Motor Racing: Prost's island idyll gives him fair wind for France: Frustrated Hill running out of time to secure his Williams berth

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The Independent Online
IT WAS not merely the victory, nor even the measured, authoritative manner in which it was achieved. It was more the demeanour of the man - jaunty, relaxed, self-assured - all through the weekend of the Canadian Grand Prix which appeared to confirm Alain Prost had turned the corner and was safely on course for the world championship.

Prost had endured, with obvious anxiety, the fluctuations of the first six races, winning half of them yet forfeiting, for various reasons, the other half. He seemed hemmed in by freakish circumstance, doubts and complications, the claustrophobia gnawing at his confidence.

Here, however, out on Ile Notre Dame, there was room to breathe, the sun shone and all was well with his world. The Frenchman was in command again, his precision and judgement complementing his pace in practice. He was beaten off the line by his Williams-Renault team-mate, Damon Hill, but patiently took stock, then took over the race.

Ayrton Senna's late retirement enabled the Frenchman to draw five points clear at the top of the driver standings and he may now begin to distance himself from the rest. The next three circuits, Magny-Cours in France, Silverstone and then Hockenheim, in Germany, should all serve to pave his way to a fourth title.

Senna drove heroically, yet the McLaren-Ford is no match for the Williams and, unless rain intervenes on his behalf, even he cannot expect to contain his arch rival.

The Brazilian could be fully occupied from now on trying to cope with Michael Schumacher in the improving Benetton-Ford. The German was second here, ahead of Hill. Senna's continuing interest in the season may be in question. He is, after all, still competing on a race-by-race basis.

Hill's interest in Sunday's race took a buffeting when he was held up for 17 seconds at a pit stop, which left him trailing Senna and Schumacher. Despite suggestions that he had not given his crew adequate notice of his intention to change tyres at the end of the 30th lap, his team manager, Ian Harrison, was adamant the British driver was not to blame.

'We had a strategy for the pit stops, but we had to change things,' Harrison said. 'It was going to be Alain in first, then it was going to be Damon first, then it was going to be Alain. When Damon came in we had Alain's tyres ready. Damon's were in the warmers. It wasn't Damon's fault, it was ours. We have to hold up our hands and say we screwed it up.'

Hill felt he could have made second place, his frustration showing as he pulled out of Canada. He is attempting to secure his position in the team for next season and a win would not go amiss. He said: 'This is my first full season. How long did it take Nigel Mansell to win his first race?'

Mansell's maiden success came in his 72nd grand prix. Hill has had nine, seven of them in the Williams. Such is the superiority of the Williams, however, that nothing but a one-two for the team looks good enough.

The latest outbreak of civil war over technical regulations has done little to encourage those pledged to improve the image and spectacle of grand prix racing. Flavio Briatore, Benetton's managing director and a man at the forefront of the campaign to eliminate technical aids and reduce costs, laments the continued public squabbling and fears too little is being done to satisfy the spectators and the sponsors.

The flamboyant Italian said: 'We need fuel stops and fewer mechanics at pit stops. Now a car comes in, you can't see it for mechanics, and it's out in a few seconds. Sponsors don't see their names and you don't get enough changes of the leading positions.

'The way it is going, you could have a computerised pit stop in the garage and no one would see anything at all. Is that what you want? No, we want to make the show better, make it cheaper and more fun. We want girls around the paddock, not all these boring men, and that includes me.'