Walkinshaw's warning to Hill

BRITISH GRAND PRIX: Arrows chief says his leading driver must do better
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Damon Hill has come home to a few home truths. He arrived for Sunday's British Grand Prix here to the full realisation of how far his world had turned since the heady days of his championship success.

Bad enough that he had to sit alongside Michael Schumacher, his nemesis and Jacques Villeneuve, his former team-mate at Williams-Renault, as they considered their prospects in this race and the title contest. Worst still for his image and negotiating position was a public warning from his boss, Tom Walkinshaw, to get his act together and perform like a world champion.

For half a season Hill has been bathed in sympathy and his Arrows-Yamaha team ridiculed for failing to provide him with the equipment befitting a man of his status. Walkinshaw has patently had enough and feels it is high time Hill took his share of the blame for a campaign that has yet to yield a point.

Hill has indicated he will seek another team if he is not convinced Arrows can produce a competitive car next season. Walkinshaw wishes it to be known he requires proof that Hill, who is being paid pounds 4.5m for this year, is worth retaining.

Walkinshaw decided it was time to "be blunt" with Hill after seeing his No 1 driver career across the gravel on the first lap of the French Grand Prix 12 days ago. He spelled out his demands for the second half of the season in "a chat" with Hill and told him he could no longer accept excuses about diminishing motivation.

"By his own admission he's gone to sleep and he's acknowledged it's been difficult for him to drive himself," Walkinshaw said. "We will see how he performs in the second half of the year.

"I don't believe a professional should have any difficulty keeping up his motivation. We signed one of the best two or three drivers in the world to drive the team and provide the motivation - not the other way round.

"Damon has been struggling to get himself into gear, but that is what we are paying him for. Drivers are paid to do a job in the motor car and they have to do deliver.

"Any professional is as good as his last race. If you want to be in a better position you should be trying 110 per cent to show others they should want you. If the money doesn't motivate him then the fear of failure should.

"The non-performance has been pretty evenly split, 50-50, between team and driver. We've made a lot of silly mistakes and we've got to stop it. It's my responsibility to treat Damon and talk to him like any other member of the team.

"I tried the subtle approach, now it's time to be blunt. In France we had one driver off on the first lap, the other spinning. Do me a favour!

"It's an application problem. Maybe we were all too comfortable with each other. I've got to get him back on the boil. For his sake and mine, it's better something should be said. It's for me to help him, not drop him in it. We both know he's capable of better and we'll support him 100 per cent."

Walkinshaw cites lap times to demonstrate that Hill is being matched by his No 2, the much maligned Brazilian, Pedro Diniz. There could scarcely be a more painful blow to the champion's pride.

Jordan's success in the bidding for Mugen-Honda engines next season has been interpreted as a serious setback for Arrows, but Walkinshaw maintains he is satisfied with his plans in that department and expects to make an announcement at the end of next month. "Things will be better next year," he insisted.

Hill, meanwhile, was still talking of his frustration. He said: "I got used to seeing my name at the top or near the top of the timesheets. Now I have to scroll down to page two to find it and that saps your oomph. So it's difficult, that I should push harder to make sure I don't slip further."

The Englishman, 37 in September, is adamant he still has another championship in him, given the opportunity. He has been linked with McLaren, Benetton, Prost, Sauber, and even Williams, but appears no nearer a deal and is unlikely to command such a huge retainer next time.

"When you've won 21 races and the championship you don't want to settle for second best. You want more. I don't intend to stay in the wings. Anyone how has performed centre stage knows the need to be there. That's where I need to be," Hill said.

Whatever Hill's problems this year, it can be comforted in the knowledge that Williams are also under-achieving and seemingly handing the championship initiative to Schumacher and Ferrari.

Hill said: "We wouldn't be human if we didn't feel a little satisfaction in such circumstances. I think what Williams' difficulties show is that it's not easy to win grands prix as it looks."

So how does he see the rest of his championship panning out this season? With both Schumacher and Villeneuve listening intently he settled for a diplomatic line: "I would say its evens."

Villeneuve's challenge, page 26