SEPTEMBER 22, 1997

Hill signs for Jordan

DAMON HILL has signed a two-year deal to drive for Benson & Hedges Jordan for a rumored $10m a year.

DAMON HILL has signed a two-year deal to drive for Benson & Hedges Jordan for a rumored $10m a year. Hill was not considered a very likely candidate for the team but when Giancarlo Fisichella's deal with Benetton was confirmed after a hearing at the High Court in London, Benson & Hedges demanded that a deal be struck with Hill.

The official story is that after the Italian Grand Prix Jordan and the head of Benson & Hedges's sponsorship programs boarded a private jet to fly home from Monza and found Hill waiting for them in the back of the plane. A deal was then struck - prior to the Fisichella court decision. This was not signed until the following Wednesday, the day after Hill informed AlainÊProst that he was not accepting the deal from Prost. This greatly upset Alain, who believed that he had Hill. The deciding factor in the decision appears to be that Benson & Hedges was willing to offer Hill more money that Prost, who had bid $9m a year for Damon. Eddie Jordan refused to say how much he was paying Hill but admitted that "drivers of talent don't come cheap" and that Hill's retainer was a lot more money than the Jordan team had ever paid any driver in the past.

The deal is ironic in that none of the top management at Jordan has shown any interest in Hill, preferring a list of other drivers ahead of Damon. Eddie Jordan made a big song and dance only a few weeks ago about how the team intended to continue its policy of employing young drivers, a philosophy which he called "a key element" in the Jordan success story. Jordan chose to forget the idea in Austria, saying that Damon was bringing experience of victory, "an ingredient we have never had before" and that a driver pairing of Hill and Ralf Schumacher "must be the perfect blend of up-and-coming talent and proven ability." At 37 Damon can hardly claim to be a youngster and indeed his deal with Jordan is being seen as his final F1 job before retirement.

"My aim," said Damon, "is to win races and challenge for the World Championship. Jordan has shown in 1997 that they can challenge for motor sport's greatest prize. This team is going to be a very strong force. The deal gives me the most competitive situation I could have."

There is no doubt that the primary catalyst in the Jordan-Hill deal is the money which Benson & Hedges agreed to spend to get hold of Hill. The company can certainly afford the investment. Last week Gallaher PLC - which owns the Benson & Hedges brand in Europe - announced profits of $266m for the first half of 1997, with sales booming in Eastern Europe.