Motor Racing: Hill puts pressure on Prost

Click to follow
The Independent Online
DAMON HILL relieved us of the endless political manoeuvering in the background by consummately beating his Williams-Renault team-mate, Alain Prost, to provisional pole position for tomorrow's French Grand Prix here. Whether sport prevails in the race, however, remains to be seen.

Hill and his boss, Frank Williams, steadfastly refused to reveal team tactics, which, in many cases, would not be unusual, but this team have traditionally insisted their drivers are free to race each other.

Hill said: 'I'm not prepared to talk about team orders or tactics. That's a question for the team management.'

So, to Williams. He said: 'I'm not prepared to discuss team strategy.'

The inevitable assumption to be drawn now is that, unless Hill is leading by a substantial distance, he will not be allowed to beat Prost.

Williams' priorities are to win the constructors' and drivers' championships, and Prost is only five points clear of McLaren-Ford's Ayrton Senna at the top of the standings. Hill is 20 points adrift of the Brazilian and assuming the role of back-up. If, as appears likely, the two Williams cars are out on their own, the team will be in a position to dictate the finishing order. Victory here, on home ground, would enable Prost to strengthen his hold on the championship, especially if Hill finished ahead of Senna.

Prost, on pole for all seven races this season, was scrambling to recover ground after a problem with his ABS braking system, introduced here, forced him to abandon his car only three laps into the unofficial practice session. Hill came out of the blocks for qualifying like a man at one with his car and Prost could not compete. The Englishman had a best lap of 1min 15.051sec. His partner was seven- tenths of a second down.

The track slowed towards the end of the hour and Hill's place was unchallenged. Michael Schumacher, in the Benetton-Ford, again edged out Senna for third place. Jean Alesi maintained his excellent form with fifth place for Ferrari. The local team were also content. Ligier-Renault's British drivers, Mark Blundell, with a personal best performance, and Martin Brundle delivered sixth and seventh places respectively.

Hill added: 'I exploited the advantage handed to me by Alain's problem in the morning, but I like this track. I do prefer a track with quick corners. There's extra pressure on Alain here, he's expected to win, so he's in a no- win situation.'

The contest behind the Williams pair looks tight and Blundell and Brundle hope to qualify better still today. Blundell said: 'I've been down because I've had an indifferent spell for various reasons, but I've worked hard and the new aerodynamic package is making a difference. Martin is on a roll so the team is on the up.'

Johnny Herbert was 12th fastest for Lotus-Ford and Derek Warwick was 19th in his Footwork-Mugen.

Off the track, Senna has committed himself to McLaren for the rest of the season, though his team's managing director, Ron Dennis, warned he was prepared to consider withdrawing from Formula One next season over the continuing political wrangles. McLaren and Williams oppose the dismantling of technology, a stand which Max Mosley, Fisa's president, admits forced the authority to wield the big stick and threaten sanctions.

Benetton, meanwhile, are looking for sponsors following an announcement yesterday that Camel are ending their seven-year involvement in Formula One at the end of the season.

FRENCH GRAND PRIX (Magny-Cours, 4.25km, 2.64 miles) First qualifying times: 1 D Hill (GB) Williams-Renault 1min 15.051sec; 2 A Prost (Fr) Williams-Renault 1:15.725; 3 M Schumacher (Ger) Benetton-Ford 1:16.720; 4 A Senna (Bra) McLaren-Ford 1:16.782; 5 J Alesi (Fr) Ferrari 1:16.825; 6 M Blundell (GB) Ligier-Renault 1:16.834; 7 M Brundle (GB) Ligier-Renault 1:16.847; 8 R Barrichello (Bra) Jordan-Hart 1:17.347; 9 A Suzuki (Japan) Footwork-Mugen Honda 1:17.441; 10 K Wendlinger (Aut) Sauber 1:17.650; 11 R Patrese (It) Benetton-Ford 1:17.675; 12 J Herbert (GB) Lotus-Ford 1:17.862; 13 E Comas (Fr) Larrousse-Lamborghini 1:18.180; 14 P Alliot (Fr) Larrousse-Lamborghini 1:18.230; 15 A Zanardi (It) Lotus- Ford 1:18.331; 16 M Andretti (US) McLaren-Ford 1:18.585; 17 T Boutsen (Bel) Jordan-Hart 1:18.685; 18 G Berger (Aut) Ferrari 1:18.741; 19 D Warwick (GB) Footwork- Mugen Honda 1:19.180; 20 J J Lehto (Fin) Sauber 1:19.252; 21 C Fittipaldi (Bra) Minardi-Ford 1:19.968; 22 U Katayama (Japan) Tyrrell-Yamaha 1:20.553; 23 A de Cesaris (It) Tyrrell-Yamaha 1:21.024; 24 F Barbazza (It) Minardi-Ford 1:21.113; 25 L Badoer (It) Lola BMS-Ferrari 1:21.931; 26 M Alboreto (It) Lola BMS-Ferrari 1:22.106.