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Williams says Hill stays

FRANK WILLIAMS has told Williams team members that he is planning to stand by his decision to run Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve in Formula 1 next year.

There has been considerable speculation in recent days that Hill's future with the team was in doubt, following poor showings in recent races. Senior team members are frustrated that Hill and David Coulthard have not been winning races when the Williams-Renault FW17B is clearly a better car than the Benetton-Renault B195 being driven by Michael Schumacher.

This frustration is thought to be the reason why Williams technical bosses Patrick Head and Adrian Newey are not bothering to fly out for the Australian Grand Prix - the team having now lost both the Drivers' and the Constructors' Championships to Benetton.

There is no doubt that Hill has been a disappointment in the last few events but his record with Williams is still impressive. He became a Williams test driver in 1991 - doing the groundwork for Nigel Mansell and Riccardo Patrese. Thanks to support from Head he was drafted into the race team in 1993 - alongside Alain Prost - and won his first Grand Prix in Hungary that year. He has won 11 of 37 GPs since then. Michael Schumacher has won 18.

Williams has always been a team which values continuity and the decision to keep Hill for 1996 - at a greatly increased salary, rumored to be $6 million - followed this philosophy, the team deciding to take a risk on second driver Jacques Villeneuve.

In fact, Williams has little choice but to keep Hill because under the current FIA Contract Recognition Board regulations Williams cannot drop Hill unless the team has some way out of the contract or Damon agrees not to drive. Such a course of action would be extremely expensive for the team and once they had paid they would still have to find a driver as good as Damon - and that would cost a great deal more. Most F1 men would accept the offer of a Williams drive for no money - but only a few have proved themselves to be worthy of the offer. The speculation had suggested that Williams was trying to get either Gerhard Berger out of his new Benetton contract or Heinz-Harald Frentzen from Sauber but neither was possible.

Both Hill and Villeneuve have options with the team for 1997 - but it is the team which will decide whether to keep them. Some rumors already suggest that the team has an option to get Frentzen in 1997 so that if Hill continues to disappoint next year he can be replaced.

Hill goes to Adelaide this weekend hoping to show the world that he can produce the same kind of racing as he did last year on the streets of the Australian city, where he pressured Schumacher so hard that the German cracked and only won the title after colliding with Hill.

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