Motor Racing: Prost peerless in the procession: Blown engine costs Hill a chance for victory in Barcelona

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ALAIN PROST was spared potentially bruising combat with his Williams-Renault team- mate, Damon Hill, and allowed to claim his logical place at the head of the Formula One World Championship here yesterday.

The domination we anticipated Williams would enjoy in the Spanish Grand Prix duly materialised but Prost, having taken the lead from Hill, could not escape until the engine of the Englishman's car capitulated at almost two-thirds' distance. Ayrton Senna, in a McLaren-Ford, inherited second place and was assured the six points when Michael Schumacher's Benetton-Ford almost derailed in spirited pursuit. The German settled for third place, ahead of his partner, Riccardo Patrese.

Michael Andretti finished a Formula One race for the first time, taking fifth place in the other McLaren. Gerhard Berger, in a Ferrari, denied Britain's Mark Blundell the final point when he passed the Ligier-Renault on the penultimate lap.

Prost's third win of the season and the 47th of his career lifts him two points above Senna in the drivers' standings. It may be more of a fight between the triple champions on the streets of Monte Carlo, in a fortnight, and, of course, should rain ever again intervene. The likelihood is, however, that Prost will gradually climb beyond the Brazilian's reach. It therefore falls to Hill to render the overall racing a contest, and, unless there was a little orchestrated kidology in the Williams camp yesterday, the indications are that we might yet get it.

Despite Hills' apparently meek surrender to Prost at the beginning of the 11th lap, he tracked the Frenchman and was eventually climbing all over him. Renault's first engine failure of the season got Hill off Prost's back. Hill said: 'Rather than fight Alain I let him go to see what he did. I found he wasn't getting away and that I could stay with him quite comfortably. I thought I could win. Then the engine suddenly went and that was it, a very disappointing end.'

Prost's renowned economy of effort always leads you to wonder. He did, after all, still have enough to fend off Hill each time he was threatened. But no, insisted Prost, it was no fake, it was a genuine struggle. He said: 'There are no team orders, only in the last 10 laps were we told not to fight if we were first and second. When I overtook Damon I thought 'OK, I can do my own race', but then he was much quicker and pushing a lot.'

Schumacher enlivened the later stages after changing tyres in the hope of curing vibration and gearbox problems. Although he still lost second gear he mounted an aggressive challenge to Senna, who was given clumsy pit service. Schumacher had to abandon his charge three laps from the end after the engine in Alessandro Zanardi's Lotus-Ford blew in front of him and, in attempting to overtake the crippled car on the outside of the corner, he ran on to the grass. Schumacher performed superbly to bring his Benetton back on to the circuit.

It was an inauspicious day for the British contingent. Derek Warwick was last of the 13 runners at the end, Martin Brundle spun off with a puncture and Johnny Herbert retired almost before he had started with an electrical fault.


SPANISH GRAND PRIX (Circuit of Catalunya, Barcelona, 308.555km, 191.727 miles, 65 laps): 1 A Prost (Fr) Williams-Renault 1hr 32min 27.685sec (ave speed 200.227kph, 124.415mph); 2 A Senna (Bra) McLaren-Ford +16.873sec; 3 M Schumacher (Ger) Benetton-Ford +27.125; 4 R Patrese (It) Benetton-Ford +1 lap; 5 M Andretti (US) McLaren-Ford +1; 6 G Berger (Aut) Ferrari +2; 7 M Blundell (GB) Ligier-Renault +2; 8 C Fittipaldi (Bra) Minardi-Ford +2; 9 E Comas (Fr) Larrousse-Lamborghini +2; 10 A Suzuki (Japan) Footwork-Mugen Honda +2; 11 T Boutsen (Bel) Jordan-Hart +3; 12 R Barrichello (Bra) Jordan-Hart +3; 13 D Warwick (GB) Footwork-Mugen Honda +3 laps. 14 A Zanardi (It) Lotus-Ford +5. Did not finish (not classified): 15 J J Lehto (Fin) Sauber 53 laps covered. 16 L Badoer (It) BMS Lola- Ferrari 43. 17 K Wendlinger (Aut) Sauber 42. 19 D Hill (GB) Williams-Renault 42; 18 A de Cesaris (It) Tyrrell-Yamaha 41; 20 J Alesi (Fr) Ferrari 40; 21 F Barbazza (It) Minardi-Ford 37; 22 P Alliot (Fr) Larrousse-Lamborghini 26; 23 M Brundle (GB) Ligier-Renault 11; 24 U Katayama (Japan) Tyrrell-Yamaha 11; 25 J Herbert (GB) Lotus-Ford 2.

World Drivers' Championship standings (after five rounds): 1 Prost 34pts; 2 Senna 32; 3 Schumacher 14; 4 Hill 12; 5= Blundell 6; 7= Lehto, Patrese 5; 9 Brundle 4; 10 Fittipaldi 3; 11= Alliot, Barbazza, Berger, Andretti 2; 15 Zanardi 1.

Constructors' standings: 1 Williams-Renault 46pts; 2 McLaren-Ford 34; 3 Benetton-Ford 19; 4 Ligier-Renault 10; 5 Lotus-Ford 7; 6= Minardi-Ford, Sauber 5; 8= Larousse- Lamborghini, Ferrari 2.