Motor Racing: Williams can look forward to a calm ride: Hill free of blame

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The Independent Online
EVEN IN the aftermath of Damon Hill's misfortune at Silverstone, there was a discernible air of contentment and relief within the Williams-Renault compound. The various pressures imposed by the first half of the season had at last been released, and now they could contemplate a comfortable ride to their twin world championship objectives, the constructors' and drivers' titles.

Those prizes may have always been theirs for the taking, but the journey was complicated, initially by inclement weather, more recently by the desire to uphold national honour and the prickly issue of team orders. Suddenly, however, Alain Prost had a 20- point lead over Ayrton Senna in the championship, and Hill's performance in the British Grand Prix had provided proof both of his developing ability and the team's willingness to free him from his shackles.

'It has been a difficult period for the team, with a lot of pressures,' Prost said. 'For me, Renault and Elf, it was especially important to try to do well at Monaco and in France. Then for Damon and Williams there were extra pressures at Silverstone, their home race. I think we are all quite happy this is now over. We are much more comfortable with the championship situation.'

Hill will, of course, for ever feel he should have had his maiden win at Silverstone on Sunday, but he can console himself with the knowledge that the quality of his drive has been universally applauded and that he has been exonerated for his second engine failure this season.

Bernard Dudot, the technical director of Renault Sport, said: 'Damon is in no way to blame. He did not use the override. At Barcelona the problem was at the bottom of the engine. At Silverstone it was at the top, probably a valve. We won't know for sure until we take it back to the factory and strip it down.'

Patrick Head, the technical director of Williams, said: 'I'm sure there will be a very big investigation and Renault will make sure it doesn't happen again. Obviously there's a slightly defective component in there. Damon hadn't over-revved the engine at all and that is the only thing he could do to hurt it.'

Head, who indicated before the race that Hill would be granted the opportunity to race Prost, insisted: 'There were absolutely no team orders. Frank (Williams) and I thought we wouldn't get out of the circuit if there had been. Part of the decision was based on the fact that Prost had a 12-point lead, which made him at least a race win ahead of Senna. We also felt we were obliged to assist the show for the public.'

The sceptical view might be that he would say that, wouldn't he, since the ultimate test was denied us.

However, Hill established a lap record in his attempt to break Prost and never looked like a man about to forfeit the most gratifying experience of his career.

Silverstone may be the circuit he knows best and he doubtless had an extra lift there. But the cumulative stresses, the yearning to fulfil himself while not upsetting Williams and Renault, could have undermined the endeavours of a lesser character. Hill responded magnificently. Head acknowledged that, saying: 'Having led for 41 laps at the British Grand Prix, Damon will go away rightly feeling renewed confidence and that he could have held on.

'He knew Alain Prost wasn't letting him win. Alain wanted his 50th grand prix win and there would have been no quarter given.

'Damon is not a young pup by grand prix standards. He's eight years older than Michael Schumacher, for instance. But in terms of grand prix mileage he is a pup and he's showing great maturity. It's unfortunate he stepped into the shoes of Nigel Mansell, who had more grand prix seasons than Damon has had races.

'People should see that. There is great expectation. His own is very high, but the British public, after losing Nigel, wanted another winner straight away and I'm pretty sure Damon would have got the job done if his engine hadn't blown.'

Benetton-Ford are threatening to overtake McLaren-Ford as the second team in Formula One, but Williams' fortress appears as secure as ever. The only apparent danger to them is of a political nature.

The world council of Fisa, the sport's governing body, meets in Paris later this week to consider reports of alleged technical and fuel irregularities. Williams are in the dock on both counts and the fuel question is a source of particular concern to them. They could, if found guilty, lose points: action which would open up the championship again.

Teams do, however, have the right to appeal and it is doubtful that would be the end of the matter. What Formula One could least afford now is more squalid public wrangling.