SEPTEMBER 2, 1996
Hill is dumped by Williams
DAMON HILL's contract with Williams is not going to be extended into 1997 - and that means that Heinz-Harald Frentzen has probably already signed up on a long-term contract with Williams. Frank Williams has long been a Frentzen fan and even tried to hire Heinz-Harald after Ayrton Senna's death at Imola in 1994 - although at the time the German had only raced in three Grands Prix.
The news may, however, be rather more significant than it appears as a Frentzen-Williams deal suggests that it might not be long before the team announces a BMW engine deal for 1998 and beyond. We believe that this deal is either already signed or currently being negotiated.
Williams would probably have liked to have kept Hill, but with Jacques Villeneuve on a solid two-year contract and there clearly being a need to sign Frentzen (for whatever reason), Hill was left without a place to go. His demand to increase his retainer from $9m to $18m - communicated to the team by way of the British national newspapers - will not have helped his situation. Williams had an option on Frentzen - signed at the end of last year - and this was immediately extended. Shortly afterward there were suggestions that Frentzen had already signed a deal - although these were denied angrily by Williams.
It seems, however, that the denials were simply cosmetic and last Wednesday Frank Williams told Hill's lawyer Michael Breen that the talks were over.
"We only began negotiations with Frank Williams in mid-August," Breen said. "On Wednesday Frank called to withdraw from discussing Damon's contract any further, giving no reason for his decision."
Breen, speaking during a press conference in London on Sunday morning, said that Hill was "very surprised and disappointed by the news". Hill was not at the conference, preferring to stay at home with his family in Ireland.
"Damon was very keen to drive for Williams," added Breen. "He's been there six years and why would he not want to continue? We were given the impression they were very keen to do a deal and then suddenly and without explanation, negotiations were terminated abruptly."
The move is typical of the Williams management which traditionally dumps any driver who thinks he should be paid more money because he has won the World Championship for the team.
Nigel Mansell fell out very publicly with the team at the end of 1992 and stomped off to Indycar racing. In 1993, Alain Prost was elbowed out of the way to make room in the team for Ayrton Senna. Williams company logic is that winning the World Championship is reward enough for a driver, and that it is better to sign up an ambitious and cheap young driver than pay out vast sums for an established star. The money saved is then invested in research and development which means that the team continues to enjoy a technical edge over its opposition.
Hill (35) joined Williams as its test driver in February 1991. He was promoted to the racing team in December 1992 and has since won 20 of his 62 races with the team.
Damon was aware that there was a possibility of his losing his drive and has had talks in recent weeks with McLaren, Jordan and Stewart.
McLaren is a logical choice as Ron Dennis would like to have the World Champion on board. Hill and David Coulthard have already worked together in the past. McLaren's new sponsor West is keen for a German driver (Ralf Schumacher), but Dennis will probably be able to convince them to back down on that demand if the World Champion is available.
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