Hill dedicates win to Senna
DAMON Hill produced the perfect homage to Formula One legend Ayrton Senna yesterday by winning a drama-packed San Marino Grand Prix.
The Englishman won his second race in a row, his Williams Renault beating Jean Alsei's Ferrari - the same one-two as in Argentina - and Gerhard Berger, also in a Ferrari, in an event that had everything.
Scot David Coulthard, Hill's teammate, was fourth while the unlucky Nigel Mansell lost out in his first race of the season to finish 10th.
The showpiece was always going to be dominated by the memory of the Brazilian triple world champion, who died at San Marino in a 200-mph crash during last year's race, a day after Austrian driver Roland Ratzenberger's death.
And that tragic memory flashed back when world champion Michael Schumacher crashed out early on, escaping unhurt after ripping off the side of his Benetton Renault.
Italian fans, who hero-worshipped Senna, were clamouring for a Ferrari win to dull the pain but Hill's victory was some consolation, since he had been Senna's teammate.
A race banner even proclaimed: 'Damon - win for Ayrton.' The drivers gathered to observe one minute's silence for Senna and Ratzenberger before the start - then the team tacticians took over.
With the sun drying out the track after the morning's heavy rain, most of the frontrunners decided to begin on wet tyres.
Schumacher cautiously held on to his first place from the start as Gerhard Berger, Coulthard, Hill and Alesi tucked in behind.
McLaren-Mercedes men Mika Hakkinen and Mansell, starting after having his cockpit rebuilt to fit him, were among those who started on slicks but the gamble failed as Mansell slipped back to 13th and the Finn, sixth on the grid, even further back.
Berger seemed to have pulled off the next tactical coup when he pitted his Ferrari to change to slicks after the sixth lap while Schumacher hesitated.
The German was soon losing three seconds a lap but, after changing his tyres with 10 laps gone, he hurtled into a wall after losing control.
That left Berger back in the race lead, pulling 11 seconds ahead as Hill, Coulthard and Alesi locked into a three-way dogfight.
But the Austrian's hopes of victory disappeared when his second pit stop took 46 seconds, leaving him back in fourth and Hill at the front after 23 laps.
It was a particularly bitter slice of luck for Berger whose weekend had begun with his own private Ferrari being stolen along with Alesi's.
Mansell, meanwhile, had worked through the field to sixth by the 25th as the fight for the lead warmed up but a brush with Eddie Irvine's Jordan, leading to a puncture stop, was to deprive him of any points.
Hill, who had never finished in the top three at Imola, gradually eked out a seven-second advantage and that increased as Coulthard survived a spin at the Villeneuve chicane to lose second place.
The drama continued, however, as Coulthard picked up a stop-and-go 10-second penalty before his car clipped Alesi's Ferrari, leaving the Frenchman shaking his fist in anger.
The Scot's punishment left Alesi in second, but 16 seconds adrift and that more than doubled with 20 laps to go.
The chasers, meanwhile, were all struggling, with Berger and Coulthard both forced to make further stops.
A long pit stop by Hill allowed Alesi to edge back to within eight seconds, but the Englishman forged away again to his 11th career title.
The 63-lap race ended with fans spilling on to the track to celebrate, but raising concerns for their safety with cars still out on the track.