Motor Racing: Painful lessons of Imola heeded by Hill

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A PHOTO shoot in the heart of London to launch a limited-edition Jordan Honda Civic road car and a Jordan Honda motorbike, both in the distinctive yellow livery of the Formula One car, could have been a million miles from a grand prix circuit, let alone the spectre of the sport's darkest weekend in recent times, but the memories inexorably closed in on Damon Hill yesterday.

The weekend after this, the former world champion will be at Imola for the San Marino Grand Prix, an event that will mark the fifth anniversary of the deaths of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger.

Hill, who was Senna's team-mate at Williams, has since been a leading agitator for improved safety standards in Formula One and is adamant that complacency must never divert the drivers or the sport's governing body, the FIA, from the campaign to save lives.

"The history will be on people's minds," Hill said. "It was a dark weekend and mercifully things have been good for us, and the safety of cars and circuits have improved since then. There was some concern of over-reacting immediately after that race, but I think we are now getting the balance right between the thrills and excitement and the safety.

"The important thing is we still have lively discussion between the Grand Prix Drivers' Association and the FIA, and that must be continued to respect the memories of Ayrton and Roland, and any other driver who has lost his life in Formula One.

"Nothing must be brushed under the carpet. It is not acceptable if people are hurt. I keep suggesting things and little by little, cars have become safer.

"If there were unacceptable dangers we wouldn't race, but there are still places that are riskier than we would like and we hope something will be done about that. I don't want to be specific, but usually they are the faster circuits.

"The risk should not be your life. That's not an acceptable approach now. The fear and bravery should be about performing better. Failure should be no more than embarrassment, spinning into the gravel trap and not ending up in hospital."

Hill will be concerned also about registering his first finish and first points of the season at Imola. He has been forced out of the opening two races in skirmishes with other cars, while his Jordan-Mugen-Honda team- mate, Heinz-Harald Frentzen, has finished second and third.

"I've been out for a duck so far, so I'm aiming for points next week," the 38-year-old Englishman said. "But the car is good and quick, so the opportunity is there and I'm sure it will get better through the season.

"Heinz-Harald has surprised me. He seems to have dropped on the ground running. I don't understand why that form was not apparent when he was with Williams. But Jordan is quite a different environment.

"The fact he's started so well is not a burden for me. It just sets the target for me. There's always rivalry between drivers but we're not fighting for the championship. There's no grudge. We are fighting for the team. I'm optimistic things will go well and we'll be at the front."

McLaren-Mercedes and Ferrari emerged as one and two in Brazil earlier this month but Hill does not accept third place must be the limit of Jordan's aspirations this season.

He said: "There's no reason why we shouldn't push for better than third. I think McLaren will take some beating but we could move ourselves into a position to be second. I would be disappointed if I didn't win this year. You should always aim as high as you can.

"I'm not thinking beyond this season, about retirement or anything like that. I've trained very hard for this year. Perhaps because I'm 38 and the ramp is working against me. I've trained harder to resist the natural gravity. I should be in good form and look forward to the chance of a full race.

"My contract runs out this season so I'm aware there is a performance aspect as to what I do in the future. You can never sit back and wait for it to come to you."