Motor Racing: Something went twang and I was out of control

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The Independent Online
First of all I want to thank all the fans who gave me such tremendous support and encouragement over the weekend. I wanted to win for them and when I achieved pole position I was hoping so much that I might be on the podium. I was as surprised as anyone when something went wrong with the front wheel and sent me spinning into the gravel and out of the British Grand Prix.

The weekend was going so well. The fans were great and one of my personal heroes, Nick Faldo, popped by to say hello on the Friday before the race. The Labour leader, Tony Blair, and his family also visited on Sunday morning and while I gave him a quick spin around the circuit he jokingly kept asking me to turn left! We were also visited by Will Carling and the world superbike champion Carl Fogarty. It's great for everyone on the team when other sporting people visit us on circuit.

A bad start put me in fifth place at the beginning of the race. The first few seconds of the race had actually been fine as I made a good getaway. Then the engine bogged down and I gave it too many revs, which resulted in too much wheelspin. My world seemed to stand still as I was immediately engulfed by cars on both sides and dropped to fifth place. But all was not lost. I had enough fuel on board to switch to a one-stop strategy, which would be more suitable, particularly as I was now stuck behind Mika Hakkinen's McLaren and my team-mate, Jacques Villeneuve, was streaking into the lead.

With Jacques being my closest championship challenger, I was more interested in my progress relative to him. I could get close to the McLaren at a couple of corners, but not close enough on the straights. There was one opportunity to get by when a back-marker came into the equation, but Mika had covered every possibility. All he had to do was stay on line in order to make it impossible for me to get through. It became clear that the pit stops would present my best chance of moving ahead, particularly as Hakkinen was due to stop twice.

Looking back on it now, I could easily have beaten Hakkinen and the Benettons through my one-stop tactic, but I would have needed a bit of good fortune in order to get ahead of Jacques. It would have been interesting, none the less, because once I had a clear road I would have put the hammer down and really pushed hard. At least the crowd would have had something to get excited about.

Even if I had made the best start of my career and led the race, I would not have reached the finish. About four laps before I actually had the failure, the car felt strange. I monitored the situation more closely and the car continued to feel odd. I got on the radio and said there was something wrong; the reply was that they would take a look when I made my pit stop, which was due in a couple of laps. Less than half a lap later, I was left in absolutely no doubt that I was in trouble.

I reached the end of the pit straight and, as soon as I touched the brakes for Copse Corner, the car suddenly snapped into a spin. My immediate impression was that something went twang at the front of the car and I was instantly out of control. In actual fact, the team later discovered that the left front wheel nut had come slightly adrift. The wheel had stayed in place because of the safety locking mechanism on the Williams, but eventually the strain was too much and the wheel locating pegs finally sheared as I braked. Effectively, I had braking on just the right front wheel and that accounted for the sudden spin. The only good thing to be said was that it happened at Copse where there is a good run-off area, which allowed me to come to a halt without hitting anything. I was quite lucky in that respect.

The support from the crowd had been fantastic all weekend and they continued to cheer me as I walked back to the pits. Naturally I was extremely disappointed when I got out of the car, but was relieved to be OK because the car came off the track very fast. The disappointment of not winning descended swiftly.

My only wish was that misfortune could have chosen to strike at a race other than the British Grand Prix. But, wherever the race may be, it is always very hard on the team and last weekend was no exception when it came to the tremendous amount of effort put in by every single member of Williams-Renault.

The good news was that Jacques won the race, but he now poses a threat in the championship. With Jacques taking his second win of the season and advancing his cause by another 10 points on a day when I scored none at all, the championship is much more open. The gap between us has been reduced from 25 points to 15.

The way things look at the moment, it's going to be either me or Jacques winning races between now and the end of the season. The points position can swing enormously during the remaining six races, starting in Germany on Sunday week. Although I'm confident that I can continue to win races, last Sunday made me appreciate once more that chance will play its part.

Damon Hill Grand Prix Ltd