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Now watch out for Hill

MICHAEL SCHUMACHER goes to Estoril this weekend with a lead in the World Championship of 15 points over Damon Hill, with only five races left in which Hill can overtake the German to win the title. If you look at the statistics such a victory may seem rather unlikely: Schumacher has won six races to Hill's three.

In the recent races, however, it has seemed that Williams is beginning to enjoy a car advantage over Benetton. Hill took pole in France, Britain, Germany and Hungary. In Italy David Coulthard beat both Hill and Schumacher. In the races Schumacher has often shown better performance, but at Spa and in Monza Coulthard was in the lead and pulling away when he retired.

At Estoril, Williams will introduce a revised car - the FW17B - and all the indications are that this will enable Hill and Coulthard to pull further ahead of Schumacher. And, with the levels of competitiveness somewhat disrupted by the new chassis, it is likely that we will see Damon Hill begin to make a strong bid for the World Title.

Why? Because Damon is the only one of the four 1995 Renault drivers who is staying with the French manufacturer next year: Schumacher is going to Ferrari; Coulthard to McLaren and Herbert probably to Sauber.

With the Renault men running 1-2-3-5 in the Drivers' Championship there is little danger of the French company being beaten and so now would be a good moment for a little gamesmanship to help Hill to the title.

This may not seem to be very sporting, but one must consider that Renault has lost both its World Champions to date as soon as they have won their titles: Nigel Mansell in 1992 and Alain Prost in 1993. It is a sad fact that the only Renault-powered car ever to carry F1's number one designation was this year and Schumacher's championship had been won with Ford engines.

The men at Renault may produce the best engines, but the management has not always been the most skilled. And if you think Renault is likely to supply everyone with the same machinery, you should remember that the Renault Sport bosses were pragmatic enough to force Williams to accept Benetton as a second factory team despite the fact that Williams had an exclusive deal for 1995. They are not likely to have many qualms about giving Hill a little bit of extra help in the races ahead.

There is a more concrete reason why one can expect Hill to receive a little extra help. The Renault men will be keen to push ahead with their development programs for 1996, but they will not want their secrets going with drivers to other teams. Thus it is only natural that the departing drivers will find themselves being given fewer and fewer development parts.

If Hill does make a great leap forward, of course, the revised FW17B chassis can take all the credit...

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