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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Hill Cruises Into Formula One Title

SUZUKA, Japan -- At the start, Damon Hill needed only a sixth-place finish to clinch his first Formula One auto racing championship. Then he didn't even need to finish.

So when the British driver won the season-ending Japanese Grand Prix Sunday, to go with his 1996 river's title, he exulted: "I feel as though I am on a rocket which is just about to take off."

All suspense ended on the 37th lap, when Canadian Jacques Villeneuve, the only driver with even a slim chance to overtake him for the season championship, spun off the track.

Hill, starting from the second grid, already had overtaken pole-sitter Villeneuve in the first turn.

"Out there up front, I was telling myself, 'This is all very well, Hill, but now you've got to stay calm and see it through to the finish,'" he said.

After his pit crew messaged Hill that Williams-Renault teammate Villeneuve was out, he went on to beat two-time defending champion Michael Schumacher of Germany by 1.883 seconds. It was his eighth race victory this season, and 21st of his career.

Hill completed 52 laps around the 5.864-kilometer Suzuka Circuit in 1 hour, 32 minutes, 33.791 seconds.

Schumacher finished in 1:32:35.674 in his Ferrari, and Finland's Mika Hakkinen, in a McLaren-Mercedes, was third in 1:32:37.003.

Hill was in danger of losing the season title only if he finished seventh or lower, and Villeneuve won the race.

That possibility ended when Villeneuve spun out, his rear tire flying into the air. He was unhurt, but his car could not continue the race.

"It's a tremendous relief to have finally won the championship," said Hill, whose father, Graham, won it twice.

Sunday's title, however, could be 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 join Arrows, among the weakest teams, with no championships in its 19 years in the sport.

Driving an Arrows-Yamaha, Hill would be no match for Villeneuve, who is staying with Williams.