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JULY 1, 1993

Hopes dashed: Damon Hill in Germany


Damon Hill was on his way to victory in the German Grand Prix when the left rear tyre on his Williams deflated suddenly with only one and a half laps to go. Hill had dominated the race, taking the lead at the start and running away while Alain Prost tried to fight his way back after yet another bad start. Hill's cause was helped by a dubious 10 sec stop-go penalty imposed on Prost, but even before that, Damon had been well in control. He was over 10 seconds ahead of Prost and running to the finish, not forcing the pace, when the first sign of trouble came.

"We have a warning light in the cockpit which monitors the tyres and warns us if any of them are deflating" explained Damon. "We have had an indicator like that for a year or two, since Riccardo Patrese had a big testing accident at Imola when he was at Williams. That light came on at the entry to the Ostkurve chicane. I wasn't too worried because sometimes it comes on if you are not pushing very hard because the tyre pressures have dropped a little bit. I thought it had come on because I had slowed down. I had a big oversteer as I came out of the chicane but I was accelerating up, I think I was in fourth gear, probably doing about 130mph, when the tyre suddenly went. It all happened so quickly. It must have been a sharp object or something like that going right through the tyre. I cannot believe it was tyre wear which caused the problem.

"I just couldn't believe it. I looked in the mirror and I saw the tyre was in shreds and I thought: "What the hell do I do now?" It is pretty difficult to win a race on three wheels. Once I had the car slowed down I was worried because when something like this happens the active suspension starts receiving all kind of strange messages and doesn't know what to do. so it reacts in odd ways. I tried to make it back to the pits, but it was really difficult because it kept wanting to turn left. I was pretty nervous bringing it in, because I didn't want to suddenly turn into the path of someone going along at 200mph."

In the end Damon lost control of the car in the pitlane entry chicane, designed to slow the cars as they approach the pits. The car spun around and stopped. Hill climbed wearily out. Coming after the disappointment at Silverstone, when Damon's engine blew up when he was leading with just 18 laps to go, this was hard to take.

"This is a million times worse than Silverstone" he said later. "The job was done here and I didn't deserve to have that happen to me."

Surrounded by television crews, eager to talk to him, Damon was tense as he strode through the paddock with cameramen stumbling around him.

"Are you satisfied with the performance?" asked an Italian. Damon's eyes flashed angrily.

"No, I am not satisfied!" he snapped back. "I want to win. I don't want to stop."

A few moments later he was under the awning of the Williams motorhome, with a nice cold beer and suddenly he was tranquil again.

"What can you say?" he said. "What can you do? Nothing. The only thing to do is to have a cold beer and just keep on trying. There is nothing to say that you get 50% good and 50% bad in life. You have to accept what you get.

"If I was determined to win a race before today, I am now three times more determined."

"But," he added, the typical laid-back Damon Hill as usual, his feet firmly on the ground. "At the end of the day I'm OK. I didn't get hurt. I'm going home to see my kids and..."

And a smile breaks across his face: "...I'm pretty pissed off really."

The crowds were already streaming away, leaving Hockenheim's huge grandstands empty but for rubbish left by the thousands of German fans who had come to see a Michael Schumacher victory. The circuit radio station was still broadcasting and suddenly it struck up a catchy little tune "Always look on the bright side of life" from Monty Python's Life of Brian. Down at the Williams motorhome, the conversation had moved on to other matters. Race teams do not look backwards for long.

In a corner, as frustrated as Damon, was his race engineer John Russell.

"You know," he said, "that is the second time he had Alain beaten. He really deserved this one and he needs a win for himself and for the team."

He paused and shrugged.

"It will come..."