The victory allows me to enjoy Silverstone a little bit more

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The Independent Online
From the moment I won last Sunday's French Grand Prix, I was bombarded with statistics. It was the 50th win for Williams-Renault and it seems that I have now scored more championship points than my Dad. Also, in winning my 19th Grand Prix in 60 starts, my hit rate is apparently pretty impressive when it comes to examining the records.

That's all very well - and I must admit it is satisfying in a way to have reached the various landmarks - but my main concern above all else remains the 1996 World Championship. Of more immediate importance is the fourth one-two of the season for Rothmans Williams-Renault and my sixth win this year. When it comes to statistics, I should also say that I bucked recent trends in France. For the past three years I had taken pole position and never won the race. So this year I tried a different tactic by qualifying second, and it worked.

If grand prix racing can ever be described as easy then this ranked as one of the easier ones, but I had no idea it was going to turn out that way when I joined Michael Schumacher on the front row of the grid. I was eyeing Michael's Ferrari and taking a look at how much wing he was running; trying to work out the tactics he was going to adopt.

While I was doing that, I was reminding myself that I would need to watch out for Jean Alesi, who had been third-fastest in his Benetton-Renault. There was the thought that he could try and attack going into the hairpin on the first lap. Also, I was wondering what to do if, say, Schumacher managed to maintain his advantage into the first corner. In that case, I would have to tuck under his rear wing and maybe attempt a pass at the hairpin. On the other hand, if I could get the jump on the Ferrari, I felt reasonably confident I could stay in the lead. At no stage in my planning did I even begin to contemplate what would actually happen.

We set off on the warm-up lap and, half-way round, the engine on Michael's car simply blew up. It started blowing out oil and smoke and I knew he was out of the French Grand Prix before we had even reached the start. My immediate concern was to avoid spinning off on the oil which was spewing from the back of the Ferrari. But, needless to say, I immediately realised the consequences of this went not only for my race-winning chances, but also for the championship.

Thinking about it after the race, a part of me felt that I would have liked to race against Schumacher - it certainly would have spiced up the race - but I'm happy to take it any way it comes. I knew that it was very rare to get such a lucky break and it was essential that I capitalise on it.

Alesi did not prove to be a problem and I was able to maintain a reasonable lead over the Benetton. But I was receiving messages that my team-mate, Jacques Villeneueve, was going quickly. Sure enough, when he took second place from Alesi, he began to close in just at the time when I was having trouble with one or two back-markers. I had to put the hammer down after that and stabilise the gap. The pit stops went very well and I was able to make them as and when I needed. We started out with a flexible plan which we were ready to adopt to suit whatever happened in the anticipated battle with Schumacher but, in the end, I more or less ran the race as I pleased.

As far as the championship is concerned, it mustn't be forgotten that two non-finishes in races won by Jacques will bring him to within five points of my total. It's not over yet by any means, and Jacques is getting quicker all the time.

I think the single most impressive thing about the weekend was the performance of the Renault engines, as they powered the first four finishers. Renault had introduced their latest engine, and to achieve such incredible reliability is a great tribute to their engineers. That added to the pleasure of my win; in fact, the statisticians also tell me that I have won more races for Renault than any other driver.

The Renault chairman, Mr Louis Schweitzer, was present for his home grand prix and he was very complimentary when we spoke after the race. In a way it seemed a bit strange, particularly in the light of Renault's announcement last week that they will quit grand prix racing at the end of 1997.

When Renault made the statement, I was asked how the decision would affect my plans for 1997. I said at the time it may have some bearing on what I do next year - which is true, because nobody is quite sure how the land will lie in 1997 and beyond.

However, I want to make it clear that my goal this season is to win the championship and, if I can do that, then my ambition is to continue racing next year with Williams and Renault, and carry the No 1 on their car.

My more immediate plan, of course, is to win the British Grand Prix in two weeks' time. A victory at Silverstone would be a fairy-tale result as far as I'm concerned. The championship is going fantastically and last Sunday's result will allow me to enjoy Silverstone a little bit more. Above all, I want to drive especially well at home for the British fans. A win in Great Britain would be cause for tremendous celebration. Rest assured, I will be doing my very best to make that happen.

Damon Hill Grand Prix Ltd