Motor racing: Hill running out of options after turning down Jordan

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The Independent Online
In one regard, Formula One is no different from any other sport. You are only as good as your last game.

Damon Hill may be reflecting on that as he continues his pursuit of a job for next season. However, his mission will have been rendered no easier by events here this past weekend.

He finished the Belgium Grand Prix in the pits, classified a barely noticed 14th. Rather more conspicuous was the combative and controlled drive of Jordan-Peugeot's Giancarlo Fisichella, eclipsed only by the genius of Michael Schumacher.

Fisichella's performance will have reaffirmed Eddie Jordan's belief he should persist in his endeavours to prove that his team, and not Benetton, have the contractual right to the Italian's services.

Jordan has attempted to cover himself by asking Hill if he would be prepared to consider a deal in the region of $6.5m (pounds 4.2m). The reigning champion, it is understood, rejected the proposal, just as he turned down McLaren- Mercedes' offer of $2m (pounds 1.2m), plus $1m a win, in the wake of his sterling show at the previous race in Hungary.

Hill publicly and vehemently argued that decision was justified because, although finding a competitive car remained his priority, he felt he was entitled to a fee in keeping with his status as defending champion. His ball-park figure is $10m.

However, there is a feeling within the sport that he blew a golden opportunity after Budapest and that his stature was badly chipped here this weekend. Revelations of the broken negotiations and an uninspiring display on the Spa track have done nothing to enhance his reputation.

Hill was overshadowed in qualifying and in the race by his much maligned partner, Pedro Diniz, who actually contributes $12m to the Arrows-Yamaha team budget.

Tom Walkinshaw, the team owner, said somewhat pointedly: "Pedro's had a cracking weekend. He's been on the pace all weekend and shown that our speed in Hungary wasn't a flash in the pan. Our cars were as quick as anything on the track."

Hill, he infers by omission, did not make good of his. The Englishman admits he chose the wrong tyres at the start, as did others. Also like others, he was outclassed in every department by Schumacher. That is why any team would pay any price if they could to hire the championship leader - hailed here by Jordan as the greatest of all time - and why they are not prepared to do so for Hill. It is even suggested a number of teams have agreed to cap any offer for him.

Bernie Ecclestone, the commercial head of Formula One, is trying to use his influence to place Hill in the top team, which now means Jordan or Benetton. But the latter have expressed a commitment to youth and the uncertainty about the position of their managing director, Flavio Briatore, is apparently holding up business affairs in the Anglo-Italian camp. It is thought Briatore's departure could be announced by the end of next month.

A ruling of Fisichella's placement for 1998 could still create an opening for Hill at either Jordan or Benetton, but then he returns to the obstacle of money. Sauber were willing to meet his asking price and may still be, despite the fact Hill has already rejected them and the team said their talks had been concluded.

Prost remain an option, as do Arrows. But Walkinshaw might not be prepared to pay him another $7m, let alone increase his salary.