Hills ponders deal with IndyCar team By Timothy Collings in Budapest

JUST when one would have expected his self-esteem and bargaining power to have reached an all-time low, Damon Hill arrived in Budapest yesterday for the potentially-decisive Hungarian Grand Prix with a confident grin on his face.

Not only does he remain charged up and determined to challenge for the world drivers' championship, but he has been buoyed by an unexpected offer from America which could transform his career and give him a massive opportunity to repeat Nigel Mansell's success in IndyCar racing.

According to reliable sources in the United States, Carl Haas and his partner, the Hollywood actor Paul Newman, have approached Hill with an offer to race for the Newman-Haas IndyCar team next year. It is believed the offer is worth £3 million.

Hill, who has failed to score a point after crashing out of the last two grand prix, must respond within one month, by early September, if he wishes to take it up. Whatever he decides, he knows that his negotiating position has been enhanced at the height of the annual Formula One silly season.

"I can only say that I have received one or two interesting phone calls this week," said Hill yesterday as he sat under the awnings of the Williams Renault team motor home at the Hungaroring.

"Without being more specific, it's good to be recognised. My priority is Formula One as I have unfinished business here and it is the pinnacle. My ambition is to be world champion."

Carl Haas is said to be enthusiastic about signing Hill in a deal which, if it goes through, would also copy the sort of swap arrangement masterminded by Bernie Ecclestone, F1's ringmaster, in 1993. Then, Mansell went to America in exchange for Michael Andretti, who endured a disappointing season with McLaren. This time, it is understood, Jacques Villeneuve would come in the other direction and sign for Williams as team-mate to David Coulthard.

His decision to accept or reject Williams is expected within six days

Villeneuve tested with impressive results for the Williams team a week ago at Silverstone. It appears he is ready to accept the challenge of Formula One, having won the Indianapolis 500 already this year and remaining a clear favourite to win this year's IndyCar World Series.

His decision to accept or reject Williams, who are believed to hold a three-year option on his services in F1, is expected to be made within the next six days.

For Hill, the attractions of America are obvious: a good income, a chance to raise his profile in another formula and an opportunity to emulate his father's success in winning the Indianapolis 500 some 30 years ago. Furthermore, it seems he is wanted. Haas has said he feels Hill is a "great driver who is very much underestimated" in F1.

Hill was reticent to say much. As the best of Roy Orbison's songs boomed out of the public address system and seemed, symbolically, to overwhlem his words, he admitted: "I didn't set out to be a negotiator. I set out to be a racing driver, but you cannot disconnect it all from the sport itself.

"It's all intrinsic to the driving in the end, but there are so many other things in the equation."

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