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Hill on Coulthard

In a speech at the Autosport International Show, Damon Hill has answered David Coulthard’s recent comments about Lewis Hamilton being thrown into F1 too quickly. He thinks Coulthard’s doubts are caused mainly by the approaching end of the Scot’s career.

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Teammates! Coulthard and Hill

Even more interesting than Damon’s speech is the way his own status has changed gradually since he left F1. As a driver, he was always regarded with suspicion, even after he won his world championship. Everyone tended to credit the car rather than the driver and Damon remained the “son of Graham” no matter how well he performed.

Since his retirement, Damon has been asked for his opinion more often and what he says is taken much more seriously. These days he has emerged from his father’s shadow and his championship counts for more than it did when he first won it.

It’s an interesting phenomenon. Guys like Jackie Stewart and Stirling Moss have always had an air of authority about them and even James Hunt was listened to respectfully, but only lately has Damon reached that sort of stature. Perhaps it’s because the fact remains that he did win the championship and was the last Brit to do so. In the end, who cares whether he had the best car or not?

I think Damon is a little hard on Coulthard, however. David may not have won the championship yet but he is a consistent points scorer, often in an uncompetitive car. His motivation seems as strong as ever and he could still win races, given the right machinery.

Okay, he didn’t have that immediate impact that the really gifted drivers had on entering F1 – Schumacher, Prost and Senna, to quote the speech – but neither did Damon. Not all future champions give notice of their potential in so spectacular a fashion, after all. Who rated Fernando Alonso when he was driving for Minardi? Very few, I suspect.

Jackie Stewart pointed out recently that there are usually only one or two supremely talented drivers in any generation. If that is so, then Raikkonen and Alonso would have to claim that status at the moment. But that doesn’t mean that all the other drivers might as well pack their bags and go home; with hard work and perseverance, they can overcome the gap in sheer talent and win championships too.

Damon ought to know that, since his father had to fight against Jim Clark and then Stewart himself, both the supreme drivers of their day, and still he managed to steal races from them. David Coulthard has many of the qualities that brought Graham Hill his triumphs and, when it comes to hard work and determination, no-one beats David.

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Alonso Champion Again

The Brazilian Grand Prix was an exciting end to a season that became nerve-wracking towards the end. Strangely enough, Michael Schumacher’s puncture actually added to the tension, bringing back memories of other races where he has seemed to be out of contention only to win in the end. Had things gone to plan, Michael would have won, Massa come in second and Alonso third; in other words the net result would still have been Alonso’s second championship.

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Fernando Alonso, 2006 World Champion

So the race delivered beyond expectation. Massa won, to the delight of all Brazil, Fernando collected his second championship in a row, Michael supplied us with yet another determined drive all the way from last to fourth and Jenson Button underlined his potential for greatness next year by grabbing a podium spot. What more could we ask for?

There were sad tales as well; Williams ended one of their worst ever years by their drivers colliding on the first lap and Toyota remained consistent, shooting themselves in the foot (well, okay, the rear suspension) and exiting stage left very early on. Kimi Raikkonen did his best but the McLaren was just not up to the task of beating the front runners on the day; fifth was a poor reward after a long, hard season for him.

So now the accolades and reviews of Michael Schumacher’s astounding career begin. Such has been his stature in the sport that his leaving has overshadowed Alonso’s achievement of the 2006 championship. But some remembered Fernando and Autosport magazine has an interesting interview with Damon Hill and Jackie Stewart in which they assess Alonso’s skills.

Damon Hill: “He’s a very determined competitor, and I like that. I’m sort of riding with him a little bit when I watch him drive.

“In Suzuka, he was just pounding away at Michael. I think he broke Michael. The car broke. It had to break some day.

“Michael has had six years without an engine failure, but put under serious pressure for lots of laps and something had to give.”

Jackie Stewart: “Of the 22 Grand Prix drivers there’s usually only about six that are really, really good. And out of those six there are usually only three extraordinary talents at one time. And out of those three there is generally only one genius at any one time.

“For a short window of time there might have been Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna together, but that was a rare occasion.

“There is generally only one genius at any one time and I think you’re going to see Alonso taking on that mantle.

“I think the time has come when it is clear that Alonso is tomorrow and Michael is yesterday.”

Food for thought. And one more thought from me: on Sunday we may have seen an instance of the FIA at last bowing a little to common sense. It is well known that the practise of the winner accepting his national flag from a fan and then waving it on his slowing down lap was banned several years ago. So, when Massa did exactly that, I think we must all have held our breath in anticipation of dire penalties being imposed by the officials. Yet so far there has been nothing; perhaps the FIA decided to be looking the other way at the moment of Felipe’s achievement of a lifelong ambition.

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