Motor racing Hill makes it simple for Schumacher

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Motor racing

DERICK ALLSOP

reports from Hockenheim

He was towed along the long, narrow road through the forests, into the stadium section of the circuit and across more frontiers. The career of Michael Schumacher seemingly knows no bounds.

Mischievous fate halted his Benetton-Renault just around the corner that claimed the Williams-Renault of his great adversary, Damon Hill. Those who danced and cheered on the rubble of the Englishman's world championship campaign swooned in near delirium.

Schumacher, the first German to win the Formula One title, had also become the first German to win the German Grand Prix. The lap of honour was always going to be an experience to savour, but by stalling and requiring the assistance of a tow-truck he had even more time to devour the emotions of this momentous occasion.

Hill's demise ruined the race as a contest, even though David Coulthard, in the other Williams, sustained his pursuit. It also probably destroyed the championship as a viable competition. Hill trails by 21 points with eight races left. It would surely take an extraordinary sequence of events - or further disciplinary measures against Benetton - to revive the spectacle.

The majority of the 128,000 crowd, massed in the stands of the amphitheatre that embraces the closing loops of the track, will care as little about that as they cared about the monotony of the race. As Schumacher came into view for the final time, beating the tow-rope with one fist and punching the air with the other, the explosion of roars and firecrackers from his flag-waving compatriots heralded his new place in history.

"The emotions coming into the stadium were even greater than winning the world championship," he said. "Delighted is not the right word. I don't have the right word. It's just . . . crazy. It's unbelievable, a dream I did not dare dream. The fans were even greater than last year."

Schumacher had stopped to return the salutations of the crowd, and stalled. "I wanted to stop for a moment to wave to them and the engine stopped. It was a bit of a joke. I think I was too emotional. My only worry was that there might be a rule saying you are not allowed to stall!"

The only opponent who has given Schumacher cause for concern this season is Hill. Alas, as at Silverstone, when the pair collided, Hill appeared to push too hard. Having opened a 1.3sec lead on the first lap, he was powerless once the back end of the Williams came round and determined its own course, across the gravel and into a barrier.

Schumacher, running immediately behind, said: "I felt it would be slippery, because after the start it is normal to get a lot of oil and dust there. When he went off I thought, 'Fine, that's it.' But it was not the end of the story. I had another Williams pushing me very hard and I had to work hard all the way."

Even so, it seemed he had proceedings under control. He opted for two stops, rather than the one preferred by Coulthard, and came out for the final sector of the race with his advantage intact. He opened an 11-second gap, giving him the luxury of a cruise round the final lap.

Coulthard crossed the line six seconds behind. Ferrari's Gerhard Berger, handicapped by a 10-second stop and go penalty for a jump start, managed to manoeuvre himself back up to third place. Johnny Herbert, the winner of the British Grand Prix, in the other Benetton, returned to his supporting role, a distant fourth.

Jean-Christophe Boullion earned his first championship points with fifth place in a Sauber-Ford and Aguri Suzuki, taking over from Martin Brundle for this race in the Ligier-Mugen, completed an eventful weekend with sixth position.

Coulthard, anxious to strengthen his place in the team, resisted any temptation to risk all. He said: "I was aware of the importance of finishing.

"When Damon had his accident I knew why. The car goes quite light at the rear there and you have to be careful. Six points is good for me and for my confidence for the rest of the season. Maybe Michael was prepared to hang it out a little more."

It was some consolation for Hill - though further encouragement for Schumacher - that Jean Alesi had to retire his Ferrari. He stays in third place, three points behind Hill. Ferrari, however, have slipped somewhat in the three races since Alesi won in Canada and Berger conceded that even without the penalty, which he felt was harsh, he was unlikely to have finished higher than third.

Schumacher rightly remains wary of Hill's challenge, and said: "I certainly can be caught with eight races left. Damon could win the next two and I could get nothing. But I'd rather be 20 points ahead than behind. It is a fantastic situation."

HOCKENHEIM DETAILS

1 M Schumacher (Ger) Benetton-Renault 1hr 22min 56.043sec (avge speed 133.272mph); 2 D Coulthard (GB) Williams-Renault +5.988sec; 3 G Berger (Aut) Ferrari +1min 08.097sec; 4 J Herbert (GB) Benetton-Renault +1:23.436; 5 J-C Boullion (Fr) Sauber-Ford 44 laps completed; 6 A Suzuki (Japan) Ligier-Mugen Honda 44; 7 U Katayama (Japan) Tyrrell-Yamaha 44; 8 A Montermini (It) Pacific-Ford 42; 9 E Irvine (Irl) Jordan-Peugeot 41. Not classified: M Hakkinen (Fin) McLaren-Mercedes 33; H-H Frentzen (Ger) Sauber-Ford 32; L Badoer (It) Minardi-Ford 28; G Lavaggi (It) Pacific- Ford 27; R Moreno (Bra) Forti-Ford 27; R Barichello (Bra) Jordan-Peugeot 20; M Blundell (GB) McLaren-Mercedes 17; M Papis (It) Footwork-Hart 13; J Alesi (Fr) Ferrari 12; P Martini (It) Minardi-Ford 11; T Inoue (Japan) Footwork-Hart 9; P P Diniz (Bra) Forti-Ford 8; D Hill (GB) Williams-Renault 1; M Salo (Fin) Tyrrell-Yamaha 0; O Panis (Fr) Ligier-Mugen Honda 0.

Fastest lap: Schumacher 1:48.824.

World championship (after nine races): 1 Schumacher 56pts; 2 Hill 35; 3 Alesi 32; 4 Herbert 25; 5 Coulthard 23; 6 Berger 21; 7= Barrichello, Panis 7; 9 Irvine 6; 10= Hakkinen, Frentzen, Blundell 5; 13 Brundle (GB) 3; 14 Boullion 2; 15= G Morbidelli (It), Suzuki 1.

Constructors' championship: 1 Benetton 71pts; 2 Ferrari 53; 3 Williams 52; 4 Jordan 13; 5 Ligier 11; 6 McLaren 10; 7 Sauber 7; 8 Footwork 1.

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