New wheel in Hill's deal

David Tremayne asks what car awaits Damon Hill at TWR Arrows next season
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The Independent Online
Damon Hill's agreement to drive for the TWR Arrows team in 1997 sent shockwaves rippling through Formula One last week, as the man with the third best strike rate in history announced that he will switch from the highly successful Williams to a team that has not won a single grand prix in 287 tries.

Pundits had expected him to join Michael Schumacher's younger brother Ralf at Jordan-Peugeot, so had Jordan itself. Then communication with Hill's manager, Michael Breen, ceased abruptly mid-week. Hill was entertaining an offer of more than $6m to lead Jordan's challenge to Formula One's Top Four - Williams, Ferrari, McLaren and Benetton - though Jackie Stewart and Ligier were also in the chase. But then Tom Walkinshaw, the new owner of TWR Arrows, struck with a similar offer and the incisiveness that had seen Benetton snaffle Schumacher from beneath Jordan's nose back in 1991.

Hill's unusual move prompted suggestions that money was the motivating factor but he denies this: "Tom is the head of a successful international engineering team," Hill said. He has offered me a rewarding package. It's a great challenge. Everything this man does and touches becomes a winner."

Few doubt that Walkinshaw's relentless drive will ultimately reap success but the timescale does not favour Hill. Overnight miracles do not happen in Formula One and his contract is for 1997 only. A poor year will devalue him for 1998.

The strength of the engineering facilities at TWR's Leafield headquarters, close to Oxford, a strong design department, wind tunnel and engine development shop, were a big attraction to Hill, who conceded: "Nobody is under any illusion over the task ahead. Winning in Formula One is not easy but I was left in no doubt that the package and facilities Tom has are the beginnings of what I believe will be a winning team."

Details of TWR Arrows' technical package will be revealed in Japan in two weeks' time and a cornerstone of the new deal will be the announcement that Hill will race on Bridgestone tyres, as the Japanese giant challenges Goodyear's monopoly.

Bridgestone has been highly successful in the US IndyCar series and could be the "secret weapon" to help TWR close the technical chasm on Williams and Ferrari.

There may be another. TWR is expected to take over the Yamaha V10 engine, although it proved dramatically unreliable in the Tyrrell cars this season.

The possibility remains that Walkinshaw has persuaded Hirotoshi Honda of Mugen- Honda to supply TWR, as well as Ligier, with engines. Honda is a close friend of the Bridgestone racing chief Hiroshi Yasukawa and an engine with Renault-type horsepower could have been a decisive factor for Hill.

Walkinshaw is clearly delighted with his extraordinary coup: "Damon's abilities are beyond question," he said. "He stands on the verge of his first world title, he is a proven winner with 20 grand prix wins from 66 starts.

"His speed, experience and technical focus will be of enormous value. I have been pretty impressed with what I have seen of his driving and I have always wanted a top-flight driver to lead this team."

The 50-year-old Scot, whose outwardly dour mien cloaks a sharp sense of humour, is a gambler and a winner who parlayed early enterprise as a market gardener into chairmanship of TWR Group - a massive conglomerate best known in the motor racing world for its highly successful activities with top-line manufacturers such as Jaguar, Rover, Mazda and Volvo.

In 1988, and again in 1990, his Jaguar sportscars won the Le Mans 24 Hour endurance race and in 1988 TWR won the World Sportscar Championship. His input as engineering director at Benetton had a direct influence on the team's World Championship success with Schumacher.

By July last year Walkinshaw finally succeeded in gaining an independent foothold on the grand prix mountain, when he acquired a controlling interest in the Arrows team.

Eddie Jordan, meanwhile, is left angry, desperately searching for a driver of sufficient calibre to move his team forward to appease their sponsor Benson & Hedges, who had been relishing the prospect of having the most successful British driver in the fold, and Peugeot, who will undoubtedly be wooed in 1997 by Williams and Benetton because they lose their Renault engine supply for 1998. With Hill's fellow countryman Johnny Herbert recently nailing his colours to Sauber's mast for a further two years, there are few obvious candidates.

Jordan might have better luck looking for Lord Lucan.

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