The planes of Damon Hill's face remained set like a poker player's yesterday, betraying none of the inner tension that he will undoubtedly be feeling as he prepares for the final push to the top of a mountain twice conquered by his father, Graham.
He spoke quietly of his feelings before Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix, which will decide the outcome of a world championship that seemed his for the asking at the mid-season point. Outwardly he appeared calm and confident, as if he had not fluffed similar chances in the recent races in Hungary and Italy, and by his own hand prolonged the fight until this final stage.
Shrugging thoughts of the championship from his mind has not been easy, he admitted, in the weeks since his failure to capitalise on early advantages at both the Hungaroring and Monza. "I would be lying if I said that it hadn't taken a conscious effort not to be thinking about winning the championship," he said. "Now I'm here I know I can go into my race routine, and things take care of themselves from that point onwards." Jackie Stewart, three times the world champion, recently advised Hill to adapt a "pretty damn canny" approach if he found he were unable to lead Sunday's race, and Hill pondered the tactics he would employ to defeat his team-mate and sole rival, Jacques Villeneuve. "I certainly have to take into account that the championship is paramount. To win another race would be great but not as great as winning the championship, so there is a little bit of weighing up to do in mind whether I want to take more risk and tackle it with a view to winning the race, or to ensure that I finish in the points in order to win the title. But I'm always nervous about taking a cautious approach because sometimes that throws up other difficulties. …