Champ suffering the slings and Arrows of outrageous fortune

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 May, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 May, 1997, 12:00am

Doesn't your heart just cry out for Damon Hill? There he is, Formula One world champion, Britain's Sports Personality of the Year, a son who emulated his illustrious father, a multi-millionaire - and his car has as much oomph as a go-kart.

When Hill chose to join the Arrows team a lot of eyebrows were raised. But he told the world he was his own man and was big enough, bold enough to make his own decisions.

Team boss Tom Walkinshaw, a Scotsman with the gift of the gab and a happy knack for producing flying machines, convinced Hill that together they could make the Arrows soar. Said Hill of Walkinshaw: 'He is a formidable competitor and he knows what it takes to race.' But after a trying start to the season - to his acute embarrassment the reigning champion did not even make it to the grid in the opening race in Australia - Hill is beginning to change his tune.

Before the San Marino Grand Prix last week he was telling anyone who cared to listen - and these days that's mainly the British media - that he was running out of patience with the team.

The confidence in his own ability was still high but he needed a sure, swift car in which to perform, not a succession of broken Arrows.

As fate would have it, his machine sprung an oil leak on the grid and Hill was forced to start the race from the pit lane.

With his frustration level overheating to a dangerous extent, he hared after the rest of the field and promptly piled into the side of Japan's Shinji Nakano.

Hill, after initally blaming the accident on Nakano, admitted that he had T-boned the Japanese as a result of his impetuous driving.

Nakano provided the quotation of the week when he described the incident: 'Mr World Champion hit me, pushed me off and that finished my race. It was just incredible.' To add to his already overflowing cup of woe, Hill has been handed a suspended, one-race ban for the incident.

It must be worrying for the other drivers to know that a loose arrow with a deadly tip is whizzing round the track.

Hill has everything to prove and plenty to lose, not a pleasant situation for a driver whom six months ago was feted as the world's best.

And what of Hill's boss, Tom Walkinshaw, in all this? To ease the personal pressure, he has sidetracked to his other sporting love, rugby union, and joined the growing ranks of millionaire owners of English clubs.

Last week he bought a controlling share in Gloucester - a novel way, perhaps, of putting Hill back in the front row.