Motor racing: Berger's triumph stirs the emotions

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The Independent Online
Sometimes in sport there are moments we can all simply feel good about, when victory is gracious and wholesome rather than triumphalist, and the glow of the occasion warms everyone. Gerhard Berger gave Formula One such a moment here yesterday.

Always one of the more popular figures in motor racing, Berger drew still more emotional support after his traumas of the recent past and few neutrals will not have shared the pleasure of the Austrian's win in the German Grand Prix.

His comeback, after missing three races through sinus trouble and then having to contend with the death of his father, in a plane crash, had been interpreted as the beginning of the end of the 37-year-old's career. Instead the Benetton-Renault driver found what he described as ``a special power, something up there, to do with myself''. He would not be more explicit, but did not have to be. The meaning was understood and his private thoughts respected.

Berger is not a man to trade on cheap self-pity and the old spirit resurfaced when he said: ``Pole position, fastest lap, won the race - I think I'll take another three-race holiday now and let these guys do the work.''

These guys were Michael Schumacher, a well-beaten second yesterday, yet content none the less, Jacques Villeneuve's latest demise allowing the German to open a 10-point lead in the championship, and Mika Hakkinen, who was third.

The only serious opposition presented to Berger came from the Jordan- Peugeot of Giancarlo Fisichella, the Italian alas coming to grief with a puncture and then having to retire. Some consolation for the team was the fifth place of Ralf Schumacher, sandwiched between Jarno Trulli's Prost-Mugen Honda and Jean Alesi's Benetton-Renault.

Berger is an inspired man on this circuit, scene of his last success three years ago, and his late misfortune last season, and he had the perfect strategy. It was Benetton's first victory since the Japanese Grand Prix in 1995, or post-Schumacher, and for Berger the internal significance heightened the satisfaction. He has announced he will leave the team at the end of the season and he pointedly retreated from the embrace of his boss, Flavio Briatore.

Berger maintained his dignified stance of the entire weekend. ``I'm happy not only for myself but also for everyone in the team, including Flavio, who has been under pressure. It was time to give something back to the guys who have worked so hard,'' he said.

He wants more time to consider his future and is adamant that although his love affair with Formula One was never in doubt, he will continue racing only with a competitive team. This performance sends out a message to employers and rivals alike that the his 10th Grand Prix win need not be his last.

One of the new generation, Fisichella, came through his sternest Formula One test to date, resisting pressure from Schumacher and Hakkinen into and beyond the first two corners to retain the advantage of his front- row starting position.

Berger's two-stop pit strategy yielded the lead to the Italian, who distanced himself from Schumacher with some ease. Berger re-emerged from his second stop just behind Fisichella and within a lap was at the front again. ``Giancarlo made a little mistake and I was able to overtake him. Otherwise it would have been difficult.''

Berger's only other cause for anxiety was Jan Magnussen's exploding Stewart- Ford, which trailed clouds off blinding smoke.

Second place would have been a glorious as well as deserved result for Fisichella, but he came into the great bowl of the stadium in distress, spun and just managed to reach pits. He went out again, but he was soon brought to a halt by radiator trouble.

Schumacher rescued him on his slowing down lap, which was the least he could have done in the circumstances. The steward's later reprimand of Schumacher for safety reasons was another example of the authority's insensitivity and failure to grasp the fact Formula One needs all the goodwill and photo opportunities it can muster.

Schumacher managed to squeeze in an extra visit to the pits to supplement his fuel load and secure the extra place. ``We had a problem at the first stop and did not put in enough fuel, so I had to come in again to take more for the extra five laps. I had no fifth gear for half the race and problems with my tyres, so at the end I am very pleased with this position," he said.

``I don't like to win the championship because of other team's problems. I prefer to fight for it."Villeneuve could never manoeuvre himself into contention and spun out when running fifth. Williams' other driver, Heinz- Harald Frentzen, failed to complete a lap for the second successive race. The German, and the Ulsterman Eddie Irvine, of Ferrari, limped in on three wheels after tangling at the first corner. David Coulthard (Maclaren-Mercedes) was another casualty of the early mayhem and Johnny Herbert (Sauber-Petronas) was punted out after eight laps. Damon Hill (Arrows-Yamaha) finished eighth.

GERMAN GRAND PRIX

1 Gerhard Berger (Aut) 10pts

(Benetton-Renault) 1hr 20min 59.046sec

(average speed 141.351mph/227.477kph)

2 Michael Schumacher (Ger) 6pts

(Ferrari) at 17.527sec

3 Mika Hakkinen (Fin) 4pts

(McLaren-Mercedes) at 24.770

4 Jarno Trulli (It) 3pts

(Prost-Mugen-Honda) at 27.165

5 Ralf Schumacher (Ger) 2pts

(Jordan-Peugeot) at 29.995

6 Jean Alesi (Fr) 1pt

(Benetton-Renault) at 34.717

7 S Nakano (Japan) Prost-Mugen-Honda at 1min 19.722sec; 8 D Hill (GB) Arrows-Yamaha at one lap; 9 N Fontana (Arg) Sauber-Petronas +1 lap; 10 J Verstappen (Neth) Tyrrell-Ford +1 lap.

Not classified (did not finish): 11 G Fisichella (It) Jordan-Peugeot 40 laps completed; 12 J Villeneuve (Can) Williams-Renault 33; 13 R Barrichello (Bra) Stewart-Ford 33; 14 M Salo (Fin) Tyrrell-Ford 33; 15 J Magnussen (Den) Stewart-Ford 27; 16 U Katayama (Japan) Minardi-Hart 23; 17 J Herbert (GB) Sauber-Petronas 8; 18 P Diniz (Bra) Arrows-Yamaha 8; 19 D Coulthard (GB) McLaren-Mercedes 1; 20 H-H Frentzen (Ger) Williams-Renault 1; 21 E Irvine (GB) Ferrari 1; 22 T Marques (Bra) Minardi-Hart 0.

Fastest lap: Berger 1min 45.747sec (ave speed 144.361mph/232.278kph).

Constructors' championship

1 Ferrari 71pts

2 Williams 62

3 Benetton 46

4 McLaren 28

5 Prost 19

6 Jordan 17

7 Sauber 8

8 Stewart 6

9 Tyrrell 2

10 Arrows 1

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