reports from Hockenheim
Damon Hill's Formula One championship aspirations suffered another, and possibly decisive, setback when he crashed out of yesterday's German Grand Prix after barely two minutes, leaving the local idol Michael Schumacher the relatively routine task of collecting his fifth victory of the season, and opening up a 21-point lead.
"It is pretty devastating for the championship. I'm completely gutted," Hill said.
He led the first lap from pole position but lost control of his Williams- Renault at the end of the pit straight, slid sideways, careered across the gravel and into a tyre barrier. He insisted he was not pushing too hard but Schumacher felt he was, and the Englishman's team boss, Frank Williams, said: "Damon was pulling away. He could and should have won the race."
Hill had an accident on the same corner in a Formula 3000 race six years ago, but this time the consequences could be far more costly. Eight races remain and Schumacher could afford to have two failures and still hold his title lead.
The two drivers, who collided at Silverstone a fortnight ago, shook hands and wished each other luck before the race. Hill's fortune, however, ran out as he approached that third-gear right-hander at about 180 mph.
Hill said: "I'm very shocked about what happened. I was comfortable in the car and really looking good. I changed down to the normal gear and suddenly the back end went."
Despite the deficit Hill, mustered a departing defiant shot: "There's no way I'm going to give up the championship fight."
Schumacher, Germany's first world champion and now his country's first winner on home soil, said: "I think he [Hill] made a big mistake. He should have known there are lots of [oil] deposits there. That's why I braked early and was cautious."
Hill's team-mate, David Coulthard, was second, Gerhard Berger of Ferrari was third, and Britain's Johnny Herbert, in the other Benetton, was fourth.
Report and details, page 23Reuse content