Motor Racing: Berger pulls Ferrari through the mayhem: Multiple pile-ups and fireball in the pit-lane: Schumacher exits German Grand Prix with engine failure but Hill's impatience prevents him closing on world championship leader

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The Independent Online
FORMULA ONE survived another day of mayhem, including a pit-lane fireball, to celebrate the rebirth of Ferrari here yesterday. Gerhard Berger's scarlet car was at the head of only eight which finished a German Grand Prix that might have added serious casualties to this season's catalogue of tragedies.

Eleven cars were taken out at the start and Mika Hakkinen's part in the chaos cost him a one-race suspension. No one was hurt in those incidents, and more remarkably, only minor burns were sustained by the Dutchman, Jos Verstappen, and members of his Benetton-Ford team when their refuelling procedure went terrifyingly wrong. Fuel sprayed over the hot car and ignited. Flames engulfed the machine, with Verstappen still strapped inside, but were extinguished in four seconds.

Verstappen and five crew were treated in hospital and one, Simon Morley, was detained for observation. It could have been so much worse, especially with VIPs viewing from an enclosure above the pits. This sport has endured months of trauma. Yesterday, mercifully, it got lucky.

Berger capitalised on his fortune, ultimately delivering Ferrari their first win for almost four years. Michael Schumacher, the championship leader, racing before an expectant home crowd and under appeal against a two-race suspension, was running a menacing second until his engine gave way.

Damon Hill ought, as he conceded, to have taken the chance to close in on Schumacher in the title contest, yet invited trouble attempting to overtake Ukyo Katayama on the first lap and realised the error of his ways too late. The collision damaged a front track rod on his Williams-Renault and he lost almost two laps for repairs. He was last of the classified finishers.

And so, through the confusion, appeared the Ligier-Renaults of Olivier Panis and Eric Bernard to claim second and third places, followed by the Footwork-Fords of Christian Fittipaldi and Gianni Morbidelli. Erik Comas, in a Larrousse-Ford, was sixth. Schumacher remains 27 points clear of Hill in the championship standings, with Berger a further 12 points adrift.

Berger, starting from pole position on a power circuit ideally suited to his V12 Ferrari, and Schumacher were into their duel as cars and debris splintered, in two incidents, from the pack behind. Hakkinen's McLaren-Peugeot shot right, then left, clipping David Coulthard's Williams and leaving a trail of chain-reaction destruction on his way to the barrier.

The Finn, already given a suspended one-race ban by the authorities, was dealt immediate punishment by the stewards. McLaren judiciously decided against appealing and Hakkinen will miss the Hungarian Grand Prix on Sunday week. That further ban is clearly now a very real prospect. Coulthard, eventually pulling out with electronics trouble, condemned Hakkinen's antics as 'crazy'.

Three Italian drivers, Andrea de Cesaris, Michele Alboreto and Alessandro Zanardi, were given suspended one-race bans for failing to attend the stewards' inquiry. Mark Blundell, Eddie Irvine and Johnny Herbert were among those prematurely put out of the race. Peter Collins, managing director of Herbert's team, Lotus, blamed Martin Brundle, in the other McLaren, for eliminating his driver. Brundle drove on, only to drop out after 19 laps with engine failure.

Verstappen was running fourth when he made his fateful pit stop at the end of the 15th lap. The right arm of his race suit caught fire and a mechanic's visor melted. Colleagues were grateful Greg Field, entrusted with the fire extinguisher, had the blaze out so swiftly. Verstappen, who released himself from the cockpit, said: 'At first I thought it was water, not petrol. Then when it caught fire I was panicking. Those few seconds seemed like half an hour.'

This was the first serious incident involving refuelling since it was controversially reintroduced at the start of the season and Bernie Ecclestone, Formula One's impresario, said: 'I'm no more worried about this than any other accident. Somebody made a mistake and we have to find out what happened, but it does not make me have a rethink on refuelling.'

Benetton maintain no one made an error, suggesting that perhaps there was a problem with the nozzle, and are to investigate.

Berger said: 'I am pro refuelling because it is an advantage for us, it is interesting and it's a challenge. Theoretically it is OK. Planes can be refuelled at 30,000 feet. But I don't want anyone hurt. Let's look at it.'

The Austrian ended a 58- race drought for Ferrari and put the legendary Italian team back at the top of the all-time winners, alongside McLaren, with 104 successes. He said: 'I am happy not only for myself but for everyone at Ferrari and we are now getting the fruits of our efforts. I had a lot of critics and people said I was crazy to go to Ferrari again because they will never do it, but we proved we can do it.'

Berger is now anxious for the Italian Grand Prix to go ahead next month, providing the track at Monza is modified to meet the drivers' safety demands. He said: 'I would like to go there because it is perhaps even better for us than here. The greatest thing, apart from winning the championship, is winning at Monza for Ferrari but I don't want to die there.'

Berger does not seriously harbour championship ambitions, but Hill does and he regrets his impatience yesterday. The Englishman said: 'I lost a golden opportunity today. I'm not going to make excuses. I didn't know how competitive Schumacher and Benetton were. If I had known that, I would have backed off. But at least Schumacher has not got points today either. The championship is still open.'

DETAILS FROM HOCKENHEIM

GERMAN GRAND PRIX (6.82km, 4.21 miles, 45 laps): 1 G Berger (Aut) Ferrari 1hr 22min 37.272sec (ave speed 222.970kph, 137.635mph); 2 O Panis (Fr) Ligier-Renault 54.779sec behind; 3 E Bernard (Fr) Ligier-Renault +1min 5.042sec; 4 C Fittipaldi (Bra) Footwork-Ford +1:21.609; 5 G Morbidelli (It) Footwork-Ford +1:30.544; 6 E Comas (Fr) Larrousse-Ford +1:45.445; 7 O Beretta (Fr) Larrousse-Ford +1 lap; 8 D Hill (GB) Williams-Renault +1. Did not finish (not classified): 9 J-M Gounon (Fr) Simtek-Ford 39 laps completed; 10 D Brabham (Aus) Simtek-Ford 37; 11 M Schumacher (Ger) Benetton-Ford 20; 12 M Brundle (GB) McLaren-Peugeot 19; 13 D Coulthard (GB) Williams-Renault 17; 14 J Verstappen (Neth) Benetton-Ford 12; 15 U Katayama (Japan) Tyrrell-Yamaha 6. Did not start (failed to complete one lap): M Blundell (GB) Tyrrell-Yamaha; M Hakkinen (Fin) McLaren-Peugeot; A Zanardi (It) Lotus-Mugen Honda; J Herbert (GB) Lotus-Mugen Honda; R Barrichello (Bra) Jordon-Hart 0; E Irvine (GB) Jordon-Hart; P Martini (It) Minardi-Ford; M Alboreto (It) Minardi-Ford; J Alesi (Fr) Ferrari; A de Cesaris (It) Sauber-Mercedes; H-H Frentzen (Ger) Sauber-Mercedes. Fastest lap: Coulthard 1min 46.211sec (232.608kph, 144.54mph).

World Drivers' Championship standings (after nine races): 1 Schumacher 66pts; 2 Hill 39; 3 Berger 27; 4 Alesi 19; 5 Barrichello 10; 6 Hakkinen 8; 7= N Larini (It), Brundle, Panis, Fittipaldi 6; 11 Frentzen 5; 12= Katayama, K Wendlinger (Aut), Blundell, De Cesaris, Martini, Coulthard, Bernard 4; 19= Morbidelli, Comas 2; 21= Alboreto, Irvine, J J Lehto (Fin) 1.

Constructors' championship: 1 Benetton 67pts; 2 Ferrari 52; 3 Williams 43; 4= Jordan, McLaren 14; 6= Sauber, Ligier 10; 8 Tyrrell 9; 9 Footwork 8; 10 Minardi 5; 11 Larrousse 2.

(Photographs and graphic omitted)

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