Motor Racing: Team talk puts Hill's triumph in Senna's shadow: British driver still has much to prove after his first Formula One victory. Derick Allsop reports

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The Independent Online
DAMON HILL has begun to look a little easier. The breakthrough has been made and Frank Williams has pronounced him the new British racing hero. Yet the uncertainty remains. His team are in no rush to name Alain Prost's partner for next season and rumours of changes in the top drives continue to circulate.

Fuelling the conjecture, Prost has given the first indication that he would be prepared to accept his old adversary Ayrton Senna, the man he managed to keep out this year, as his team-mate at Williams-Renault.

That concession may be no more than confirmation that he no longer has the contractual muscle to veto the Brazilian's signing. It may, however, also verify the fact that Williams is again pursuing his ambition of putting Senna in one of his cars.

Asked if he and Senna could be renewing their association, Prost replied: 'Why not? Maybe.' The Frenchman, whose contract with Williams extends to next year, went on: 'At the moment nobody is talking to me about my team-mate for next year. It depends on how we organise the team. Last year I was coming back to Formula One after one year away. I did not know the car, I did not know the active suspension. It was too much. I was absolutely sure there would be problems and there was no way I could consent to it.

'This year is different, but I don't think the team, honestly, could afford to have Senna and myself, from the ambiance point of view. I think it would be absolutely terrible.'

This season the Williams camp has been a haven of tranquility and it would understandably suit the championship leader to continue in tandem with Hill. 'I would be happy for Damon to stay,' Prost said. 'We have such a good ambiance, the team is good and everybody is happy. I think that is important.'

Williams maintains this season's championship is still commanding his attention and that he does not intend to enter into a public debate about Hill's future. The English driver's maiden victory, in Sunday's Hungarian Grand Prix, though well- judged and a testimony to his powers of concentration, did not prove much. He did not have to beat Prost, Senna or Michael Schumacher, because all three were out of contention.

Senna announced here last year that he would be prepared to drive for Williams for nothing and, sceptically though observers received that proposal, he again stresses that his prime concern for next season is to acquire a competitive car. He is still second in the championship, but his McLaren- Ford is no match for Prost's machine and he might well slip to fourth, behind Hill and Benetton-Ford's Schumacher, by the end of the year.

Senna is steadfastly refusing to speculate about joining Prost, though he has said: 'I would have no difficulty driving with anyone.' Another suggestion is that he could team up with Schumacher, should Benetton switch to using Renault engines. It would be in Formula One's interest to have two of the top drivers together, particularly if they are in the leading team, and forces may be at work to ensure that happens, so spicing the show for next year. That objective inevitably brings Nigel Mansell back into the picture.

Hill still has some way to go to be bracketed with Prost, Senna, Schumacher and Mansell, and he knows it. And so he heads for Belgium next week endeavouring to prove he is a genuine winner. Mansell found himself in much the same situation after he achieved his first success, in the Grand Prix of Europe, at Brands Hatch, in 1985. The following race was in South Africa and he won that, too.