PORTUGUESE GRAND PRIX

Hill on target

Despite a practice inversion, Damon Hill duly took the 10 points he needed in Portugal to draw all but level with the absent Michael Schumacher’s World Championship lead

As a race, the Portuguese Grand Prix only really lasted seven laps. From his second pole position of the year, the 10th of his career, and Ferrari's second in succession, Gerhard Berger had sped his 412T1B into the lead from the Williams duo which had snapped at is heels throughout qualifying. But where Damon Hill had survived an inversion on Friday afternoon after colliding with a spinning Eddie Irvine, and had lined up alongside Berger on the front row, now it was team-mate David Coulthard who had made the better start.

Initially Berger drew away, but by lap five Coulthard had the reins on him and was beginning to size up his prey. With its torque demanding slow corners Estoril shouldn't have suited the Ferrari as well as it appeared to in qualifying, but in the race its speed was partly explained by Berger's plan to stop three times, where most other top runners planned only two calls for fuel and tyres. The indications were by the fifth lap that the Austrian had already started to shoot his bolt, for Coulthard was within striking distance despite his heavier fuel load. It may have been only his eighth Grand Prix and the last he was scheduled to undertake in 1994 but the Scot lacks nothing in the self-confidence department.

"I could see that Gerhard had started to hurt his tyres, and he was making some small mistakes. I knew it would be difficult to overtake him, but I thought that I could probably pressure him into a mistake if l got close enough. . . "

Fate denied him the need for that, for heading towards the new right-hander that led the cars to a very tight new hairpin left (where Hill had come to grief with Irvine in qualifying), the Ferrari slowed and pulled off to the right.

"This morning in the warm-up the car wasn't brilliant," said the dejected Gerhard, "but we managed to fix the set-up problems and in the race it was great. I had no problem in keeping the Williams-Renaults behind me."

There was a little bit of gamesmanship in there when he said that, but in any case a broken transmission shaft in the gearbox's hydraulic pump rendered the point academic.

That development left us with a Monza scenario all over again, with Coulthard confidently leading Hill. Indeed, the Englishman was beginning to drop back. From 3.4s on lap 12, the gap was 5.9s by lap 15. "David was going well and I had difficulty staying with him, there is no question about it," admitted Damon. On its first set of Goodyears his FW16B was oversteering too much. Coulthard lost his lead when he pitted for fuel on lap 18, and then Hill surrendered it in turn to Alesi with his own stop next time around. His was the quicker of the two Williams services, and when they resumed racing they were back together again. Moreover, Hill's car was now handling as it should.

What would Coulthard do now? Would he repeat his gallantry of Monza and slow to let Hill take the lead? Or, bearing in mind that he was due to be squeezed out of the team at the next race to make room for Nigel Mansell, and also that he had plenty of offers from high calibre teams, would he be tempted to fight to the finish? Or would he stay ahead as long as he could before ostentatiously obeying team orders?

Such questions would receive no answers, for he made an error of judgement on lap 28 which allowed the vigilant Hill to snatch a lead he never then lost. Coulthard came up to lap Dalmas going into the new right-hander, only to realise a fraction too late the speed difference between the Larrousse and his Williams. He had to throttle back quickly and move to the right, and as he got on to the dirt on the outside of the corner Hill struck speedily dived down the inside in the tight left-hander to follow Dalmas through and grab the lead. The indications are that Coulthard did not appreciate the move.

"First of all, I had not been expecting Damon to try to pass there because after what happened in practice, he had quite rightly shown some concern about that corner in the drivers' briefing. In the present situation it would not have been popular with the team if both our cars had come together. But this is what racing is all about: he did a very clean overtaking manoeuvre... and next time we are battling I will remember that corner. . .

"If I had turned in as usual we would have crashed. But Damon had enough of his car inside me to make it clear that l had to move over and the surface was slippery where I ran wide to let him through. It was a good opportunistic move by him in a situation where I was held up by traffic and had not guarded the inside."

In truth, he simply got it wrong and then made rather a meal of things in the postrace conference. For sure, Hill's move was opportunistic, but had he not overtaken he would have had to brake heavily to allow his team-mate to sort things out. It was just one of those things.

The incident that befell Alesi on lap 39 was as well. The Frenchman had settled into a charging third place, well clear of the scrap for fourth between Hakkinen and Barrichello, when he chanced upon David Brabham's delayed Simtek in the third corner. On lap 16 he had bent a trackrod end after colliding with Erik Comas's Larrousse, and now he turned in across Alesi just as the Ferrari driver was diving for an apparently open door.

There is, of course, little love lost between these two following their contretemps at Monaco, where Brabham was also being lapped by the Ferrari. "Everything was fine until I suddenly found myself in the sand at Turn Three. At first I wasn't sure who the culprit was. But, when I saw it was Alesi, I can't say I was surprised," said Brabham.

Alesi, understandably in view of what the television monitors recorded as the Simtek moved across on the Ferrari, took a differing view.

"He already closed the door on me at Monaco, and what bothers me more is that Brabham has never bothered to come and say sorry that he didn't see me," said Jean. "It was a real shame, as the car was going well and nobody was going to take my third place."

The Simtek team rather unwisely claimed that Alesi had 'unceremoniously punted' Brabham off, but the stewards disagreed and imposed a one-race ban on the Australian, suspended for three races.

This was not to be the only time that backmarkers came close to affecting the outcome of the Portuguese GP. Hill tapped the back of Bernard's Ligier at one stage, and then Jean-Marc Gounon all but lost control of the other Simtek at one stage coming through the right-hander that leads to the hairpin behind the pits. It twitched on to the grass on the right-hand side as he overcorrected a slide, then shot back on to the track just as the Williams-Renaults came by. Hill went to the right of it, Coulthard to the left. There, nothing daunted, the Scot tried an opportunistic move of his own as he tried to dive down the inside of Hill to retake the lead. Damon wasn't interested in that, though, and kept his line and his place.

With Alesi gone after a determined run, Hakkinen was now third ahead of the aggressive Barrichello, who led laps 23 to 25 after Alesi had pitted for fuel, and who would describe this as his toughest race ever. They would race virtually to the finish. At one stage, around the 42 lap mark, they were very close, but gradually Mika eased away. The McLarens looked extremely effective through the first corner in particular, but down the straights they were lamentably slow.

In the closing stages the Brazilian came under serious threat from Jos Verstappen, who was also driving a stylish race in the lead Benetton. The Dutchman had chased hard after Heinz-Harald Frentzen's Sauber in the opening stages, the German getting as high as third by lap 31 by virtue of not pitting for fuel. However, a lap later his gearbox broke, ending an excellent run. Verstappen was thus free to draw away from Martin Brundle, who had shadowed him from the start. They had worked their way back past Christian Fittipaldi, who was only going to stop once in his Footwork, and into fifth and sixth places by lap 40.

The Dutchman as again driving an intelligent race, for after finding his B194 sliding around alarmingly in the opening stages he had radioed the team to lower the pressures on his second set of tyres. This ploy worked, and by lap 59 he had Barrichello in sight. Three laps later they were nose to tail as they came down into Turn One, but where Barrichello managed to lap Pier-Luigi Martini, Verstappen had to brake hard to avoid the Italian's Minardi, and when they came round again he had to start all over again. It took him another seven laps to get back into a challenging position, but then he had a huge moment coming out of Senna, the very quick final corner. Blundell's Tyrrell-Yamaha had just blown up there — it actually happened right in front of Hill — and though Verstappen was fortunate to get away with running on the grass for a long time, all hope of catching the Jordan was gone. Brundle chased these two home, regretting a mediocre start which he felt robbed him of the chance of exploiting fourth fastest time in the morning warm-up, while Fittipaldi's strong race towards seventh place was eventually foiled by Eddie Irvine, who kept himself out of trouble and was delighted with his Sasol Jordan's behaviour. The Ulsterman had been locked in a big battle with Olivier Panis and JJ Lehto for much of the race, trapped behind the Ligier but able to contain the Benetton. Then, going into Turn One on lap 57, he watched as Coulthard pounced inside to lap the Ligier, and as Panis had to back off and lost momentum, Eddie seized his chance to sweep by the blue car and pull away. Lehto followed suit, but any challenge from the Finn evaporated when JJ put a wheel on the dirt coming out of the corner preceding the new right-hander, and spun off into the barriers. Sadly, that error probably marked the end of his frontline F1 career. Shortly before the end Irvine finally caught and passed the Footwork and pulled clear to take seventh by the flag. Christian hung on for eighth, but Panis' ninth place was cancelled once the scrutineers had found his plank was excessively worn. Ligier no doubt cursed Ken Tyrrell, who had been the only team owner not to sign a qualifying proposal to run titanium skidblocks under the cars to protect the planks from excessive wear, but it may have consoled the French team that Uncle Ken's cars had a dismal day in a race which appeared to promise much after Ukyo Katayama had qualified sixth.

The Japanese star had been obliged to start the race from the pit road rather than his rightful position on the grid after his engine cut out twice on the formation lap. He got going a minute behind the field and in one of his typical charges had battled his way up to 21st place ahead of the Simteks, Adams and Martini by lap 25. But then his transmission would not select any gears after the first hairpin and he had to retire.

Team-mate Mark Blundell fared little better. He had risen to a strong ninth by the time of his first stop on lap 18, but was unlucky enough to rejoin behind de Cesaris who then resolutely blocked him at every turn and even had him off the road on one occasion. By the time Mark had finally disposed of this irritation and got back into his rhythm and seventh place by lap 39, the chances of points were looking slim, and on lap 62 they disappeared altogether when his Yamaha V10 broke. Its oil was the cause of the lurid moments that befell Verstappen and 11th placed Eric Bernard.

For Lotus and Johnny Herbert there was nothing but bitter disappointment after the stifled promise of Monza. The team went the wrong way on set-up from the start in qualifying, its cause not helped when Herbert spun and later had his times dis counted after a push-start on Friday after noon. In the race the 109 struggled throughout, and it was only in testing the following week, with the suspension softened, that Herbert was able to slice two whole seconds off his qualifying time. That would have put him eighth on the grid, but that was then and the race was now.

Lotus' morale was scarcely bolstered by Philippe Adams's thoroughly unimpressive form in the second car, into which he was for some unfathomable reason allowed to step even though his money had yet to come through. He trudged round, slowly and off the throttle in turn two, to finish 17th, the last runner.

Martini, Alboreto and Dalmas fought tooth and nail throughout in one of the race's best scraps, with Piero narrowly getting the verdict for 13th place from Michele by 0.7s and Yannick winding up a further 0.8s adrift. Not bad after some 190 miles of racing.

There were tears at Williams when Hill and Coulthard duly reeled off the laps to push the team to the head of the Constructors' Championship and to record the first British 1-2 in a Grand Prix since Damon's old man led Frank's old driver Piers Courage home at Monaco 25 years earlier, but while Coulthard savoured his long overdue podium visit there were strained moments as he made his point about Hill's passing move.

The latter's saturnine face grew darker still as he listened, before he gently made the point that the drivers had agreed not to pass there in the opening laps as it is so tight, but that there were no any other agreements as such. Whatever, Coulthard had made his point to all and sundry with an excellent drive which, in other circumstances, might have yielded victory at only the eighth attempt. And Hill had made his 20 points on Michael Schumacher.

Ruffled that some had thought him over cautious in Italy, he said: "I got 10 points there, which is what I was there for. And I did it here. Now that Michael and I are even, the gloves can come off for the final three races."

As the teams stayed on for further testing, and Schumacher returned with all his and Benetton's old speed, the ghosts of 1976 were gently stirring. D J T

STARTING GRID

28 BERGER Ferrari 412 T1 1:20.608 (1) 1:21.863 (2)
0 HILL Williams FW16 1:20.803 (2) 1:20.766 (1)
2 COULTHARD Williams FW16 1:21.120 (2) 1:21.033 (1)
7 HAKKINEN McLaren MP4/9 1:21.251 (1) 1:21.700 (2)
27 ALESI Ferrari 412 T1 1:21.517 (2) 1:22.086 (1)
3 KATAYAMA Tyrrell 022 1:21.590 (1) 4:03.441 (2)
8 BRUNDLE McLarenMP4/9 1:21.656 (1) 1:22.035 (2)
14 BARRICHELLO Jordan 194 1:21.839 (2) 1:21.796 (1)
30 FRENTZEN Sauber C13 1:22.795 (2) 1:21.921 (1)
6 VERSTAPPEN Benetton B194 1:22.614 (2) 1:22.000 (1)
9 FITTIPALDI Footwork FA15 1:22.636 (2) 1:22.132 (1)
4 BLUNDELL Tyrrell 022 1:22.288 (1) 1:22.971 (2)
15 IRVINE Jordan 194 1:23.411 (2) 1:22.294 (1)
5 LEHTO Benetton B194 1:22.613 (2) 1:22.369 (1)
26 PANIS Ligier JS39B 1:23.711 (2) 1:22.672 (1)
10 MORBIDELLI Footwork FA15 1:22.974 (2) 1:22.756 (1)
29 DE CESARIS Sauber C13 1:22.885 (1) 1:22.888 (2)
23 MARTINI Minardi M194 1:23.243 (1) 1:23.464 (2)
24 ALOBORETO Minardi M194 1:23.364 (1) 1:24.186 (2)
12 HERBERT Lotus 109 1:23.408 (2) No time (1)
25 BERNARD Ligier JS39B 1:25.039 (2) 1:23.699 (1)
20 COMAS Larrousse LH94 1:24.192 (2) 1:24.306 (1)
19 DALMAS Larrousse LH94 1:24.438 (1) 1:24.920 (2)
31 BRABHAM Simtek S941 1:24.527 (2) 1:24.514 (1)
11 ADAMS Lotus 109 1:25.313 (1) 1:25.708 (2)
32 GOUNON Simtek S941 1:25.686 (2) 1:25.649 (1)
Did not qualify:
GACHOT (Pacific PR01) 1:27.960/1:27.385
BELMONDO (Pacific PR01) 1:32.706/1:29.000

PORTUGUESE GRAND PRIX, Estoril, September 25
71 laps of 2.709-mile circuit (192.339 miles)

POS DRIVER CAR/ENGINE TIME/STATED RETIREMENT BEST LAP LAP
1 Damon Hill Williams FW16-Renault V10 1h41m10.165s 1m 22.997s 10
2 David Coulthard Williams FW16-Renault V10 1h41m10.768s 1m 22.446s 12
3 Mika Hakkinen McLaren MP4/9-Peugeot V10 1h41m30.358s 1m 23.819s 6
4 Rubens Barrichello Jordan 194-Hart V10 1h41m38.168s 1m 23.806s 69
5 Jos Verstappen Benetton B194-Ford Zetec-R V8 1h41m39.550s 1m 23.702s 58
6 Martin Brundle McLaren MP4/9-Peugeot V10 1h42m02.867s 1m 24.325s 60
7 Eddie Irvine Jordan 194-Hart V10 70 laps 1m 23.930s 61
8 Christian Fittipaldi Footwork FA15-Ford HB V8 70 laps 1m 24.716s 5
DQ Olivier Panis Ligier JS39B-Renault V10 70 laps – undersize plank 1m 24.804s 42
9 Gianni Morbidelli Footwork FA15 Ford HB V8 70 laps 1m 24.275s 6
10 Eric Bernard Ligier JS39B-Renault V10 70 laps 1m 24.275s 7
11 Johnny Herbert Lotus 109-Mugen Honda V10 70 laps 1m 24.748s 3
12 Pier-Luigi Martini Minardi M194-Ford HB V8 69 laps 1m 25.690s 15
13 Michele Alboreto Minardi M194-Ford HB V8 69 laps 1m 26.577s 39
14 Yannick Dalmas Larrousse LH94-Ford HB V8 69 laps 1m 26.288s 58
15 Jean-Marc Gounon Simtek S941-Ford HB V8 67 laps 1m 26.192s 19
16 Philippe Adams Lotus 109-Mugen Honda V10 67 laps 1m 27.082s 4
Rtd Mark Blundell Tyrrell 022-Yamaha V10 61 laps- engine 1m 24.564s 18
Rtd JJ Lehto Benetton B194-Ford Zetec-R V8 60 laps- accident 1m 24.728s 10
Rtd Andrea de Cesaris Sauber C13-Mercedes V10 54 laps- differential 1m 25.568s 10
Rtd Jean Alesi Ferrari 412 T1-Ferrari V12 38 laps -accident 1m 23.236s 3
Rtd David Brabham Simtek S941-Ford HB V8 36 laps - accident 1m 25.760s 19
Rtd Heinz-Harald Frentzen Sauber C13-Mercedes V10 31 laps – gearbox 1m 24.550s 4
Rtd Erik Comas Larrousse LH94-Ford HB V8 27 laps - suspension 1m 26.786s 4
Rtd Ukyo Katayama Tyrrell 022-Yamaha V10 26 laps - gearbox 1m 23.419s 4
Rtd Gerhard Berger Ferrari 412 T1-Ferrari V12 7 laps - gearbox 1m 22.935s 7

Winner’s Average Speed: 115.321 mph
Conditions: warm, sunny intervals
Fastest Lap: David Coulthard, 1m 22.446s on lap 12, 118.297 mph

Championship points – Drivers: 1 Schumacher 76; 2 Hill 75; 3 Berger 33; 4 Hakkinen 22; 5 Alesi 19; 6 Barichello 16; 7 Coulthard 14; 8 Brundle 12; 9 Verstappen 10; 10 Blundell 8; Panis 7; 12 Fittipaldi and Larini 6; 14 Frentzen and Katayama 5; 16 Bernard, Martini, de Cesaris and Wendlinger 4; 20 Morbidelli 3; 21 Comas 2; 22 Alboreto, Lehtoand Irvine 1.
Constructors: 1 Williams Renault 89; 2 Benneton Ford 87; Ferrari 58; 4 McLaren Peugeot 34; 5 Jordan Hart 20; 6 Tyrrell Yamaha 13; 7 Ligier Renault 11; 8 Sauber Mercedes-Benz 10; 9 Footwork Ford 9; 10 Minardi Ford 5; 11 Larrousse Ford 2.