Motor racing: Hill the master of Montreal

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The Independent Online
Damon Hill has never had quite such a straightforward victory as in yesterday's Canadian Grand Prix, which produced precisely the result that his World Championship campaign so desperately needed.

The 18th win of his career made up for the recent retirements in Monaco and Spain, and pushed him further ahead of team-mate Jacques Villeneuve in the points table with 53 to the Canadian's 32.

Williams' main threat subsided even before the start, when Michael Schumacher's Ferrari, which had been third fastest in qualifying, refused to start as the field left for the gridformation lap. He was obliged to start from the back of the grid, and on a circuit where overtaking is frequently difficult he faced a tough afternoon's work.

Hill blitzed his opposition at the start, protecting his line into the first corner as Villeneuve tried to squeeze by on the outside. At the end of that first lap Hill was already two seconds clear as Villeneuve renewed his Spanish GP duel with Jean Alesi for second place, chased by Mika Hakkinen, Gerhard Berger and Martin Brundle, who had made a storming start to his 150th grand prix. Further back, Schumacher completed the opening lap in a lowly 17th place, running with Johnny Herbert's Sauber and Mika Salo's Tyrrell.

It was the ninth lap before Villeneuve managed to shake off the tenacious Alesi and, freed of the intense pressure from the Frenchman, he was able to close the gap to Hill by a small margin. A lap later, however, Hill had restored the status quo, looking completely in control.

He remained thus until the 28th lap when he made his first stop for fuel and fresh tyres, and when Villeneuve stayed out for another eight laps Williams' strategy finally became clear. Hill had started with a lighter fuel load, and planning to make two quicker stops, while Villeneuve had opted for one longer stop.

Curiously, the Canadian's tenure of the lead aroused little fervour from the thousands who had flocked into the circuit that bears his father's name, in the confident expectation that their man would deliver victory.

Immediately after rejoining on lap 28 Hill began a series of fast laps, and when Villeneuve finally refuelled the Briton swept back into the lead. By lap 40, it was 21 seconds, which was more than enough on a circuit where entry and exit in the pit lane does not impose any real penalty. Hill's second stop went entirely to plan on the 49th lap, and he maintained a healthy lead as he regained his rhythm.

In the closing laps, Villeneuve eroded Hill's advantage, without ever looking likely to challenge, and they ran out 4.1sec apart after 69 dominant laps.

As Berger began to catch Alesi and the Benetton team-mates induged in fierce duel, Brundle was able to close in again from fifth place. Alesi repeatedly rebuffed Berger's advances, and after a long fuel stop on lap 35 had dropped him well behind the Frenchman, the Austrian's race fell apart when he spun into retirement on the 43rd lap.

While the Williams team-mates fought it out, Schumacher endured a miserable afternoon. By the 20th lap he was 40 seconds adrift of Hill, struggling with a brake problem. Later still came the ignominy of pressure from the Ligier of Pedro Diniz until, mercifully, the Brazilian pulled in for more fuel. Then, when Schumacher also stopped on his 41st lap, he rejoined just as Hill sped by to lap him. Certainly, with Eddie Irvine retiring from fourth place with a suspension problem on the second lap, this was as bad a day for Ferrari as Alesi's maiden victory for the Prancing Horse here last year had been excellent. The misery finally ended when Schumacher stopped on lap 42 with a broken driveshaft.

Hill's only anxiety came on the seventh lap when backmarkers Ukyo Katayama and Riccardo Rosset collided on the final corner. Katayama's Tyrrell was stranded in the middle of the track, but fast marshalling removed the obstruction just before Hill arrived at the scene.

In yet another grand prix with a high rate of attrition only eight cars were running at the finish. Behind Alesi, the McLarens of David Coulthard and Mika Hakkinen finished fourth and fifth, after Coulthard had pressured Hakkinen into a mistake at the hairpin on the 37th lap. Brundle was sixth, but deserved to finish ahead of both of them. After setting into fourth place behind Alesi, his progress was hampered just after his second fuel stop when Pedro Lamy spun his Minardi just in front of the Jordan, damaging the nose of Brundle's car and forcing him to stop for a replacement.

Canadian Grand Prix

1 D Hill, GB (Williams-Renault) 10pts

2 J Villeneuve, Can (Williams-Renault) 6pts

3 J Alesi, Fr (Benetton-Renault) 4pts

4 D Coulthard, GB (McLaren-Mercedes) 3pts

5 M Hakkinen, Fin (McLaren-Mercedes) 2pts

6 M Brundle, GB (Jordan-Peugot) 1pt

7 J Herbert, GB (Sauber-Ford)

8 G Fisichella, It (Minardi-Ford)

Only eight cars finished

Drivers' championship

1 D Hill 53pts

2 J Villeneuve 32

3 M Schumacher 26

4 J Alesi 21

5 D Coulthard 13

6 O Panis 11

7 M Hakkinen 10; 8 E Irvine 9.

Constructors' championship

1 Williams-Renault 85

2 Ferrari 35

3 Benetton-Renault 28

4 McLaren-Mercedes 23

5 Ligier-Mugen-Honda 12

6 Sauber-Ford 10