Damon Hill, who is poised to win the Formula Once driver’s championship, has been dropped by his Williams Renault team for next season.
It was revealed yesterday that Frank Williams, the team’s leader, had ended negotiations over a new contract with Hill last week. The British driver had been seeking an improvement to his present 12-month deal, believed to be worth $7.5m (£5M), and was understood to be requesting $12M.
It had been rumoured that Williams was not prepared to go beyond $8M, but it became clear yesterday that money had not been the key issue. Hill’s representative, Michael Breen, said that the driver had been prepared to continue negotiating, but Williams had decided to end the talks.
It is believed Williams may have been planning for some time to replace Hill. According to sources in Formula One, Williams agreed a deal last year with the German driver Heinz-Harald Frentzen to driver for his team next year. If Hill wins the championship – he leads by 13 points, with three races remaining – he will be the fourth Williams driver to leave the team with the world title in the last nine years, following Nelson Piquet, Nigel Mansell and Alain Prost.
2/9/96 – Independent.
Damon Hill’s incurably miserable Grand Prix starts have probably accelerated his departure and got him booted out of the world title team. But the real roots of the split go back a year. That’s when Frank Williams ruthlessly offloaded David Coulthard. He wanted to keep the brilliant Scot in preference to Damon – but problems with the deal wrecked his patience.
Williams then agreed a one-season deal knowing Hill would want more cash as champion – he wouldn’t have done that if he wanted Hill as a fixture. Now Williams looks to be off-loading Hill whether he is champion or not.
The decision was just delayed – but accelerated by Hill’s zero zest and killer instinct and his inability to rule the grid in the finest Formula Once car ever.
Williams ditched Coulthard though he relished the idea of him alongside Indy champ Jacques Villeneuve, two 25-year olds with glittering futures. If Williams hadn’t grown angry with Coulthard’s contract wrangles he would have dumped Damon a year ago. Coulthard reluctantly joined McLaren and Hill was his only option, but bad starts, blunders, rows and a lack of breathtaking dash spelt the end.
And the toughest race boss of all is obviously prepared for the sponsor’s flak, bound to start flying this week.
2/9/96 – Daily Mirror.