Title looms on Hill's horizon

Motor racing
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The Independent Online
Motor racing


reports from Magny-Cours

There was no escaping it, of course. Even here, in the country where they were also licking their Euro 96 wounds, the tormentors were lying in wait.

It seems the German spectre pursues Damon Hill everywhere, but come Sunday evening, when Berti Vogts' players contest the final with the Czech Republic, this Englishman expects to have redressed the international balance.

Another victory for Hill here in the French Grand Prix would effectively put the world title beyond the reach of the rest, and Michael Schumacher in particular. Germany's first Formula One champion all but conceded his crown in Canada a fortnight ago, and anything but a win in this race would convince most it really is all over now.

Hill said: "I'm not a great football fan, but I watched the semi-final and I'm as disappointed as anyone. They did a bloody good job. I suppose it's over to me now."

He has yet to win on this circuit and if he beats Schumacher that, in itself, will be a sign of the times. Given normal circumstances the Ferrari, even in Schumacher's hands, is no match for the Williams-Renault.

Hill, naturally, refuses to acknowledge he has an unshakable hold on the championship. He may have a 21-point lead over his team-mate, Jacques Villeneuve, and a 27-point advantage over Schumacher, but it is, he stresses, only half-time.

He said: "I just hope the second half of the season goes as well for us as the first, but it's going to be tougher. The opposition are improving and I don't think I'll have the advantage of some of the earlier races.

"I've got to keep the ball rolling and secure the points I need. When you're in a situation like this, complacency is the greatest threat. If I thought I could soft-peddle, my lead would soon evaporate and I'd find myself looking for points in the last few races.

"Points at this stage of the season are like paper money at the bank. You can't take it away. It doesn't really exist. The only result that really counts is the result that decides the championship."

Hill expresses himself confident that Renault, having announced their withdrawal from Formula One at the end of next year, will be equally committed to their remaining programme. "They are not going to drop everything," he said. "They will want to set new standards before they move on."