Hill Clinches Formula One Championship
Oct. 13, 1996
SUZUKA, Japan (AP) _ Damon Hill not only clinched his first Formula One championship Sunday, but he also won the Japanese Grand Prix.
Hill, raising his fist as he approached the finishing line to receive the black-and-white checker flag, completed 53 laps over the 3.636-mile Suzuka Circuit in 1 hour, 32 minutes, 33.791 seconds.
His team mechanics waved a big British flag for him.
Hill, still wearing his full-cover helmet, expressing his joy, raised his fists above his head over and over again when he returned the pit.
Sunday's victory was his eighth this season and 21st career win.
Two-time defending champion Michael Schumacher of Germany finished second, at 1:32:33.791 in his Ferrari. Mika Hakkinen of Finland, in a McLaren-Mercedes, was third at 1:32:35.674.
Hill's championship came suddenly, even before the race ended.
In the 36th lap, his closest contender Jacques Villeneuve spun off the track after he turned a spoon curve, his rear tire flying into the air. He was unhurt, but his car was too damaged to continue the race.
That meant that no matter where Hill ended the race, he would have garnered enough points to win the championship, the coveted title his late father Graham won twice.
Even with the French Canadian in the race, Hill was the favorite. Hill faced losing only if he finished seventh or lower _ and won no points _ and Villeneuve won the race.
Starting from the second grid, Hill was quick to enter the first corner ahead of the pole-sitter Villeneuve from inside. From then on Hill led the race till the end.
Villeneuve had a bad start. He fell to the sixth place by the time he came out the first corner, although he quickly rose to the fourth by 19th lap.
Schumacher, starting from the third grid, was staying just behind Hill after he rose to the second place in the 19th lap.
Jean Alesi of France retired during the first lap after crashing into the fence, destroying the back end of his Benetton-Renault.
Hill came to Suzuka with a 9-point lead in the drivers standings over the second-place Villeneuve, who was desperately seeking to become the first rookie and the youngest driver to win the driver's overall title.
Sunday's victory brought Hill's driver points to 97 points. Villeneuve is second in the standings, with his points remaining at 78. Schumacher, who earned six points from his second-place finish Sunday, ranks third at 59.
The championship, however, is the first and possibly the last for Hill.
Last month, team owner Frank Williams dropped Hill for the next season and gave his place in the 1997 lineup to Heinz-Harald Frentzen of Germany.
Hill will leave Williams, Formula One's strongest, to join Arrows, among the weakest with no championship victory in its 19-year participation in the sport. Driving a Arrows-Yamaha, Hill will be no match for Villeneuve, staying with the Williams.
Sunday's start was delayed by 9 minutes when David Coulthard, in the eighth grid, could not start his McLaren-Mercedes.