Motor Racing: Hill stays cool in heat to secure first victory: Luck changes for favourite son as rivals fall by the wayside

Click to follow
The Independent Online
HE STOOD at the top of the podium, nervously taking a bow like a schoolboy called to the front of the class to collect his sportsday prize. Damon Hill had arrived as Britain's 14th winner in a world championship race.

For eight previous seasons the burden of his country's expectations had been shouldered by Nigel Mansell and it was on this very circuit, 12 months ago, that Mansell achieved his title success. How appropriate, then, that Hill, his successor at Williams-Renault, should register his maiden victory here in yesterday's Hungarian Grand Prix.

The team's principal, Frank Williams, gave his interpretation of the historical significance, saying: 'You can disconnect all lines to Florida. England has a new hero.'

Whether Hill can replace the exiled champion in the hearts and minds of those back home remains to be seen. The 32-year-old Londoner was the first to concede he was fortunate yesterday, able to proceed unchallenged from grid to flag as the top three drivers in the championship fell by the wayside.

His team-mate, and the title leader, Alain Prost, stalled at the start of the parade lap, was relegated to the back of the grid, and, having advanced to fourth, the Frenchman lost seven laps while a broken wing was replaced. Ayrton Senna's McLaren-Ford stopped with a throttle-related problem and an erratic Michael Schumacher eventually retired his Benetton-Ford with a systems drive failure.

Hill finished 1min 11.915sec ahead of Riccardo Patrese, in the other Benetton-Ford. Gerhard Berger, in a Ferrari, was third, with Britons, Derek Warwick (Footwork-Mugen) and Martin Brundle (Ligier-Renault) fourth and fifth respectively.

But then, as Hill also said, he was due a change of luck after the exasperating experiences of Silverstone and Hockenheim. He went on: 'I'll never complain about bad luck again. Today proved it balances out in the end. The hard part was maintaining my concentration, telling myself not to even think of the flag.'

That was no simple task, even in Formula One's best car. The outside temperature was 103 degrees; inside the cockpit considerably more. And here he was, in only his 13th grand prix, offered the opportunity to become the first driver in the 44-season history of the championship to follow his father into the race winner's circle.

Hill Jnr drew on memories of his late father, Graham, who was twice a world champion, to guide him to the through the closing 20 laps. 'Those were the longest 20 laps I've ever known. I've never had an 80-second lead before and didn't really know what to do with it. I imagined what my father would have said to me in the circumstances. He was a hard taskmaster and would have told me to get the job finished, keep my feet on the ground.'

He dedicated the victory 'to the Hill family, past, present and future. I'm particularly thinking of Dad. He was my inspiration. He would have enjoyed this.

'It's all beginning to sink in now, though I can't really find the words to explain the feeling. I'm just as delighted for the team as for myself. I want to thank all those who gave me this opportunity. I knew what I could do but Frank took a gamble by signing me.'

Hill flew home last night in Williams' private plane and relished the opportunity to discuss his prospects for a new contract. He had been aware he needed a victory to strengthen his case for a drive next season but was rapidly running out of chances.

Williams said: 'It was a faultless drive. After the first few races it was obvious Damon could cut the mustard. I'm thrilled for him.'

Prost was equally effusive in his compliments and suggested Hill could now aspire to second place in the championship. The Englishman has moved up to third, two points ahead of Schumacher, and is only 12 behind Senna. Prost's lead is 27. Five races remain.

All the racing here was in Hill's wake. He made an excellent start and, after holding his advantage through the second corner with Senna at his heels, the only opposition was from within himself. Schumacher might have been a threat had he not misjudged the first corner and then spun in his over-exuberance to track down Senna.

Warwick and Brundle were embroiled in a contest of their own, only for Berger to butt in. The Austrian barged his way past Brundle, a doubtful manoeuvre affecting the efficiency of the Ligier. The Englishman said: 'He passed me in an impossible place. In hitting me, he bent one of my car's steering arms and after my second pit stop it was difficult to drive. Except in left-handers] I caught Derek towards the end but then I had a gear selection problem.'

Warwick, who has endured a traumatic season, made only one tyre stop and was rewarded for his strategy, control and resilience with his best result for five years.

Mark Blundell, in the other Ligier, was balked in the rush from the lights and was never really able to recover. Johnny Herbert, his frustration seemingly unending, spun his Lotus-Ford at the first corner of the 40th lap while running seventh.

(Photograph omitted)

Comments