Byline: ALAN HENRY
DAMON HILL kept his flickering hopes of the world championship alive yesterday when he completed a hat-trick of victories with a lucky win in the Italian Grand Prix.
In his first full year of Formula One he also increased his chances of being retained by the Williams team for 1994.
The Englishman inherited the lead to finish 40 seconds ahead of Jean Alesi's Ferrari after his Williams team-mate Alain Prost suffered a major failure of his Renault engine only five laps from the end of the 53-lap race which he had dominated from the start.
'I am not even thinking about the championship implications of this race, but I am delighted to have won my third successive grand prix,' said Hill.
'When Frank Williams told me after the Hungarian race that I could now go on and win the next two races I did not really think it was likely. It is a fantastic experience to win here at Monza, where it is even great just to be part of the event.'
To take the title, Hill has to win two of the remaining three races on the calendar and finish third in the other without Prost scoring one more point. By the same token, Prost only needs another third place to put his fourth title beyond doubt.
In the laps before Prost's retirement he had eased the pace considerably, allowing Hill to pull right up on to his tail, sure in the knowledge that Hill would obey the standing team orders to hold position over the last 10 laps.
'Of all the races this year, this was possibly the one where I was easiest on the engine,' said Prost after his retirement. 'I cut the revs and took it easy in the second half of the race because whichever of us was in front at lap 43 was going to win. The engine failed without any warning.'
At the post-race press conference Hill seemed a little uncertain how much of the team's strategy he was allowed to reveal. Commenting on the fact that his pit had shown him a board to remind him that his engine temperatures were on the high side, he said: 'The only factor which constrained me in my attempts to pass Alain was slight overheating.'
Prost took an immediate lead at the start, with Alesi squeezing through ahead of Hill to take second place as the pack sprinted for the first tight chicane. In the ensuing traffic jam, Ayrton Senna's McLaren savaged Hill's Williams, vaulting over its left rear wheel, but both cars were able to continue.
Prost was effectively handed the race on a plate, completing the opening lap 2.4sec ahead of Alesi and thereafter pacing the race as gently as he dared, keeping a watchful eye on his mirrors after Michael Schumacher's Benetton slipped past the Ferrari into second place on the fourth lap.
Hill was ninth ahead of Senna at the end of the opening lap, but got his head down and recovered in style to retake second place on the 22nd lap when Schumacher retired with a broken engine.
The passionately enthusiastic home crowd were delighted with Alesi's second place, and Michael Andretti boosted his flagging morale with the first podium finish of his grand prix career, a good third place 15 years after his father Mario clinched the 1978 championship for Lotus.
Andretti vehemently denied rumours that he would be replaced by McLaren's test driver Mika Hakkinen for the remaining grands prix this season, even though his race had started on an unsteady note with a second-lap spin.
The remainder of the British contingent suffered bad luck, with Mark Blundell's Ligier, Johnny Herbert's Lotus and Derek Warwick's Footwork all eliminated in accidents of varying severity while Martin Brundle's Ligier was rammed from behind by Senna and both were eliminated.
ITALIAN GRAND PRIX: 1, D Hill (GB) Williams-Renault; 2, J Alesi (Fr) Ferrari; 3, M Andretti (US) McLaren-Ford; 4, K Wendlinger (Aut) Sauber; 5, R Patrese (It) Benetton-Ford; 6, E Comas (Fr) Larrouse-Lamborghini; 7, P Martini (It) Minardi-Ford; 8, C Fittipaldi (Br) Minardi-Ford; 9, P Alliot (Fr) Larrousse-Lamborghini; 10, L Badoer (It) BMS Lola-Ferrari; 11, P Lamy (Por) Lotus-Ford; 12, A Prost (Fr) Williams-Renault; 13, A De Cesaris (It) Tyrrell-Yamaha; 14, U Katayama, Tyrrell-Yamaha, 47. Did not finish: M Alboreto (It) Bms Lola-Ferrari; M Schumacher (Ger) Benetton-Ford; M Blundell (GB) Ligier-Renault; G Berger (Aut) Ferrari; J Herbert (GB) Lotus-Ford; M Brundle (GB) Ligier-Renault; A Senna (Br) McLaren-Ford; R Barrichello (Br) Jordan-Hart; M Apicella (It) Jordan-Hart.
Drivers' world championship standings: 1, Prost 81pts; 2, Hill 58; 3, Senna 53; 4, Schumacher 42; 5, Patrese 20; 6=, Brundle, Herbert 11; 8=, Alesi, Blundell, Berger 10; 11, Andretti 7; 12=, J J Lehto (Fin), Fittipaldi, Wendlinger 5; 15, D Warwick (GB) 4; 16=, Alliot, F Barbazza (It) 2; 18=, A Zanardi (It), Comas 1.
Constructors' standings: 1, Williams-Renault 139; 2, Benetton-Ford 62; 3, McLaren-Ford 60; 4, Ligier-Renault 21; 5, Ferrari 20; 6, Lotus-Ford 12; 7, Sauber 10; 8, Minardi-Ford 7; 9, Footwork Mugen-Honda 4; 10, Larrousse-Lamborghini 3.