Williams counters Hill criticism with measured silence

Derick Allsop on the controversial aftermath of the Monaco Grand Prix
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The Independent Online
Whether or not it was meant as an object lesson in handling these matters, the message in Frank Williams' tacit "no comment" is likely to come across loud and clear to his senior driver, Damon Hill.

Williams declined to respond in public to a disgruntled Hill's assessment of his team's failure to match Michael Schumacher and Benetton-Renault in Sunday's Monaco Grand Prix here. Hill, a distant second, bemoaned the Williams-Renault's loss of performance and claimed they got their race strategy "horribly wrong".

It is not the first time Hill has allowed his disappointment to spill over and, towards the end of last season, the team's technical director, Patrick Head, another man known to vent his feelings, gave the driver a verbal cuff around the ear. It takes the endeavours of 200 people to put Hill and his partner, David Coulthard, out on the track and they are not totally insensitive to such condemnation, Head points out.

The essence of any team effort is unity. The players of Blackburn Rovers, the new champions of the Premiership, will tell you their manager, Kenny Dalglish, has their respect and commitment because he never criticises them beyond the dressing room door.

Frank Williams led by example when he chose not to enter this latest debate but it is reasonable to assume he and Head will take up the issue with Hill in private and hope team morale has not been too badly bruised.

The circumstances of this race were, it is fair to stress, exceptional. Hill was pumped up to win here, almost to the point where he seemed to believe it was his destiny to do so. This was the event his father, Graham, dominated for a generation. Monaco was also the first race after Ayrton Senna's death last year, and everyone at Williams was simply incapable of competing that weekend.

Hill was carried along on an emotionally charged runaway train. Pole position convinced him deliverance was at hand. The signs of warm-up were ignored. In the race, Schumacher and Benetton propelled themselves out of reach and Hill was devastated.

Benetton, and indeed Ferrari, had been underestimated. The fact that Schumacher stopped only once and Hill twice does not explain the gulf in class. That has to be the principal concern within Williams and that is the topic they will doubtless discuss with Hill.

Other drivers, such as Senna and Nigel Mansell, have given their teams hard times when necessary and Hill perhaps feels he should now have the requisite stature and authority to do so. You cannot help wonder if everyone in the Williams- Renault camp is prepared yet to go along with that.

You must wonder, too, if Schumacher's contribution, particularly in this race, the ultimate test of skill, precision and concentration, has been fully appreciated. He was, after all, more than a lap ahead of his team- mate, Johnny Herbert, who finished fourth.

As Hill says, the championship is not over by a long way. He is only five points behind Schumacher, still within striking distance. But to compete with the united colours of Benetton, he needs a united Williams.

Hill's glum mood here contrasted with the ebullience of Mark Blundell, who had been summoned at the eleventh hour to replace Mansell and was rewarded with fifth place in the much maligned McLaren- Mercedes. Blundell has the job for at least one more race and hopes to keep it for the rest of the season, yet accepts he would, if required, have to make way again for the former world champion.

Blundell said: "I've heard there's a chance Nigel could be coming back if the car is a winner and although it would be frustrating to give up the seat, I would have no problem doing so. I was only going to be test driver and these races have already been a welcome bonus.

"If I keep performing, though, hopefully they won't want to put anyone else in. The car is progressing well and it won't be long before McLaren are back on the podium."