Williams laps up battle within

No quarter asked or given as Hill and Villeneuve turn world championshi p into an in-house duel. David Tremayne reports
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The Independent Online
Jacques Villeneuve's narrow victory over Damon Hill in the Hungarian Grand Prix has transformed a hitherto rather dull world championship into a straight, and possibly intriguing fight between team-mates. True, the Canadian is trailing his more experienced Rothmans-Williams-Renault team- mate by 17 points, but there are 40 still up for grabs in the four races that remain - and the pair will be fighting for every one of them.

Frank Williams prefers his drivers to race, and neither need expect any quarter. Team orders are relatively rare at Williams; on the few occasions when the team's head has required his men to operate to a preselected plan, it has tended to blow up in his face. The sort of drivers he employs are not given to conceding places to anyone, least of all their stablemates. He is not like Enzo Ferrari, who would deliberately set one man against another psychologically in the belief that such pressure would bring out their best, but he does not shy from the idea of on-track combat. So long as Hill and Villeneuve do not drive into one another over the next four races - as Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost once did while team-mates at McLaren - Williams will keep his equanimity. After all, his eighth Constructors' Championship is already in the bag.

So now the battle is for the drivers' title, and it is not between just Hill and Villeneuve. Each has his own race engineer, charged with helping him to arrive at a suitable mechanical and aerodynamic set-up to maximise his car's handling, and three mechanics. In Hill's case, Tim Preston engineers; in Villeneuve's, Jock Clear. Above this, however, it is a united effort. Preston and Clear both report directly to the senior operations engineer James Robinson, with the chain of engineering command then proceeding via the chief designer Adrian Newey to Patrick Head, Williams' technical director. There are no secrets.

"We don't preclude discussions going on separately," Head said, "but there is no hidden information. When they start a race they both know how much fuel the other is starting with, and they know what the intended strategy of the other will be."

If both want to go for the same strategy there is no problem, while the team has a simple means of deciding who makes the first pit stop. Whoever is higher on the grid gets first choice.

During the race things may change, depending upon the circumstances each faces and the method his crew adopts. Hill, for example, was due to work to a two-stop strategy in Hungary if he led the race at the start; in the event of falling back, as he did, a three-stop was always on the schedule.

"Regardless of what Damon was saying," Head said with a laugh, "he knew very well about what the alternatives were for strategy in Hungary."

Fortunes may well turn in the remaining races on refuelling strategies and stops, for they are as critical as starts. "In Hungary the three-stop plan for Damon gave him more opportunities to overtake people," Head said. "In effect he did overtake Alesi and Schumacher that way. In general, it is true to say that more overtaking is done in the pits than it is on the track. Which is not healthy."

This week, the two protagonists were preparing in different ways for the title run-in, which starts a week today at Spa. Hill concentrated in Barcelona on re-perfecting a starting technique that, until this year, had stood him in good stead throughout a Formula One career that has now netted 20 victories, 18 pole positions and 19 fastest laps. Villeneuve and Clear, in contrast, have been considering the direction to take on set-up for the remainder of their campaign.

From the moment Villeneuve first sat in a Formula One car Williams indulged him, allowing him to make changes and try different set-ups based on his experience in IndyCars. Some of this was undoubtedly done to let him get it out of his system and to learn by his own error that Formula One is done in certain ways for good reason. It was also a sign of faith in the rookie.

"They have never been stopped from having radical set-ups," Head confirmed, "but we have discouraged them at times. Actually, there is nothing that radical about their set-ups; Jacques likes to run his car very stiff and the problem is that the tyres degrade faster that way. You go to some circuits and he can run pretty stiff without doing damage to the tyres; you go to other circuits and it can be very detrimental to them. So where we think he is running with a set-up that we think is more detrimental to the tyres than Damon's, we will tell him and try and persuade him to go away from it. But we have never told him not to run a set-up that he was very keen to stick to."

Hill and Villeneuve have significantly different driving styles. "The one thing that is very visible," Head said, "is that Jacques' workrate in the cockpit is much, much higher than Damon's, and to some extent he can handle a stiffer set-up that jumps around over bumps and ripples, with the back end bouncing outwards, because he is so busy on the steering wheel that he is happy to drive that way to catch it. But to some extent if you are see- sawing around at the wheel you can sometimes be provoking the car to slide. Damon's activity with the steering wheel is very much less and he is less tolerant of a car that's leaping around. He looks as if he is sitting in an armchair, though I'm sure he's not. Alain Prost used to look like that. I'm sure Damon inherently had that style anyway, but my impression is that he picked up some of it from Alain in 1993."

All Hill and Villeneuve ask of Williams is the parity that has not only been the team's hallmark, but Renault's. Where both Senna and Prost in their time accused Honda of favouritism, these two know they have identical equipment and treatment. The only difference will be the use to which they put it.