MOTOR RACING: Ferrari's master in speedy return

MICHAEL SCHUMACHER returned to the racetrack for the first time yesterday since breaking his leg in a crash in the British Grand Prix on 11 July.

On Thursday, Schumacher was given clearance by a team of doctors to drive again. The double world champion limped a little when he got out of his Ferrari after he completed one lap, but after a pause he drove four more laps.

His best time of 1min 28.86sec was a second better than the 1:29.90 clocked the day before by his Ferrari team-mate Eddie Irvine. But there has not yet been a decision as to whether Schumacher will start in the Belgian Grand Prix next weekend.

Earlier this week, Ferrari's chairman, Luca di Montezemolo, said that the team hoped to have Schumacher back in action in time for the Italian Grand Prix at Monza on 12 September.

During Schumacher's absence, Irvine, Ferrari's No 2 driver, gained two wins and a third place to take an unexpected lead in the world drivers' championship. Irvine leads the world champion, Mika Hakkinen, by two points with five races left in the season.

Schumacher was known to be anxious to resume racing and regain his role as Ferrari's No 1 driver . With 10 points awarded for each victory Schumacher, who has 32 points after missing three races, could still to be in the running for the world title.

However, the team strategy is to help the driver with more points in the standings and Schumacher may find himself in the unusual position of having to help Irvine beat the McLaren pairing of Hakkinen and David Coulthard.