Motor racing: Hill unhappy with Jordan's parity policy

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The Independent Online
Jordan rolled out their car for the 1998 Formula One season yesterday, but the pomp was punctured by Damon Hill's misgivings at not being the No 1 driver with his new team. Derick Allsop reports.

The ghosts of seasons past revisited Damon Hill yesterday as he sought a future of revived hope and success.

Hill, the former Formula One world champion, may have been regarded as the obvious top of the bill for Jordan-Mugen-Honda, even on a stage shared with the team's new car, which was lowered from the roof of London's Royal Albert Hall accompanied by music and dancing from the Cirque du Soleil.

However, Eddie Jordan, the team principal, insisted the British driver would be sharing equal status with his partner this year and Hill could not contain his disquiet.

Not least, perhaps, because his new team-mate is Ralf Schumacher, younger brother of Michael. Suddenly all the old phobias seemed to be closing in on Hill, with the opening race in Melbourne eight weeks away.

"To win in Formula One you have to beat Michael Schumacher, who has his entire team working on his behalf," Hill said. "If you have limited resources it is important to direct them in the right way. Ralf is keen to be up front and so am I. To seriously get the best and most competitive performance you need the attention Michael had at Benetton and now has at Ferrari, and maybe that is to the benefit of everyone in the team."

Hill has consistently maintained that his 1995 World Championship challenge was undermined by Williams' refusal to subject David Coulthard to team orders and the thorny issue has reappeared even before he has driven a lap for Jordan.

Ralf Schumacher, after only one season in Formula One has a reputation as an uncompromising competitor and for all the expressions of unity, there appears little doubt that Jordan will be the scene of one of the season's more intriguing sub-plots.

Jordan, who had to bring Schumacher and his former team-mate, Giancarlo Fisichella into line after a collision last season, still believes in the merits of healthy rivalry, arguing that parity is both fair and productive.

"What Damon has said here is what he said right at the start of our discussions, but what Michael does is Michael's business," he said. "At Jordan no individual is greater than the team. Williams do not have a No 1, but they know it would be stupid not to get one of their drivers to help if the other was in the position to win the title. That's good team tactics.

"I'm not dictatorial. I gave Ralf assurances about this and both will help each other, in fairness to both. If one has the possibility of winning a race or championship, the other will help. We have to be reasonable."

Hill attempted to deflect any tension with a little humour. "So far so good. I've explained to Ralf that Queen Victoria was married to a German, so we're all half-German!" he said.

"It's going to be good with Ralf. There's no one out there who wants to beat Michael quite like Ralf does, so we should make a good team."

Schumacher seemed bemused by that comment and wished it to be known he was "not only trying to beat Michael". He added: "It will be a good relationship. We are going for the same aims - good results. I have a lot to learn from Damon."

Jordan is hoping Hill's experience will provide the key to unlock the team's maiden grand prix win after seven seasons of promise. He hails his new car - which bears a hornet's logo in place of a serpent - as the best the team have produced.

"I won't get sucked into saying we'll get our first win this season," Jordan said, "but we do have a car capable of winning. If the team continue to put in 100 per cent effort, I am sure we'll be very close."

Hill's immediate concern is to get to grips with the car for the first time since last season. "My ambitions are high and I'm straining at the leash to get back in the car," he said. "I'll now more about our prospects when I've started testing in Barcelona later this week. But I'd be very unhappy if I went through the season without a win."