Motor Racing: Hill ready for hot pursuit at Hockenheim: Schumacher underpowered and under pressure as attention switches to German Grand Prix

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The Independent Online
DEEP into the evening, Damon Hill was centre-stage again, leading renditions of 'Love Me Tender', 'Get Back' and 'Route 66'. It had, after all, been a day for wooing the Silverstone crowd and repelling the German threat, just as the England boys did at Wembley all those years ago.

The one-time punk-rock guitarist with that never-to-be-forgotten band, Sex Hitler and the Hormones, was backed by Johnny Herbert, Eddie Irvine and Eddie Jordan in a revellers' encore to the British Grand Prix show. Now it is Hill's intention to take his victory celebration on tour. The next stop: Hockenheim in Germany, Michael Schumacher's home race.

Hill, having beaten Schumacher and his Benetton, albeit with the assistance of a stop-and-go penalty, to trim his world championship deficit to 33 points, senses the second half of the season could tilt the way of his Williams-Renault.

'Some people may think Schumacher has got the championship in the bag, but I don't think so and I'm not so sure he's that confident now either,' Hill said. 'There's a long way to go. We're only half-way through the season.

'I think Michael is worried I'm going to upstage him and beat him at Hockenheim. It's a power circuit, which should suit us, and Michael has every right to feel worried we could ruin his big day. If I win in Germany I may need some sort of police escort to get out of the country, but I certainly won't feel any guilt if I rob him of a win. I've closed the gap a bit and I intend to keep closing it. He's got to drop a few points here and there and he's still not had a DNF (did not finish). He has got to have a mechanical breakdown sooner or later.'

Hill, elevated to new levels of motivation and conviction in his determination to secure his future, believes he could have beaten Schumacher regardless of the punishment the German incurred for overtaking as he practised his start on the formation lap. 'Even without that penalty, I was confident of doing the business,' Hill said. 'We gave him a good shake. I showed I can stay at the front. He was giving me a tough time but I showed I could cope with the pressure, even with him behind me. I'm out to make it a hell of a fight to the finish.

'Schumacher went ahead of me on the original parade lap, as well. I think it was just a sign he was pumped up to make a point and show his class. I was tantalising him in the opening laps. When he did a quick one, I went a bit quicker. It was unsettling him. Michael has usually got a huge smile on his face but he was not too happy after this race. (But) he's a really nice bloke and said he was pleased for me. He was the first to shake my hand. There's a lot of camaraderie between all the drivers now.'

Hill and the rest will be testing cars with stepped bottoms, the latest change to regulations, before the German Grand Prix on 31 July. A strip of wood, 10mm thick, is to be attached beneath the cars, raising them from the ground and further reducing downforce and speeds. 'You'll probably see a lot of wood burning to wear it out and regain some speed,' he added.

Williams plan further improvements to their package in the near future, while Ferrari are due to have a new engine in their modified car for Hockenheim. All of which is heightening the anxiety for Schumacher, the man expected by the vast majority of the 150,000 sell-out crowd to win.

Schumacher said: 'I had a lot of support at Hockenheim last year and I'm sure it will be the same this year. The motivation for me this time is even more. My only problem is Williams and Ferrari. They have something I don't. It is something I have said all along.'

That 'something' is power, and it may suggest he supports the widely predicted switch by Benetton from Ford to Renault engines. Williams, meanwhile, are being linked with Mercedes Ilmor and Ford Cosworth.

Nigel Mansell said that he was happy with second place in Sunday's Cleveland IndyCar Grand Prix despite finishing 24 seconds behind the winner, Al Unser Jnr. 'I feel very satisfied,' Mansell, who is lying third in the drivers' standings, said. IndyCar officials, meanwhile, have signed a new four-year contract to keep the Australian Grand Prix, the only race in the series staged outside North America, at Surfers Paradise on Queensland's Gold Coast.

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