Schumacher and Hill bring out the white flags

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Motor racing

As Michael Schumacher withdrew allegations made against Damon Hill's recent tactics in the Pacific Grand Prix, the Briton yesterday indulged in a brief spot of nostalgia to relish his tense 3.5sec victory over the German in last year's Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka. That success prolonged their fight until the now infamous showdown in Adelaide.

"I wouldn't say it was my best race," Hill said, ''but it was one of the most exciting. It was very, very tricky and conditions were appalling. Given that it was such a crucial race, it was very satisfying to win it. I think I drove that last lap better than I have ever driven in my life."

Hill knows he must again raise his game to a similar level, but seems relaxed enough. ''I've got another opportunity here to win another grand prix and I'm still up for that. But I don't feel that I need to prove anything to anybody. I feel completely happy with myself.

"This has been a tough season and it hasn't all gone to plan. There have been more downs than ups, but I now understand more about the pressures involved in trying to win a championship than I did last year. This year the championship has been fought over the entire season rather than the last few races and I think I have benefited from the experience. I am not disheartened or disillusioned, nor do I feel negative about it at all."

Hill received some timely support from his team boss, Frank Williams, who said Hill was every bit as good as Schumacher.

"You cannot ignore your problems and he has obviously gone off the boil a couple of times," Williams said. "But if you looked at the last third of the race in Aida last weekend, he was flying and was matching Michael Schumacher's times lap for lap.''

Schumacher has been more magnanimous in Suzuka than he was in victory at Aida last week, where he and Hill had words over tactics immediately after the race.

"Having seen the video of the race, I can now see that Damon did not do anything wrong," he said with contrition that some feel does not come easily.

With the embers dying, Hill preferred not to fan the fire. ''I am not going to comment on that. The championship is over, it's history. I am thinking of these two races and next season already. I am very motivated to win and I am getting hungrier and hungrier. I'm almost gasping for a win now!"

While the two established stars wave white flags, two others returned to the Formula One arena. Mika Hakkinen is back at McLaren after his recent operation for appendicitis and ready to replace the Danish driver, Jan Magnussen, who made an impressive debut at Aida.

The Austrian, Karl Wendlinger, also makes a return for the Sauber team. While Hakkinen nurses physical scars, Wendlinger's are mental, following an accident at Monaco in 1994 which left him in a coma for three weeks. He returned but was rested again when he proved unable to match the speed of his team-mate, Heinz-Harald Frentzen. While Hill covets victory, a finish in the top six would not only afford Wendlinger a similar level of elation, but could throw his career a vital lifeline.

He returns at the expense of the Frenchman, Jean-Chris-tophe Boullion, and after recovering his form and his confidence in a series of fast tests, he wants to re-establish himself to claim a seat at Sauber for 1996. "It is the sole opportunity to find out for sure whether Karl has regained his former competitiveness," Peter Sauber, the team chief, said.