Motor racing: Ecclestone threat to Hill revival

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The Independent Online
Just when it seemed Damon Hill was in the clear, the pressures and accusations came crowding in again. He claimed provisional pole position for tomorrow's German Grand Prix, then received a warning from Bernie Ecclestone, Formula One's impresario, that a repetition of Silverstone could cost him his licence.

Ecclestone, never a man to play down a good rivalry, also rejected Hill's suggestion - accepted by Michael Schumacher - that they ride together on the parade lap. The president of the Formula One Constructors' Association and vice-president of FIA, the governing body, dismissed Hill's proposal as "hypocritical".

Ecclestone maintained that "rules are rules", stipulating that drivers of the same team occupy the same show vehicle. But he was as contemptuous of Hill's peace plan as he was of his overtaking manoeuvre in the British Grand Prix . He criticised the verdict of the stewards, who blamed both drivers for the incident.

"I don't know why Damon did what he did," Ecclestone said. "He had the beating of Schumacher. We do not want a repeat. If there is, then the culprit could be forced to stand down from racing for a long time.

"We could take away the driver's licence and wouldn't hesitate to do it for an act of stupidity. Somebody could get killed if that sort of thing carried on. These guys are not driving dodgems.

"Drivers should be warned there are no limits to our powers of punishment. If we take away somebody's licence it could cost a driver millions of pounds and we won't hesitate to do it if anybody transgresses badly. We can ban, suspend and fine heavily."

Ecclestone contends Hill missed the opportunity to rid himself of the lingering flak. "Damon has had two weeks to say he made a mistake and that would have been it."

He saw the idea of Hill's riding alongside Schumacher as an empty gesture. "That's all a bit stupid, isn't it? It would look insincere after what happened. Besides, they nearly sat together at Silverstone didn't they?"

Hill's boss, Frank Williams, expressed his disappointment with Ecclestone's declaration. "It would have been a nice thing to do. I'm going to look at the rules. But if it doesn't happen, it would not stop the world turning."

Schumacher, too, regretted the announcement. "I thought it was a good idea to show that we do not have that kind of war. We are not friends and do not have a relationship, but there is no war."

The Benetton-Renault driver, on home ground here, repeated that he was in discussion with three other teams (Ferrari, Williams and McLaren) for next season. Asked whether he would accept Hill as his team-mate, he said: "I don't have a problem to be in the same team as Damon Hill and I'm sure he would accept to be second driver!"

Hill would not accept second best yesterday, coming out on top in the hectic scramble at the end of the qualifying session on a rapidly drying track. His present team-mate, David Coulthard, was second and Schumacher, who complained of gear ratio problems, was third.

Hill, trailing Schumacher by 11 points in the championship standings, said: "I was pretty pleased with the time and the reception I've had here. I've had no problem getting in and out of the circuit. I'm certainly not coming in the boot of a car, as has been suggested."