Motor Racing: Jubilant Hill reaches the summit

Damon Hill became Britain's eighth world champion racing driver on the 37th lap of the Japanese Grand Prix, when his team-mate and sole title rival, Jacques Villeneuve, crashed to a three-wheeled halt on the second corner. The 36-year-old Englishman had, however, driven a champion's race from the start as he dominated the field.

In recent races Hill has made poor starts but this time it was Villeneuve's turn to wheelspin when the race finally got underway following a delay when David Coulthard's McLaren-Mercedes stalled just before the green lights came on. That necessitated a further grid formation lap, but Hill kept his nerve and, as Villeneuve faltered, he took a lead he was never to lose.

When he took the chequered flag after the most important hour and 32 minutes of his life, Hill led Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen home to score his 21st grand prix victory, his eighth of the season, and made history by becoming the first son of a world champion to emulate his father's achievement.

Drenched in champagne, Hill said: "It's a lot to take on board, really. It takes up a lot of your mental energy just doing a grand prix. When you've won the world championship and the grand prix all in one race, it's a hell of a thing. This is going to take a while for the full impact to hit me, but right now I feel like I'm on a rocket that's just taken off. It's just a wonderful relief of pressure and sense of satisfaction.

"The chequered flag was a beautiful moment, and then I was allowed to let go and start to congratulate myself without having to concentrate on what I was doing."

Before the race Villeneuve's confident pole position had thrown the outcome of the title fight into doubt, but Hill regained his momentum when it mattered and stamped his authority from the outset. By the 12th lap Villeneuve had recovered to fourth place, behind Hakkinen and Schumacher, after overtaking Eddie Irvine's Ferrari. The gap between the two Williams-Renault drivers was never more than nine seconds, apart from during their refuelling stops, but Hill was in full control.

"I felt great when I saw Jacques' start," he admitted, "but I also felt great at Monza, so I was just out there at the front, thinking: 'This is all very well, Hill. Stay calm, and see it through to the finish. Just drive nice and easy.' And that's all I did all race. I kept a good enough advantage over Michael and Mika."

On the 31st lap Villeneuve radioed his pit to say that he suspected he had a puncture, but while the team was examining the tyres he discarded at his second pit stop on lap 32, and finding no such evidence, the Canadian radioed again to say that his car was still handling oddly. Just as he started his 37th lap, still running in fourth place well behind Hill, he discovered why. His car twitched, slid off the road into a sand trap, and was overtaken by its own right rear wheel which had worked loose. Fortunately the errant wheel was restrained by the second layer of safety fence, but Villeneuve's bold challenge was over. Bitterly disappointed, the Canadian was none the less magnanimous in defeat.

"Damon did a great job," he said. "He's driven superbly all season, better than ever, and he is a worthy champion."

Hill was now home and free, though the news of Villeneuve's demise was a mixed blessing. "Fifteen laps from the end I got the message he was out," he said. "But try and concentrate on the race when you realise you're world champion. If I'd reacted to that then I would have taken my eye off the ball. It was a matter of just trying to put it out of my mind, if you can believe it, because the next job was to win the race and I really, really wanted to do that. The win was for the team, but the championship was for me."

His one moment of drama during what he described as a perfect race came on the third lap, when Gerhard Berger tried to pass him in the chicane at the end of the lap. This ridiculously tight corner is the only place where overtaking is possible at Suzuka, and is infamous as the scene of the collision between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost in 1989.

"I heard an engine noise - the first time I've heard one like that since I raced motorbikes - and I looked in my mirror and couldn't see him," Hill said. "Then when I looked again he was a long way back, so I don't know whether he took a big dive at me... I just took my line."

Berger, who had tried an audacious move, was not impressed. "I'm sure he can't have seen me, otherwise he'd never have come across like that and risked so much. He has me to thank for championship, because I had to drive off the road to avoid hitting him."

The incident delayed the Austrian, who might otherwise have won the race. As he fought back to fourth place he was later involved in a second incident at the chicane which saw Irvine pushed into retirement.

Still on a high, Hill added: "I think I'm going to celebrate at least until Christmas, maybe a little beyond that. You know, it could have gone the other way. I might have been standing here and Jacques could have been champion and I would have been feeling pretty sick, but I know Jacques is going to get another chance. He's young and he's quick and, to be honest, it had to be this year for me."

Frank Williams, who Hill rather pointedly omitted from the list of people he thanked publicly afterwards, said: "In many ways it's more appropriate for Damon to win, because he has worked hard for four years. He's climbed the mountain, and he's now at the top. He deserves to be there."

At Suzuka yesterday, Damon Hill laid to rest the old adage that the good guys never win, and he did it with style.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links