Motor Racing: Hill compounds Schumacher's misery: Championship leader stranded by team-mate's accident as British rival takes provisional pole position

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The Independent Online
DAMON HILL'S world championship campaign gained further credibility on the track yesterday as Michael Schumacher cursed the fates still seemingly conspiring against him.

Hill claimed provisional pole position for tomorrow's German Grand Prix while Schumacher, the title leader competing under appeal against a two-race ban, watched helplessly from the pits as his car was beached by his fellow Benetton-Ford driver, Jos Verstappen.

Schumacher, having to share the machine because Verstappen had crashed his own car during the morning, missed out on his second qulaifying run and was left stranded in third place, immediately behind the Ferrari of Gerhard Berger. Worst still for the German's beleaguered team, Verstappen did not manage to a competitive time before losing control at a chicane and is currently not on the starting grid.

A crestfallen Verstappen said: 'I spun off in the morning and while the car was not damaged that badly someone set off a fire extinguisher which caused a big mess and required many things to be replaced on my car. There was not enough time to fix it and it was agreed I could use Michael's car after his first run. I took it very easy through the first corner because I did not want to crash the car of the man who is leading the world championship. But, when I went through the second chicane, I suddenly spun into the gravel. I feel really sorry having ruined Michael's qualifying today.'

Hill's course is running far more smoothly and even the hostility in and around the Hockenheimring towards his Williams-Renault team failed to disrupt his concentration or check his confident progress.

An angry mob beat their fists on the bus carrying Williams' engineers and mechanics from the circuit, and the crowd inside the Stadium were warned to stop launching firecrackers after a flashing missile came to ground close to Hill's team-mate, David Coulthard.

William's team manager, Ian Harrison, said: 'Throwing a firework can be very dangerous. It's a very hostile atmosphere here. About 200 people surrounded the bus, banging on the side. It was very aggressive. We are the enemy in their eyes because they blame us for Schumacher's ban. I've never seen anything like it. We're having extra security.'

Similar anxieties in the past have moved Williams to equip their personnel with civvies for the journey in and out of the circuit and they may choose that precaution for the rest of the weekend.

Hill played down the aggression of Schumacher's fans as he did the aggression encountered from Ferrari's Jean Alesi, who made the Williams driver fight back for the advantage into a chicane.

The unruffled Englishman said: 'It is a good atmosphere here. It is a good bit of rivalry and excitement.'

And the dice with Alesi. 'It's always interesting to find out anything about the opposition,' Hill replied. 'We were fairly even down the straight but I passed him under braking.'

Ferrari appeared only in the closing minutes, having changed engines for qualifying. Alesi was fourth fastest and Coulthard, who complained of car sickness on this high speed, bumpy track, was fifth.

Schumacher faces severe competition from the Williams and Ferrari pairings, and the unrelenting political pressure on his team is scarcely helping his cause. The governing body, FIA, have given more details of events behind the discovery of an illegal 'launch control' device on the Benetton and their No 1 driver is under threat of suspension until his appeal is heard, at the end of next month.

If yesterday's qualifying session is any guide to the race, Britain's Mark Blundell ought to be among the pack competing for the place points. He put his Tyrrell-Yamaha seventh on the provisional grid.

Eddie Irvine was eighth, one position ahead of his Jordan-Hart team-mate, Rubens Barrichello, Martin Brundle was a disappointed 12th in his McLaren- Peugeot, and Johnny Herbert a despondent 21st in his Lotus-Mugen.

GERMAN GRAND PRIX (Hockenheim): 1 D Hill (GB) Williams-Renault 1min 44.026sec, ave speed 236.121kph; 2 G Berger (Aut) Ferrari 1:44.616; 3 M Schumacher (Ger) Benetton-Ford 1:44.875; 4 J Alesi (Fr) Ferrari 1:45.272; 5 D Coulthard (GB) Williams-Renault 1:45.477; 6 M Hakkinen (Fin) McLaren-Peugeot 1:45.487; 7 M Blundell (GB) Tyrrell-Yamaha 1:45.814; 8 E Irvine (GB) Jordan- Hart 1:45.911; 9 Rubens Barrichello (Bra) Jordan- Hart1:45.962; 10 H-H Frentzen (Ger) Sauber- Mercedes 1:46.488; 11 U Katayama (Japan) Tyrrell- Yamaha 1:46.534; 12 M Brundle (GB) McLaren- Peugeot 1:46.644; 13 C Fittipaldi (Brazil) Footwork- Ford 1:47.150; 14 E Bernard (Fr) Ligier-Renault 1:47.531; 15 A Zanardi (It) Lotus-Mugen Honda 1:47.678; 16 A de Cesaris (It) Sauber-Mercedes 1:47.745; 17 G Morbidelli (It) Footwork-Ford 1:47.814; 18 P Martini (It) Minardi-Ford 1:47.831; 19 O Panis (Fr) Ligier-Renault 1:47.925; 20 M Alboreto (It) Minardi-Ford 1:48.402; 21 J Herbert (GB) Lotus- Mugen Honda 1:48.621; 22 O Beretta (Fr) Larrousse-Ford 1:48.681; 23 E Comas (Fr) Larrousse-Ford 1:48.770; 24 J-M Gounon (Fr) Simtek-Ford 1:50.361; 25 D Brabham (Aus) Simtek- Ford 1:50.685; 26 P Belmondo (Fr) Pacific-Ilmor 1:51.916; 27 B Gachot (Bel) Pacific-Il=mor 1:52.839; 28 J Verstappen (Neth) Benetton-Ford no time.