Motor Racing: How I fulfilled my life's ambition: The Williams driver, who secured the world title in Hungary at the weekend, is giving his views in The Independent during the season

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The Independent Online
WHEN I qualified for my first Grand Prix, in Austria, 12 years ago, I had one long-term objective: to win the Formula One world championship. It was what I fervently wanted, and what I genuinely believed I could achieve.

Ever since that day the title has been my motivation. There's no doubt my conviction has been tested over the years. I've had many a setback along the way.

But now I am champion and I am just beginning to believe it really has happened. I seem to have been in a whirl since Sunday, when my second place in the Hungarian Grand Prix made the championship certain. It has been the most wonderful, extraordinary experience I've ever known.

First and foremost I have to thank Rosanne, my wife. There's absolutely no question about it, I could not have come all this way without her. We have been together since my karting days. People tend to forget I've actually been competing for the best part of 30 years, and through much of that time I have had the love and support of Rosanne to draw on. This is her success as much as mine.

It is also a success I share with the fans, who have backed me superbly throughout and, of course, everyone connected with the Canon Williams-Renault team, who have made this possible. This has been a two-year campaign at Williams. We always knew it would take that long to get it right and the team effort has ensured we have got it right. My sincere thanks go to Frank Williams, Patrick Head, Sheridan Thynne, my mechanics and all the others, far too numerous to mention, who make up this great racing team.

The fact that we have achieved this championship with five races remaining speaks volumes for our performance this season. We have been fast and consistent, worthy of victory. The constructors' championship will, I hope, complete a perfect year for the team.

Throughout practice and qualifying in Hungary there was plenty to keep my mind occupied. I had all sorts of problems from the start, including a fire in my exhaust and an electrical problem. My team-mate, Riccardo Patrese, meanwhile, had a trouble-free run and was able to keep that momentum going through qualifying. My situation wasn't helped by the traffic on a circuit which I fear may have been outgrown by the cars. Overtaking is very difficult and the slippery surface made mishaps inevitable. The removal of some kerbs made it worse still because cars were dragging dust on to the track.

I and several other experienced drivers have commented this season on the consequences of using race tyres in qualifying and we saw the clearest possible evidence in Hungary. There are too many cars out there doing too many laps. The stress and congestion lead to accidents. I dread to think what it will be like on narrower tyres next season.

My qualifying session ended with a hefty bang into a barrier. I was caught up in the aftermath of Gerhard Berger's spin and could do nothing about it. I had to settle for second place on the grid behind Riccardo, but it could have been far worse. Most drivers, incidently, said they felt they were significantly down on power as a result of the new fuel restrictions.

Sunday morning's warm-up indicated that McLaren-Honda would give us a fight, even though we were using Renault's RS4 engines for the first time, and I was prepared for a long, hard race. I could not, however, have envisaged the events which were to unfold.

About three-quarters of an hour before the race I made my way up to the pits and had a few words with Frank and David Brown, my race engineer. Rosanne wished me well, the way she always does. At just after 1.30 I pulled out of the garage and on to the track to make my way round to the grid. When I'd taken up my position there was still some 20 minutes to go and, as I often do when it's hot, I got out of the car, took off my helmet and sat in the shade. I tried to relax as much as possible but my heart was pounding. A final drink and douse of water, a last word with David and I climbed back into the car.

After the final parade lap we came round for the start proper: red light, green light, off. Any thoughts I had about taking the lead, controlling the race and going on for the win which would have guaranteed me the championship were soon forgotten. Riccardo was under no team orders, and he naturally wanted to win his first race of the season. He made sure I couldn't squeeze inside him at the all-important first corner, but unfortunately that allowed Ayrton Senna and Gerhard to go round me on the outside.

I was able to take Gerhard at the start of the eighth lap, but Ayrton, who selected softer tyres, was a different proposition. Riccardo seemed to be heading for victory when he spun and came back in seventh place. Soon, though, he had to retire. But then I heard Patrick screaming on the radio to come in because of a problem. It's difficult to detect a slow puncture with active suspension and we'd taped over the warning light after it malfunctioned in Germany. Luckily, I got the message and came in before there was further damage. I did not need to be reminded of Adelaide, 1986]

The boys did a great job on the pit stop, so then it was down to me to get third place for the championship, again, just like Adelaide. I was sixth and there were 16 laps left. When Michael Schumacher's Benetton-Ford spun out I was up to fifth. Gerhard had done me a favour by leading a bit of a train of cars and eventually I was able to move up to second place, behind Ayrton.

I must admit I was confused by all the drama and action - I got it into my head I was third. Either way, my team assured me it was enough. It had been a fantastic, eventful race and, for me, the championship's job had been done.

(Photograph omitted)

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