Motor Racing: Hill prepared to pick up Senna's gauntlet: Williams-Renault celebrate 1994 Anglo-Brazilian driver line-up. Derick Allsop reports

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WILLIAMS-RENAULT formally introduced their new driver line-up yesterday - Damon Hill in person, Ayrton Senna on the end of a telephone in Brazil - and claimed it to be the strongest in Formula One. They underlined that assertion by indicating the pairing would stay intact until the end of 1995.

Senna, after six years with McLaren, is committed to a two-year contract with the champions. Williams have taken up their option on Hill's services for next season and already plan to do so for a further year. Frank Williams, the team's principal, said: 'There's no guarantee for Damon in 1995, but it's a foregone conclusion.'

The rider leaves Williams' options open, yet clearly the message is that they now consider Hill a serious player in motor racing's toughest arena and that he has the opportunity to pursue his ambitions without fearing for his job.

Hill will, according to Williams, be free to compete for the title next season after playing the supporting role to Alain Prost this year. 'Both are going for the championship,' he said. In reality, of course, Senna is the recognised senior driver and Williams look to him to lead the quest for more constructor's and driver's titles.

Williams said: 'Clearly we are expecting greater things from Ayrton, but with every race Damon continues to surprise so the opportunity is wide open. Damon will have to push very hard to stay with Ayrton, but I won't be surprised if he does stay with him and beat him on some occasions.'

Hill, 33, was as conscious as anyone that Williams has long wanted Senna and that the Brazilian was ceaselessly lobbying for the best seat in Formula One. Williams denied Prost made his decision to retire at the end of the season rather than confront his old adversary. Senna, too, was elusive when asked about the prospect of rejoining the Frenchman. 'The line has gone very bad,' he said to the accompaniment of Williams' laughter.

Hill, however, admitted: 'One of my worries was that Senna and Prost might decide they didn't dislike each other so much after all.'

Hill now pronounces himself ready for 'the ultimate challenge' in Formula One. He said: 'Ayrton has a reputation for getting what he likes out of a team. That may be to my detriment and it may be less easy for me than it has been with Alain. But I'm not putting up the defences.

'Ayrton is by far the fastest and most complete of the current drivers, but I'm not easily demoralised or crushed. I'm still on an upward climb and I think having Ayrton as my team-mate can only add to my learning. He's already won three world championships and he's only six months older than me. He could win another three and become the greatest of all time. I believe I can win the championship. I'm not saying I'm better than Ayrton, but I have an opportunity.'

Senna, buoyant, even jocular, said: 'This is a sort of dream come true for me. Frank gave me my first opportunity to test a Formula One car, in 1983. Since then we have talked and negotiated on a number of occasions and finally it has come together and I am really happy.'

Senna, like Williams, anticipates the team will face sterner competition next season. Benetton and Ferrari are on the fabled upward curve and McLaren's alliance with Peugeot represents a new force. Senna added, though, that he thought Williams could stay ahead, a feeling generally held in the sport, the more so now the Brazilian is on board.

The new pairing of McLaren and Peugeot yesterday named Finland's Mika Hakkinen as their No 1 driver for next season. The Peugeot sports director, Jean-Pierre Jabouille, said in Paris: 'We are engaged in an enormous wager to become world champions one day.'

The McLaren team leader, Ron Dennis, said the name of the team's second driver would be announced before Christmas. A Peugeot official, Frederic Saint-Geours, said the French firm had contracted to supply engines free to McLaren for a four-year period.

(Photograph omitted)

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