When Damon Hill was dumped by Williams no-one, apart, perhaps, from Damon, was too surprised. Frank’s record of firing his champions is, after all, unsurpassed. The surprise came when he signed for Arrows. The World Champion had joined the team whose sole distinction was the longest stretch without a win in Formula One. If you listened hard in editorial offices round the country, you could hear them sniggering.
The funny thing is, it’s gone quiet lately. Those who made snap judgements have now seen Damon’s speed at Suzuka and twigged the potential and determination of Bridgestone. Mostly though, it is the towering influence of Tom Walkinshaw that’s turning opinion back in Hill’s favour. Those who talked of statistical oblivion for Hill now grudgingly accept that we might see him on the podium in ’97. Those who said, more in hope than belief, that he’d be in the points now whisper of outright victory.
As you will read in Alan Henry’s incisive profile of Walkinshaw, the team believes it can bag wins this season and make an attack on the Championship in 1998. With Hill’s renowned testing and development skills combined with Walkinshaw’s proven ability to bring together a competitive package, the smart money now expects to see the Arrows at the sharp end of the grid more often than not.
For both, the incentives are mighty. Walkinshaw wants his own front-running F1 team to fill the last space on his motorsports CV and shower priceless kudos on the rest of the TWR empire. For discarded Damon, it’s rather more simple: Few victories will taste more sweet than that when he comes home ahead of the Williams team in general and Frentzen in particular. If you can stop yourself laughing for a moment, take the time to place a bet. You’ll never get better odds again.
By now you will have heard of the death of Denis Jenkinson. Our heartfelt thanks go to all of you who have telephoned, written or sent faxes to this office. Sadly, we have not been able to publish nearly as many of your messages as we would have liked. We can therefore only hope that our tribute, which starts on page 10 and continues next month with a unique appreciation, goes at least some of the way to honouring the memory of one of the most important figures of post-war motor racing.