SEPTEMBER 23, 1996

Hill - a decision this week?

DAMON HILL last Wednesday secretly signed a 10-day option with the Jordan F1 team - which means that if EddieƊJordan can find the money Hill is demanding, Damon will join Ralf Schumacher in the team next season. Damon cannot sign for anyone else until Friday. The fact is that Hill does not seem to have many choices. A proposed deal to transfer Jean Alesi to Jordan and open the way for Hill to join Benetton failed to get off the ground because Alesi has a solid Benetton contract and is asking for as much as $15m to sell the contract. No-one was willing to pay that and so Jean will stay with the team.

The only other viable option for Hill in F1 would be to drive for the new Stewart Grand Prix operation. Jackie Stewart said he would love to have Hill in the team.

"For a new team to start their first year with the No. 1 on their car would certainly be wonderful," Stewart said. "It would be a dream come true for us to have Damon."

Stewart, however, indicated that the team would probably not be able to afford the kind of money that Damon would be asking as World Champion.

Hill's other courses of action are limited. There were a few fanciful stories circulating in the paddock at Estoril suggesting that Hill may be offered a drive with Ligier next year - paid for by Renault - before joining Benetton in 1998 - when the team will run Renault V10 engines. This seems fanciful in the extreme but there is no doubt that although Renault has announced that it is pulling out of Grand Prix racing that decision could be reconsidered. If Renault is thinking of such things it is hard to imagine that the French company would choose to run with Benetton if Williams is an option for 1998 and beyond.

Damon could go the United States to race, although most of the decent drives in Indycars have already gone.

The other option is retirement - which according to British newspapers - Bernie Ecclestone has recommended to Hill as the most sensible option. Damon shows no interest in such a course of action at the moment, commenting on Sunday in Estoril that retirement does not pay as well as racing cars.