Motor Racing: Benetton improve chance of titles

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The Independent Online
BENETTON-FORD drivers, present and past, flew out of Budapest with the vision of a more productive and prosperous future. For the current incumbents, Michael Schumacher and Jos Verstappen, and a respected old boy, Martin Brundle, the Hungarian Grand Prix had served to remove inhibiting obstacles.

Schumacher's win extended his world championship lead over Damon Hill to 31 points and provided extra insurance against the effects of any suspension he may serve after an appeal court hearing under the auspices of the sport's governing body, the FIA, at the end of the month. It also lifted the morale of a team embroiled in a dispute for credibility as well as the contest for Formula One supremacy.

The 25-year-old German's path to stardom has scarcely been in doubt, but the position of Verstappen and Brundle have been less assured. Verstappen's third place and Brundle's fourth on Sunday should buoy their self-belief and ensure greater security.

Verstappen, the 22-year-old Dutchman strapped in the blazing car at Hockenheim and expected soon to return the seat to J J Lehto, suddenly has a prestigious podium finish to his credit.

Benetton must now reconsider their driver strategy for the rest of the season. Perhaps the raw yet uncomplicated novice represents the better option to partner Schumacher after all. Uncertainty over the fitness of the more experienced Lehto remains and the team are anxious to achieve the consistency required to complete a constructors' championship.

Benetton have had difficulty finding a suitable team-mate for Schumacher since they dispensed with Brundle's services, at the end of 1992. The decision was premature and, the team now admit, wrong. The Englishman always had the mental capacity to cope with the task.

Brundle has toiled to finish, let alone produce results with McLaren-Peugeot this year. Even in Budapest he was unable to stay the full distance, frustratingly coming to a halt on the last lap and having to yield that coveted appearance on the podium to Verstappen. He can, however, console himself with the knowledge that he performed with immense authority and effectiveness.

Ron Dennis, McLaren's managing director, who described Brundle's second place at Monaco as 'first of the losers', was moved to say that the 35-year-old driver's contribution had been 'superb'.

Brundle has been under pressure to prove he deserves the drive over Philippe Alliot, and the Frenchman's indifferent display, as substitute for the suspended Mika Hakkinen, surely marks an end to that particular debate. 'I hope I've proved I'm one of the world's best drivers and that all the Alliot nonsense is over,' a bullish Brundle said.

Grand Prix teams have asked Max Mosley, the president of FIA, for an emergency meeting of the world council on 31 August to resolve questions over the Benetton team's refuelling rig. The council was not due to discuss this until 19 October. But the other teams were anxious to avoid a situation in which Benetton and Schumacher won world championships and then lost them because of penalties imposed on 19 October.

It was reported yesterday that the Canadian driver, Paul Tracy, is being lined up by the Newman-Haas team to replace the IndyCar champion, Nigel Mansell, next season. The team's co-owner, Carl Haas, said: 'We are not going to comment on our plans for next year until the end of the season.