How racing relies on basic instinct

Martin Brundle (right), Britain's most experienced current Formula One driver, assesses why Michael Schumacher is poised to claim a second championship and how Damon Hill can strengthen his challenge for the title next year
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The Independent Online
The championship may seem all but over mathematically, but there is much that Damon Hill can retrieve from the three remaining races to enhance his prospects for next season.

Starting with Sunday's Pacific Grand Prix and on through Suzuka to Adelaide, Damon has the opportunity to dominate his team, Williams-Renault, re- establish his influence, and lay the foundations for 1996.

It is not yet over this season, of course, and in our game anything can happen. It is, for instance, possible for a driver to be deducted points for a breach of regulations. But Damon would need that kind of assistance - or snookers - to stop Michael Schumacher winning his second title.

The important thing for Damon is to impose himself on proceedings. He has made a couple of clumsy mistakes of late, which have left him out of touch with Michael and portrayed him as a not particularly great racer, and that is probably not so.

Damon has a strong view of things, but some of the aggression he has encountered recently should not have been acceptable under the overtaking regulations, and all drivers may shortly have the further clarification he seeks on this issue.

However, I feel strongly that when you are rushing into a corner at over 190mph and you are in close company, anything you do has to be instinctive. Everything happens incredibly quickly. There is no logical thought process. You can't be running through a series of regulations. It is called motor racing.

It is also going to end up being aggressive. That is an essential ingredient. It always has been, and it is what people want. You think back, for example, to Nigel Mansell's manoeuvre in beating Nelson Piquet in the 1987 British Grand Prix. It was breathtaking and had it gone wrong, the result would have been terrifying. Piquet left Mansell one car's width going into a 150mph corner, and Mansell went for it and made it.

That is what it is all about. If you want to overtake, you know the other guy is going to make it hard for you, and you may have to come up with something special. You have got to be positive, just as in other sports. A half-hearted tackle in football can hurt you.

Treading gingerly in a Formula One car is not motor racing. Yes, there are times when we all overstep the mark and there will be mishaps. But basically, instinctively, we know what is acceptable, what is avoidable, and what is dangerous, and we should race accordingly. Schumacher has that instinct; he knows when and how to overtake. In wheel-to-wheel combat, Michael has been better than Damon.

Michael is on the verge of winning the championship again because he has the physical fitness and the mental faculty to drive flat-out for the entire race when his car is not necessarily the best. When the pressure is on, his confidence stays intact.

What must also be said is that Schumacher's team, Benetton-Renault, have pulled some very smart moves in terms of their strategy against Williams. There has been a great team effort behind Michael's driving.

It is difficult to know if anyone could have done better than Damon has, given his equipment, although when you compare Jean-Christophe Boullion's times in testing for Williams and then racing for Sauber Ford, you have to conclude the Williams is a very special car.

Damon has, in fairness, established himself as the only consistent challenger to Schumacher over the past two seasons, and I believe he is right when he says a team has to have a designated No 1 driver to win the championship.

You need two strong drivers and cars to win the constructors' championship, but you need to focus on one man to win the drivers' title. Schumacher has enjoyed that situation at Benetton and it has paid off.

You can achieve No 1 status by dominating the team and producing the performances. Damon has not done that of late alongside David Coulthard, and he has to do it next year with Jacques Villeneuve. I happen to think Damon will find it easier to do that with Villeneuve.

Michael has demonstrated he can be put into virtually any car and win a grand prix, but switching from Benetton to Ferrari will have its difficulties - after all, he is leaving behind his family.

I was a little surprised to hear him suggest he had his sights on the championship in 1997 rather than 1996, because he felt Williams would have the upper hand next year. That is either a con, or - for the first time - he has a few doubts in the back of his mind.

I think he has some concerns. Ferrari have a lot to do, they are developing a V10 engine, he has to get to know the engineers, and so on. But Michael's confidence is supreme and I don't see him having a great problem there. He will win races in a Ferrari.

There will also be a lot of motivation at Benetton to win races. The team will want to show their success has not all been down to Schumacher, that they have a lot of talented people there. Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger will also be keen to prove Ferrari have been holding them back.

I believe Formula One has had much to offer this season and that next season it could have even more on offer. Damon can effectively set his campaign in motion over the last three races of this season by resuming wheel-to-wheel combat with Schumacher, and making his presence felt on and off the track.