Motor Racing: Hill sent flying in brush with Irvine: Roll bar saves Williams driver in spectacular collision with accident-prone Irishman

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The Independent Online
JUST when Damon Hill thought life was becoming simpler and his world championship path clearer, he had the misfortune to happen upon Eddie Irvine having one of his moments here yesterday.

Their cars unavoidably met and Hill's Williams-Renault was tossed into the air, landing upside down in a gravel trap. The roll bar protected him and he was able to scramble away unhurt.

Irvine, hounded by calamities from the first day of his Formula One career, was disinctly the more uncomfortable. He has already served a three-race suspension this season, and incurred a further one-race ban, suspended for three grands prix for running Johnny Herbert off the road at Monza, a fortnight ago.

The Jordan-Hart driver apologised to Hill for his latest mishap, but the Englishman graciously acknowledged he was blameless. His sympathies were with the embattled Ulsterman.

The incident happened three and a half minutes before the end of the first qualifying session for tomorrow's Portuguese Grand Prix. Hill, the second fastest and still hopeful of taking provisional pole position from Ferrari's Gerhard Berger, saw Irvine spinning just ahead at the revised section of the circuit. As Irvine went left, Hill pulled to the right, but the Jordan came on to the track again, backwards, and the momentum of the meeting wheels tipped the Williams. It was the 'flying lap' he had not bargained for.

Hill, who recently admitted he feared being trapped upside down in a car that might explode, was able to make light of the accident. 'It's the first time I've been upside down in a car and I didn't do it very well,' he said. 'We can laugh now because I wasn't hurt, but you don't want it to happen too often. The roll loop did its job. It was a relief, because the worry is that the roll loop could bury in the ground. It was interesting up there, because sooner or later you know you are going to land. My helmet hit the ground but just lightly.

'It was just one of those things. It's the slowest part of the circuit and when you touch wheels at that speed, it's easy for a car to flip over. Poor old Eddie. He has had a bit of a rough time recently.'

Irvine is wondering what he has done to deserve so many brushes with opponents, barriers and authority in his first year of Formula One. His debut, in Japan, will always be remembered for the post-race punch thrown at him by Ayrton Senna. In the following race, in Australia, he went off.

He opened this season by being identified as the culprit behind a major accident in Brazil and was, after appeal, banned for three races. He was involved in accidents in Canada, Germany and Hungary, and then hit Herbert's Lotus-Mugen from behind at the first corner of the Italian Grand Prix.

'I just spun and unfortunately we went the same way trying to avoid each other,' Irvine said. 'My feeling now is one of disbelief. I can't help wondering 'why me?' again.

'But I did nothing wrong. The only one that was my fault was the last one, at Monza. The others have been unavoidable circumstances. I've been in motor-racing 10 years and I have never experienced anything like this.'

Hill's session had already been problematical. He found Berger in his way at that fateful new complex and soon afterwards had a spin. 'It's been an eventful day and, all things considered, I'm quite happy with second place on the grid,' he said.

Pole is still within his compass and, more importantly, so is the victory he requires to close the gap behind the championship leader, Michael Schumacher, to one point.

David Coulthard, in the second Williams, is third overnight. Martin Brundle, in a McLaren-Peugeot, is seventh, Mark Blundell, in a Tyrrell-Yamaha, ninth, and Irvine 18th. Herbert was excluded from the session because he received a push by marshals the wrong way along the track following a spin.

PORTUGUESE GRAND PRIX (Estoril) First qualifying times: 1 G Berger (Aut) Ferrari 1 min 20.608 sec (194.720kph, 120.996mph); 2 D Hill (GB) Williams-Renault 1:20.803; 3 D Coulthard (GB) Williams-Renault 1:21.120; 4 M Hakkinen (Fin) McLaren-Peugeot 1:21.251; 5 J Alesi (Fr) Ferrari 1:21.517; 6 U Katayama (Japan) Tyrrell-Yamaha 1:21.590; 7 M Brundle (GB) McLaren-Peugeot 1:21.656; 8 R Barrichello (Bra) Jordan-Hart 1:21.839; 9 M Blundell (GB) Tyrrell-Yamaha 1:22.288; 10 J J Lehto (Fin) Benetton-Ford 1:22.613; 11 J Verstappen (Neth) Benetton-Ford 1:22.614; 12 C Fittipaldi (Bra) Footwork-Ford 1:22.636; 13 H-H Frentzen (Ger) Sauber-Mercedes 1:22.795; 14 A de Cesaris (It) Sauber-Mercedes 1:22.885; 15 G Morbidelli (It) Footwork-Ford 1:22.974; 16 P Martini (It) Minardi Scuderia Italia 1:23.243; 17 M Alboreto (It) Minardi Scuderia Italia 1:23.364; 18 E Irvine (GB) Jordan-Hart 1:23.411; 19 O Panis (Fr) Ligier-Renault 1:23.711; 20 E Comas (Fr) Larrousse-Ford 1:24.192; 21 Y Dalmas (Fr) Larrousse-Ford 1:24.438; 22 D Brabham (Aus) Simtek-Ford 1:24.527; 23 E Bernard (Fr) Ligier-Renault 1:25.039; 24 P Adams (Bel) Lotus-Mugen Honda 1:25.313; 25 J-M Gounon (Fr) Simtek-Ford 1:25.686; 26 B Gachot (Bel) Pacific-Ilmor 1:27.960; 27 P Belmondo (Fr) Pacific-Ilmor 1:32.706.

(Photograph and map omitted)