German risks all with an appeal

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Motor Racing


Michael Schumacher, whose gamble on tyre strategy yielded a magnificent victory in Sunday's Belgian Grand Prix, is taking another calculated risk in endeavouring to clear his name over the wheel-to-wheel confrontation with Damon Hill.

The championship leader received a one-race ban, suspended for four grands prix, after Hill's team, Williams-Renault, protested about Schumacher's driving. They claimed his blocking tactics were unacceptable.

Schumacher feels sufficiently maligned and aggrieved to contest the ruling, which could jeopardise his title prospects. He knows the FIA have the power to impose a heavier penalty. Last season the governing body increased a $25,000 (pounds 15,600) fine to $500,000, disqualified him from the British Grand Prix and banned him from two races.

Even some of Schumacher's aides fear this course of action is unwise, but he is dismayed his talent has again been tarnished by accusations of unfair play.

If Schumacher's notice of appeal has surprised many, so did the stewards' conclusion. Jonathan Palmer, a former grand prix driver and now a BBC television commentator, said: "I couldn't see anything wrong with what Schumacher did."

Most took the view that Schumacher's performance was a classic and that the race was one of the greatest in modern times, the sort of scrap the sport had been yearning for. Ayrton Senna used all his wiles and aggression to fend off Nigel Mansell in the 1992 Monaco Grand Prix and no action was taken against the Brazilian.

The race for Formula One jobs should be given another kick-start this week, when Gerhard Berger is expected to decide whether to stay at Ferrari and partner Schumacher next year. Among those awaiting his announcement with particular interest are David Coulthard and Martin Brundle. Both would be in contention to replace the Austrian. However, despite lengthy discussions with Benetton-Renault, it appears increasingly likely that Berger will accept another lucrative contract from Ferrari.

Alain Prost starts work as a McLaren-Mercedes test driver tomorrow and has admitted that he is considering racing next season. That poses a dilemma for Coulthard, who, it is understood, has an offer from McLaren which does not guarantee a full racing programme. He would complete a three- driver squad.

Coulthard is also interested in the vacancy at Ferrari but Schumacher's choice would probably be Brundle, his 1992 team-mate at Benetton, and the two have had talks on the possibility of their reuniting. Brundle, more than any other driver, came to terms with the German's brilliance, is hugely respected by engineers and, as his third place for Ligier Mugen at Spa confirmed, he remains a splendid racer.