Motor racing: Hill sits more comfortably in his Arrows

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The Independent Online
The last thing Damon Hill would have wanted as he prepared to start defending his place on the Formula One throne was a problem as absurd as his tailored racing seat going missing.

Things had become so desperate with the approach of today's first official practice session for the Australian Grand Prix that the technicians at Hill's new TWR Arrows-Yamaha team knocked up a new one in the hope that it would fit the bill.

Panic over. This morning, just over three hours before practice was due to begin the carbon-fibre seat finally arrived at the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne, along with other missing cargo. The team said the seat had been part of freight which was taken off the plane in Singapore because of excess weight.

Hill had been forced to stay late at the track yesterday while he was fitted for a new seat, which has to be specially moulded to fit each individual driver. As the Arrows technical director, Frank Dernie, perceptively pointed out: "Damon cannot race without one, that's for sure."

In the event, Hill, who signed for Arrows in a pounds 4.5m deal after being ejected by Williams, enjoyed what might be decribed as home comforts for practice this morning.

As Hill's Arrows suffered a series of technical problems during pre-season testing, such a basic excuse for giving this weekend's event a miss might have looked appealing. But then Hill does have a world title to defend, even if the bookmakers William Hill are offering odds of 16-1 against him finishing the season without a single championship point. Hills make the champion 66-1 to retain his title, with Jacques Villeneuve the 4- 6 favourite.

Michael Schumacher, who won the world title twice when with Benetton, was not expecting to be absolutely flying around the circuit either, predicting his Ferrari would make a slow start to the season. "We won't be able to win races in my view, not right from the beginning anyhow," he said.

The German is aiming to earn enough points during the early rounds to stay in touch with the leaders in the hope of mounting a challenge later. "We should be able to get on the podium in the first couple of races," Schumacher said before embarking on the first official practice session. "I am sure we will be competitive at certain times and I am hoping that we won't have lost too many points [by then]."

Villeneuve, runner-up to Hill last year as Williams dominated, has become driver to beat since Williams-Renault promoted him after dispensing with Hill for this season, but he hopes that other drivers will also emerge as potential rivals to prevent the season turning into another head-to- head.