishing in their highest-ever position in the constructors' championship.

"If my performances are not up to it, then we will have to discuss it. It would not be fair to carry on if I was making a pig's ear of it."

The issue may, as most issues in Formula One do, come down to money. Hill is reportedly on a retainer of pounds 4.5m for this year and would not be eager to lose half of his final big pay cheque. The decision could also be influenced by Jordan's ability to find a suitable replacement. Finland's inactive Mika Salo has already been mentioned.

Jordan share Hill's disquiet over his performances this season. He has been consistently outpaced by his German team-mate, Heinz-Harald Frentzen, and a succession of mishaps has limited his points tally to a meagre three. Frentzen has 13.

"Heinz has been absolutely brilliant this year and but for him Eddie would not be where he is in the championship," Hill said. "But I look to my own performance rather than that of Heinz and I know I am not getting the best out of myself."

Hill, winner of 22 grands prix and the world championship in 1996, said he was retiring because the enjoyment and competitiveness have been drawn from his racing. He also felt the seemingly ceaseless testing had "tipped the balance of what is acceptable regarding my duties as a father".

"I have enjoyed the thrill of leading and winning races, so I suppose I have been spoiled," he said. "But when you get up in the morning and think `Oh no, do I have to?' then it's time to stop. As a racing driver, you can't be in two minds."

Hill hopes his sense of relief and having made his announcement will ease the pressure and enable him to complete the season with the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka. "I didn't want the speculation to go on," he said. "Everyone now knows where I stand. I feel better for having revealed what is in my mind. I'd like now to get some good results and go out on a high. If I win in Suzuka, what a great way to finish."