JUNE 21, 1999

Damon Hill announces his retirement...

DAMON HILL is to retire from Formula 1 at the end of the season, saying that he took his decision after "much reflection". The announcement was not a surprise as Hill has not been enjoying driving the current F1 cars and has struggled to compete with his Jordan team-mate Heinz-Harald Frentzen this year. Hill is 38 but only began his F1 career in 1992. He has won 22 of his 105 Grands Prix - 21 victories coming with Williams and one - last year's Belgian GP - with Jordan. He came within a lap and a half of winning a race for the Arrows team in 1997 in Hungary only to be let down by his car.

Hill did not get into F1 full-time until 1993 when he replaced Nigel Mansell at Williams. Prior to that he had tested for the team and had a frustrating time trying to qualify an uncompetitive Brabham. By the middle of 1993 he was beating his team-mate Alain Prost - although the Frenchman won the title - and quickly picked up Mansell's massive British following.

In 1994 he played an important role in keeping Williams from falling apart after Ayrton Senna's death and he would have won the World Championship that year if he had not been driven off the track in Adelaide by Michael Schumacher. In 1996 he beat Jacques Villeneuve to the World Championship, becoming the first son of a World Champion to win the title himself - his father Graham having won it in 1962 and 1968.

Although it is said that he was replaced at Williams because he asked for too much money, Hill's 1995 season was a big disappointment to Williams and there are many who believe that the team signed Heinz-Harald Frentzen much earlier than admitted and found itself in an uncomfortable position when Hill proved to be so competitive in 1996. At the end of the year there was no drive for him at Williams and so he signed for Tom Walkinshaw's Arrows operation - the aim being to take advantage of an exclusive supply of Bridgestone tires that year. The combination was not very competitive but in Hungary everything worked and Damon ran away with the race only to be slowed in sight of the checkered flag. Hill quit Arrows at the end of the year and signed for Jordan - with his large salary being paid by Benson & Hedges. In the accident-plagued Belgian GP, Hill survived to give the team its first F1 victory, proving that he could win races in a car other than a Williams. As long ago as 1996 Hill promised his wife Georgie that he would retire at the end of the year 2000 - at the latest.

In recent months Hill has begun presenting a TV show called "Wild and Wacky Races" on Britain's Channel Five and there has been speculation that he might join the commentary team of ITV, alongside Martin Brundle and veteran commentator Murray Walker.

F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone said that Hill should leave the sport immediately, revealing that when Niki Lauda said he would retire at the end of the year in Canada in 1979, he told him to go there and then.

There is no doubt that Ecclestone's view is shared by some of the leading lights in the Jordan team, who would prefer to sign up a new driver as soon as possible. The major problem is that all the top drivers are tied up until the end of the year and switching Damon for a lesser known star will serve little purpose. Hill's announcement led to speculation that Jordan will be trying to hire either David Coulthard or Eddie Irvine although we believe that Giancarlo Fisichella remains the man on the top of EJ's shopping list.