Motor Racing: Hill reveals rejection of $20m deal

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The Independent Online
Damon Hill steered his Arrows-Yamaha through the rain to fourth place in practice for tomorrow's Belgian Grand Prix here and then decided it was time to present his case for not only a competitive drive, but also a salary befitting a world champion.

The revelation that he had rejected an offer of $2m (pounds 1.2m), plus $1m (pounds 636,000) a win, to join McLaren-Mercedes, who have now retained David Coulthard and Mika Hakkinen for next season, sits uneasily with Hill's claim that money is not his priority.

He backed up that claim by declaring that he had rejected a two-year deal - believed to have come from Sauber - of more than $20m (pounds 12.7m), yet insisted that he deserves to be paid what he deems he is worth.

"I turned down in excess of $20m over two years. The reason those deals have been put to me is because of my ability and achievements in the sport, and what I can do for a racing team," Hill said.

"It is a huge sport, with a huge audience, and it is all about money. The reason racing drivers are trying to earn a lot of money is because they bring results, success and publicity to the teams they drive for. Nobody would be offering me money if I was no good.

"It's not about the risks we take, it's because of our huge commercial value. Sponsors want to be associated with Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill."

Hill, in common with other drivers, believes his salary - currently $7m - should be a measure of his standing in the sport.

"It's not right to expect me to just roll over with my legs in the air and forego the things I have worked for in my career," he said. "I would be betraying all the work and my own value that I perceive I have in the sport.

"I like to think there is a lot of interest in my being in a competitive car - from the fans, the country and the sponsors. I'm not so desperate that I would do it for nothing.

"Some teams have been known to pay $1m a race regardless of results. It's rumoured Michael Schumacher is on pounds 20m a year. I regard myself as better than a great number of drivers in Formula One and my record is better than a great number of drivers in Formula One. I can make a difference, as you have seen with Arrows.

"I don't accept it's a buyer's market. It's been said of another team [Jordan] that they would have done better with a better driver in the car."

"There are a handful of people in Formula One who can win a championship and I am one of them."

Having got that of his chest, Hill and his advisors consulted and issued a statement concerning the McLaren offer which had been rejected because it "did not accord with what I had been led to believe from our prior negotiations, and I did not consider that it demonstrated a serious commitment to me as a driver."

The problem for Hill is that although he has received substantial offers, none has been from a competitive team.

Coulthard and Hakkinen, on the other hand, are now sure of a drive next season. "This is one of the most desirable seats you can get in Formula One - and I'm glad I have it," the 26-year-old Coulthard said. "I have done a good solid job this year. I have always believed I would be at McLaren, I never doubted it for one moment."

BELGIAN GRAND PRIX (Spa-Francorchamps): Free practice: 1 G Berger (Aut) Benetton-Renault 2min 6.802sec (122.95 mph); 2 J Alesi (Fr) Benetton-Renault 2:07.371; 3 R Barrichello (Br) Stewart-Ford, 2:08.238; 4 D Hill (GB) Arrows- Yamaha 2:08.372; 5 M Schumacher (Ger) Ferrari 2:08.272; 6 D Coulthard (GB) Mclaren-Mercedes 2:09.288; 7 J Herbert (GB) Sauber-Petronas 2:09.772; 8 J Trulli (It) Prost-Mugen-Honda 2:09.772; 9 P Diniz (Br) Arrows-Yamaha 2:10.153; 10 U Katayama (Japan) Minardi-Hart, 2:10.231. Selected: 14 E Irvine (GB) Ferrari 2:10.993; 17 J Villeneuve (Can) Williams-Renault 2:11.709. 20 R Schumacher (Ger) Jordan-Peugeot, 2:12.750.

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