Motor Racing: Hill makes the most of Ferrari's misfortune: Italian Grand Prix

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CIRCUMSTANCES again conspired to bolster Damon Hill's Formula One world championship cause here yesterday, the British driver steering through the debris of Ferrari's shattered aspirations to win his second successive Italian Grand Prix.

Hill, already spared confrontation with the title leader, Michael Schumacher, who was consigned to distant commentary work because of his suspension, had both Ferraris conveniently removed from his path by calamitous pit stops in the Italian camp.

Jean Alesi, starting from pole, launched himself into the distance in search of his maiden Formula One success. However, as his car was dropped from the jacks after the first of his two scheduled stops, he fumbled in vain to engage an effective gear. His transmission had capitulated.

Gerhard Berger, who took up the standard for the beloved marque, had a troubled if not catastrophic stop, his plight compounded by the inopportune appearance of a Ligier across his bows as he was about to pull away, and the lost seconds relegated him behind the Williams-Renaults of Hill and David Coulthard.

At least Berger had a little fortune in return as he rounded the final corner, where Coulthard's car rolled to a halt, drained of fuel. As the Austrian claimed second place, the Scot's name dropped to sixth place in the classification.

It had been a heroic performance by Berger, who crashed heavily during the morning warm-up, jarring his neck, and was released from hospital to compete.

Mika Hakkinen, in a McLaren- Peugeot, inherited third place, Rubens Barrichello, in a Jordan-Hart, fourth and Martin Brundle, in the other McLaren, fifth.

Schumacher will again be absent from the Portuguese Grand Prix, on Sunday week, and should Hill win that, which must be highly probable, the German will hold only a one-point advantage when they resume head-to-head business for the closing three rounds of the championship.

Hill might have had his plans complicated had Coulthard, a less than totally co-operative partner at previous races, been obstructive yesterday. But the Scot, who gained the lead with a quicker pit stop, yielded to his colleague on the instructions of the team.

An appreciative Hill said: 'I'm a lucky man to experience this reception at Monza a second time. I know it was for Ferrari, but the fans here are tremendous. It's an experience any grand prix driver has to relish. I think our pit-stop strategy worked and I would love to have seen David on the podium, too. He helped make it happen. He moved over, which is what I would expect him to do in the circumstances. It would have been brilliant to have a Williams one-two.'

Berger was sincere enough to concede he would have settled for second place before the race, especially in the light of his accident. He was equally frank in criticising the organisers for not stopping practice as he was being treated at the side of the track.

There were strong words, too, from the Lotus-Mugen's Johnny Herbert after his hopes evaporated. Armed with a new engine, he had qualified fourth and was up to third at the first corner when he was hit from behind by Eddie Irvine's Jordan-Hart. Seven cars littered the chicane and the race was stopped. Herbert had to revert to his spare car - and old engine - and restart from the pit lane. He eventually retired with an alternator problem and Irvine also failed to finish.

Irvine, who served a three-race suspension earlier in the season, was handed a one-race ban, suspended for three races, in consequence of yesterday's indiscretion, but that did not appease Herbert.

Herbert said: 'He should be properly penalised. He must have jumped the start by quite a bit. He's an absolute idiot. We don't need people like him in Formula One. He's going to hurt someone.'

Northern Ireland's Irvine responded: 'I definitely didn't jump the start. He must have braked too early and I just tapped him.' Mark Blundell, his sights on points, went off when a brake disc on his Tyrrell-Yamaha failed.

ITALIAN GRAND PRIX (Monza): 1 D Hill (GB) Williams- Renault 1hr 18min 2.754sec; 2 G Berger (Aut) Ferrari 4.930sec behind; 3 M Hakkinen (Fin) McLaren- Peugeot +25.640; 4 R Barrichello (Bra) Jordan-Hart +50.634; 5 M Brundle (GB) McLaren-Peugeot +1min 25.575sec; 6 D Coulthard (GB) Williams-Renault +1 lap; 7 E Bernard (Fr) Ligier-Renault +1; 8 E Comas (Fr) Larrousse-Ford +1; 9 J J Lehto (Fin) Benetton-Ford +1; 10 O Panis (Fr) Ligier-Renault +2. Not classified (failed to finish): 11 D Brabham (Aus) Simtek-Ford 46 laps completed; 12 U Katayama (Japan) Tyrrell-Yamaha 45; 13 C Fittipaldi (Bra) Footwork-Ford 43; 14 E Irvine (GB) Jordan-Hart 41; 15 M Blundell (GB) Tyrrell- Yamaha 39; 16 P Martini (It) Minardi-Ford 30; 17 M Alboreto (It) Minardi-Ford 28; 18 H-H Frentzen (Ger) Sauber-Mercedes 22; 19 A de Cesaris (It) Sauber- Mercedes 20; 20 J-M Gounon (Fr) Simtek-Ford 20; 21 Y Dalmas (Fr) Larrousse-Ford 18; 22 J Alesi (Fr) Ferrari 14; 23 J Herbert (GB) Lotus-Mugen Honda 13. Did not start (failed to complete a lap): 24 J Verstappen (Neth) Benetton-Ford; 25 G Morbidelli (It) Footwork- Ford; 26 A Zanardi (It) Lotus-Mugen Honda. Fastest lap: Hill 1min 25.930sec.

World Drivers' Championship standings: 1 M Schumacher (Ger) 76pts; 2 Hill 65; 3 Berger 33; 4 Alesi 19; 5 Hakkinen 18; 6 Barrichello 13; 7 Brundle 11; 8= Verstappen, Blundell, Coulthard 8; 11 Panis 7; 12= N Larini (It), Fittipaldi 6; 14= Frentzen, Katayama 5; 16= K Wendlinger (Aut), De Cesaris, Martini, Bernard 4; 20 Morbidelli 3; 21 Comas 2; 22= Alboreto, Irvine, Lehto 1.

Constructors' championship: 1 Benetton-Ford 85pts; 2 Williams-Renault 73; 3 Ferrari 58; 4 McLaren- Peugeot 29; 5 Jordan-Hart 17; 6 Tyrrell-Yamaha 13; 7 Ligier-Renault 11; 8 Sauber-Mercedes 10; 9 Footwork- Ford 9; 10 Minardi-Ford 5; 11 Larrousse-Ford 2.