Byline: ALAN HENRY in Sao Paulo
DAMON HILL saved the day for the Williams team with a splendid second place behind Ayrton Senna's McLaren in the Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos yesterday. Britons were also fourth and fifth.
After a gripping race high on drama and unpredictability, Hill conceded that though 'I could see there was a chance to win . . . I couldn't keep up with Ayrton in the closing stages and I was anxious to keep my second place and at last break my Formula One duck'.
As the race was on Senna's home patch, this was an emotional 37th career grand-prix victory for the Brazilian, whose McLaren-Ford MP4/8 had seemed so outpaced in qualifying. It was a virtuoso performance and takes him to the top of the championship standings with 16 points after two races.
He won despite receiving a 'stop and go' penalty for allegedly overtaking a car under waved yellow caution flags. 'But it was absolutely wrong that I was penalised for this,' he said trenchantly. 'I came up to lap Comas's Larrousse and he just backed off and let me past. It is not right that such a penalty should be imposed in this way and under these circumstances.'
Another Briton, Johnny Herbert in his Lotus 107B, only yielded third place to Michael Schumacher's Benetton B193A three laps from the end of the 71-lap race. Mark Blundell's Ligier JS39 was fifth, with Alessandro Zanardi claiming the last championship point in the other Lotus.
A heavy rainstorm saw the field slow to a crawl as Hill's team-mate Alain Prost pirouetted out of the lead after colliding with Christian Fittipaldi's Minardi, handing the lead to Hill who had run in his wheel tracks after taking second place from Senna on the 11th lap.
Hill then found himself in the lead after a spate of accidents brought out the safety car - for the first time since its introduction last year - to control the pace of the field between laps 29 and 37, the cars cruising round in tight formation behind it while the debris was cleared away. Then, when the green flag unleashed the pack once again, Hill found himself leading his first grand prix at proper racing speeds. It did not last long.
'I realised it was difficult in traffic, and Ayrton came past me again following our pit stops to change back on to dry-weather tyres,' he said. 'But I had two things to consider. First the fact that I had not finished my first race for the team, and secondly that Alain was no longer running and it was important that I got my car home to the finish.
'I then lost a small degree of grip from the front tyres and eased back. Caution was my watchword in the closing stages.'
In only his fourth grand prix the 30-year-old Londoner exhibited qualities of consistency and shrewd judgment which recalled memories of his late father Graham, winner of the 1962 and 1968 world championships.
At the start of the race a huge accident eliminated Michael Andretti's McLaren and Gerhard Berger's Ferrari. Andretti had moved slightly to the right as JJ Lehto's Sauber seemed about to cut across his bows, but the McLaren in turn pincered the fast-starting Berger against the concrete retaining wall on the outside of the circuit.
The two cars cartwheeled horrifyingly into the sand trap at the first corner, but both men walked away from the wreckage without any injuries - a magnificent testimony to the high constructional standards of the modern grand-prix car.
BRAZILIAN GRAND PRIX (Sao Paulo): 1, A Senna (Br) McLaren; 2, D Hill (GB) Williams; 3, M Schumacher (Ger) Benetton; 4, J Herbert (GB) Lotus; 5, M Blundell (GB) Ligier; 6, A Zanardi (It) Lotus; 7, P Alliot (Fr) Larrousse; 8, J Alesi (Fr) Ferrari; 9, D Warwick (GB) Footwork; 10, E Comas (Fr) Larrousse. Also: M Brundle (GB) Ligier (failed to complete one lap). Drivers' championship: 1, Senna 16 pts; 2, A Prost (Fr) 10; 3, Blundell and Hill 6; 5, Schumacher 4; 6, C Fittipaldi (Br) and Herbert 3; 8, J J Lehto (Fin) 2; 9, G Berger (Aut) and Zanardi 1. Constructors' championship: 1, Williams and McLaren 16; 3, Ligier 6; 4, Benetton and Lotus 4; 6, Minardi 3; 7, Sauber 2; 8, Ferrari 1.