Motor Racing: Hill pursues a positive line: Derick Allsop meets the driver who will follow in the slipstream of Nigel Mansell

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THE making of the real Damon Hill began yesterday: not just the son of the father, no new Nigel Mansell. He sat in a car marked 0, and heard his boss, Frank Williams, suggest he would score points and make visits to the podium. Frank Williams had said much the same about Nigel Mansell, in 1985.

Hill, like his late father, Graham, and Mansell, sees himself as rather more than just a good team man and, under questioning, admitted he had not arrived as a Williams-Renault driver to be a meek No 2 to the three-times world champion, Alain Prost.

'If I felt there was a chance of the championship and didn't think that I might go for it, I wouldn't be normal,' Hill said. 'We can't say for sure what's going to happen next year. But there's a good chance our car will be very competitive and, in that case, the only person to beat will be Alain Prost, and no racing driver wants to be second to anyone.'

The decision that ended months of uncertainty, speculation and often acrimony over the second Williams drive for 1993 was confirmed by Frank Williams, the team principal, at his factory in Didcot, Oxfordshire, yesterday. Williams declined to go public on his discussions with Lotus-Ford about the prospect of signing the young Finn, Mika Hakkinen, and maintained that the appointment of Hill, a 32-year-old Londoner, was no sop to any British fans, or team sponsors, still dismayed by the departure of the world champion, Mansell.

Williams insisted that Hill, his test driver for the past two years, was chosen on merit, but he was fast, knew the car and had acquitted himself well in direct comparison with Prost during testing at Estoril, a fortnight ago. He was also contracted to drive in every race.

Hill dutifully posed in his car, draped the Union flag over his shoulders and thanked Mansell for his words of encouragement and support. But who is this dark, unassuming man who looks more like Eric Cantona than Alain Prost and once played in a punk- rock band called Sex Hitler and the Hormones?

'I don't know,' he said. 'I'm a different person to different people. But I do know what I am in the car: I want the best possible result and I'm not happy unless I fulfil my potential. I'm not the next Nigel Mansell, possibly the next Damon Hill.'

Hill has little racing experience at this level to be given a job even Ayrton Senna craved. He had two Grands Prix in an uncompetitive Brabham last season. But then Mansell was 32 when he won his first race - with Williams - and his father was 24 before he drove a road car. Hill Snr went on to win the world championship in 1962 and 1968.

Hill, brought up in car racing, chose to 'do my own thing' and turned to motorbikes as a nine- year-old. 'I didn't want to do what people expected me to do,' he confessed.

The death of his father, in a plane crash, in 1975, threw up another barrier. 'It was a massive thing to get over,' Damon said. 'Had it not been for the accident I'm sure I would have taken to cars earlier.'

The switch came when his mother, Bette, offered to treat him to a lesson at the Renault- Elf school at Magny-Cours. He accepted and discovered he did like cars, after all.

His bikes still came in useful, doing his rounds as a dispatch rider he drummed up sponsorship to fund his new ambition. He graduated through Formula Ford, finishing third in the 1985 Esso championship, Formula Three and up to Formula 3000. When the money ran out, so did the drives, and he sought a new direction with a test contract at Williams. He also landed a drive with Brabham and, although the venture was short-lived, he did nothing to tarnish his reputation. Eventually Williams called with the chance of a lifetime.

'I've not got Dad's gift of the gab, or his charm, but I think I've got his perseverance,' Hill said. 'I'm proud to have got this drive and I'm sure Dad would have been proud too.'

'He's got his father's sense of humour, that's for sure,' Williams said. Damon Hill was smiling yesterday, and looking forward to 'my best-ever Christmas' with his wife, Georgie, their two young sons, his mother and two sisters. 'I think the drinks will be on me.'

----------------------------------------------------------------- DAMON HILL ----------------------------------------------------------------- Born: London, 17 Sept 1960 Grand Prix debut: Britain, 1992 Grand prix starts: 2 Best finish: 11th, Hungary 1992 1985: Third in Esso Formula Ford 1600 championship 1986: Ninth in Lucas British Formula Three championship 1987: Fifth in Lucas British Formula Three championship 1988: Third in Lucas British Formula Three championship 1991: Official test driver for Williams-Renault in Formula One 1992: Official test driver for Williams-Renault; drove two races for Brabham in Formula One world championship -----------------------------------------------------------------

(Photograph omitted)

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