reports from Monza
Just when you think the mayhem must have run its course, the two sparring partners start mixing it again and are hauled before the authorities for another grilling. This time Damon Hill was adjudged the culprit, and like Michael Schumacher a fortnight earlier, received a suspended ban.
Even without the collision that eliminated Hill and Schumacher, yesterday's Italian Grand Prix was a catalogue of incident, a roller-coaster of fortune and emotion. As at Silverstone two months ago, the beneficiary was Britain's Johnny Herbert, but also as at Silverstone, his victory was overshadowed by the controversy constantly snaring the championship contenders.
Hill, running third, hit the back of Schumacher's Benetton- Renault after the pair lapped Taki Inoue's Footwork-Hart approaching a chicane. Both spun off and were stranded in the gravel. Schumacher ran from his car, leaned into the cockpit of the Williams-Renault and berated the Englishman before a marshall intervened and ushered him away. Schumacher continued to level accusations against Hill as they were driven back to the pits, and Benetton protested over the incident.
The stewards spoke to the drivers and gave Hill a one-race ban, suspended for one grand prix. Schumacher, given a one-race ban suspended for four for weaving on the track in Belgium, was still raging as he marched off. "I am not happy about this," he said, as he was coaxed into Benetton's motor-home by the team's managing director, Flavio Briatore.
Hill, however, insisted he was equally upset. He accepted the stewards' decision, yet expressed his dismay he had encountered Schumacher travelling "at nought miles per hour".
He declined to accuse Schumacher of "brake-testing" him, but said: "I felt I was not wholly to blame in that I was concentrating on Inoue, who was chopping and changing his line. He should not have a licence. When I got through, there was Michael going a lot slower than on the previous 20 laps. I would never want to tangle deliberately.
"He was shouting at me in the car and he naturally blamed me when we came back together. I explained my version, but we are never going to agree on anything. I am going to get past that S of a B one day and pull away.
"At least this ban is suspended for only one race and Michael has another three to to go. But it's another race he's gained, a race when I can't close the advantage. The car was beautiful today and I thought I had got what it takes to win. I had him and he knows that."
Schumacher, still leading Hill by 15 points with five races remaining, later countered by claiming his adversary had the opportunity to avoid the crash.
He said: "I cannot understand what kind of penalty I get for Belgium and what Hill gets here, but I suppose it's a question of different stewards. From what I could see from the video, he could have prevented it. I was very angry when he ran into me and I let him know it. This is the second time he has taken me out. It was like Silverstone."
Hill's boss, Frank Williams, said: "Damon made a mistake, but this is not an accusatory remark. He was unsighted by Inoue. It was a racing incident." Meanwhile, Briatore said: "Michael did nothing wrong. If anyone does on the street what Hill did, the police would take away his licence."
The animosity between Schumacher and Hill surfaced towards the end of last season, and their collision in the final grand prix at Adelaide secured the title for the German. Despite calls for peace and clean racing, the hostility has gone on unabated. Schumacher accused Hill of "brake-testing" him in France, although the former went on to win.
They crashed out at the British Grand Prix as Hill challenged Schumacher and both were reprimanded. Then came their confrontation at Spa, where they touched wheels but made it to the end, Schumacher winning ahead of Hill.
The early part of yesterday's show was dominated by Hill's team-mate, David Coulthard, who was on pole but seemingly tossed away any chance of a maiden victory when he spun on the formation lap. A pile-up involving four back-markers forced a halt and gave the young Scot a reprieve. He led the new race and was pulling clear, only to spin again. This time, however, a broken wheel-bearing was the cause and although he managed to return to the pits, the damage was beyond swift repair.
Gerhard Berger, in a Ferrari, led until the mid-race pit-stops and was tracking his team-mate, Jean Alesi, when the camera on the Frenchman's car broke off and landed in Berger's path, crippling his front suspension and forcing him out. "It was terrifying," the Austrian said.
Alesi, too, was to be sabotaged, a wheel-bearing failure ending his race eight laps from a second victory. That privilege therefore, was inherited by Herbert, the Englishman seeking a new job after being released by Benetton. Sadly, his satisfaction was again diluted by other issues.
"It's frustrating for me because I suppose my win is again going to be overshadowed by what happened between Damon and Michael," Herbert said.
Mika Hakkinen, in a McLaren-Mercedes, was second, Heinz-Harald Frentzen, in a Sauber-Ford, was a career-best third and Britain's Mark Blundell, in the other McLaren, fourth.
Martin Brundle was reprimanded for a lengthy drive to retirement while losing shredding tyre and bodywork from his Ligier-Mugen, and Eddie Irvine stopped his Jordan-Peugeot with a broken engine.
Hill v Schumacher
November Hill and Schumacher collide during Australian GP. Schumacher wins world title.
July Schumacher accuses Hill of "brake-testing" him in French GP. The next week they collide in British GP and are both reprimanded.
August Hill complains about Schumacher's driving after they touch wheels in Belgian GP. The German receives one-race ban, suspended for four races, for weaving.
September They collide again in Italian GP. Hill given one-race ban, suspended for one grand prix.
1 J Herbert
(GB) Benetton-Renault 1hr 18min 27.916sec (ave speed 145.292mph)
2 M Hakkinen
(Fin) McLaren-Mercedes +17.779sec
3 H-H Frentzen
(Ger) Sauber-Ford Zetec +24.321
4 M Blundell
(GB) McLaren-Mercedes +28.223
5 M Salo (Fin) Tyrrell-Yamaha +1 lap
6 J-C Boullion (Fr) Sauber-Ford Zetec + 1
7 M Papis (It) Footwork-Hart +1
8 T Inoue (Japan) Footwork-Hart +1
9 P Diniz (Bra) Forti-Ford +3
10 U Katayama (Japan) Tyrrell-Yamaha +6
Did not finish (not classified): 11 J Alesi (Fr) Ferrari 45 laps completed; 12 R Barrichello (Bra) Jordan-Peugeot 43; 13 E Irvine (GB) Jordan-Peugeot 40; 14 G Berger (Aut) Ferrari 32; 15 L Badoer (It) Minardi-Ford 26; 16 M Schumacher (Ger) Benetton-Renault 23; 17 D Hill (GB) Williams-Renault 23; 18 O Panis (Fr) Ligier-Mugen Honda 20; 19 D Coulthard (GB) Williams- Renault 13; 20 M Brundle (GB) Ligier-Mugen Honda 10; 21 G Lavaggi (It) Pacific-Lotus-Ford 6; 22 P Lamy (Por) Minardi-Ford 0.
Did not start: A Montermini (It) Pacific-Lotus-Ford; R Moreno (Bra) Forti- Ford.
Fastest lap: Berger 1min 26.419sec (149.362mph, 240.363kph).
World Drivers' Championship standings
(after 12 races)
1 Schumacher 66pts
2 Hill 51
3 Herbert 38
4 Alesi 32
5 Coulthard 29
6 Berger 25
Other GB: 9 Blundell 10; 12 Brundle 7; 13 Irvine 6.
Formula One Constructors' Championship standings: 1 Benetton 94; 2 Williams 74; 3 Ferrari 57; 4 McLaren 21; 5 Sauber 17; 6 Ligier 16.
(Benetton deducted 10pts and Williams six for fuel irregularities).
Race distance: 53 laps, 190 miles.Reuse content