How clarification has led to increased confusion

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The Independent Online
Motor racing

The argument between Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill after Sunday's Pacific Grand Prix, where the German clinched his second consecutive World Championship, highlighted not only the underlying animosity between these two rivals, but also the ambiguity in the clarification issued by the sport's governing body, the FIA, of what constitutes acceptable driving tactics.

Hill and Schumacher have clashed numerous times since the collision which so controversially won Schumacher his first title in Adelaide last November, and recently Hill asked the governing body to spell out once and for all where the line can be drawn.

Following a lunch between the FIA president, Max Mosley, the vice-president, Bernie Ecclestone, and drivers Schumacher, Hill, Gerhard Berger and Martin Brundle, the FIA issued a statement which effectively left it up to the drivers to police their own behaviour, and to avoid endangering one another.

Hill's reaction on Friday was: "My concern was simply that from one week to the next there didn't seem to be a clear ruling on what action should be taken. Sometimes action was taken and other times not. That is no good for a driver who needs to know how to the approach the matter at each race. Now the matter appears to have been clarified by the FIA, which has ruled that no holds are barred - as long as our actions are not dangerous.

"The important thing is to have exciting racing, which is what we had in Germany. It is good for the sport, but only so long as it is safe. Or at least as safe as motor racing can be..."

It did not take long for the first post-clarification argument to surface, and predictably it involved Hill and Schumacher. The former used a legitimate tactic to keep the latter behind him at the start of Sunday's race, and then used other acceptable methods to foil Schumacher's attempt to pass on the 11th lap as they sped down to the hairpin.

There, by calling Schumacher's bluff and sticking to the inside line, Hill obliged Schumacher to try the slower outside line, and kept his place. After the post-race interview, the German rounded on Hill, criticising him for resisting his attack.

Hill, who saw this as the pot calling the kettle black, following the weaving Schumacher had employed in the Belgian Grand Prix, jabbed a finger at him and acquainted him with his own trenchant view on the matter.

However, Schumacher went on to say: "I can really go for it in the last two races. I don't need to care that much now. In Aida it was about winning the championship. In a fighting situation I eased off and I was careful. Now I have the title and it's the end of the season, I don't need to do that."

Victories in the two remaining races would enable Schumacher to break Nigel Mansell's 1992 record of nine wins in a single season and become the first driver to reach double figures in one campaign.

The ongoing problem with the classification raises the question once again whether it might not be timely to introduce professional race stewards who travel to every race, rather than relying on the current system of selecting three representatives from the local racing milieu.

Ron Dennis, the McLaren chief, said: "My views about that [the stewarding] are so strong that I'd rather not express them. I don't think what exists at the moment is right, but that's about all I will say. I think there are a lot of people who share very strong views, and they have been expressed at appropriate meetings, which is the right procedure. But I think there is valid hope for change.

"If it has addressed the issue of overtaking through dialogue with the drivers, I think it is a good outcome," he said of the FIA statement. "I have seen some of the manoeuvres and know the frustration Damon must have felt at Spa, but that's motor racing."

Many believe that something more tangible needs to be done if the clarification is not to appear little more than a bit of window-dressing.

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