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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Racing Leader Hill in Center Of Team Sponsorship Intrigue

LONDON -- World championship-leading Briton Damon Hill has again been linked to a switch of teams from Williams to McLaren after the Mercedes-Benz-powered outfit announced a massive new sponsorship deal.

McLaren said Monday it would be severing its 23-year relationship with Marlboro at the end of the season and had agreed a five-year deal, said to be worth around ?125 million ($194.2 million), from the owners of the German cigarette brand West.

McLaren has been virtually synonymous with the Marlboro brand since 1974, winning nine drivers' world titles and seven constructors' titles, but the relationship will end with the last race of this year in Japan in October.

Hill, who leads this year's drivers' championship by 13 points, is a free agent at the end of the season and is considering leaving Williams if he cannot reach a satisfactory agreement with the team.

In the past, Williams has failed to keep several drivers who have won championships with it, including Brazilian Nelson Piquet in 1987, Briton Nigel Mansell in 1992 and Frenchman Alain Prost in 1993.

Hill was teammate to Prost, a four-time champion, in 1993, and the two worked well together and became friends. Prost, now with McLaren as a technical adviser, is known to be an admirer of Hill and believes he is under-rated.

McLaren boss Ron Dennis has refused to deny he is interested in Hill, but would say only that his driver lineup next season would be "David Coulthard and the best available driver in the opinion of McLaren and Mercedes-Benz."

Hill is known to have met Dennis during a holiday in the south of France recently, and it is believed he has also begun talks with at least two other teams.