Motor Racing: Hill profits as Schumacher is disqualified: German's title hopes threatened by further controversy after finishing first in Belgian Grand Prix

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The Independent Online
THE much-troubled Formula One world championship was thrown into further confusion here last night when Michael Schumacher, who dominated the Belgian Grand Prix from the first lap to the chequered flag, was disqualified after a stewards' inquiry.

His team, Benetton-Ford, appealed and until that is heard victory is Damon Hill's, just when the British driver had effectively acknowledged he would have to settle for second best in the title standings.

Five hours after the race, the stewards announced the exclusion of Schumacher. They had considered a report by Charlie Whiting, the technical delegate of FIA, the sport's world governing body, relating to the 10mm strip of wood which forms the stepped bottom of the car. It is understood it had been worn more than the permitted 10 per cent.

If the disqualification is confirmed Hill's deficit in the championship will stand at 21 points, and two further hearings at the headquarters of the governing body, in Paris, could enable the Williams-Renault driver to reinforce his challenge. The court of appeal will tomorrow decide whether to confirm Schumacher's two- race suspension for ignoring a black flag during last month's British Grand Prix, and on 7 September the world council considers the case of Benetton and the removed fuel filter.

The German said: 'There is no doubt there was a black flag at Silverstone. I didn't see it but the team should have reacted to get me in. There is no doubt I have to be penalised but, I hope, not this much.'

Long before this dramatic development had been revealed Schumacher was on his way to celebrate and Hill was heading for home feeling his cause had been undermined by Williams' reluctance to rein in his partner, David Coulthard. The pair ran second and third for much of the race, with the 23-year-old Scot tenaciously keeping Hill at bay.

Hill complained that his pleas to Williams went unanswered and only when Coulthard was called into the pits to have his loose rear wing checked was Hill given a clear sight of his target. But by then just seven laps remained and Schumacher had enough in hand, taking the flag 13.6sec ahead of his adversary.

Coulthard, who would have preferred to stay out, was subsequently stuck in fourth gear and relegated to fifth place, amended to fourth by the stewards, behind Mika Hakkinen's McLaren Peugeot and Jos Verstappen's Benetton. Mark Blundell, knocked into a barrier by Coulthard's obstinate Williams, was placed fifth in a Tyrrell-Yamaha. Gianni Morbidelli in a Footwork-Ford was sixth.

An exasperated Hill said: 'I think they (the team) should have acted sooner. I let them know my thoughts on the radio. I told them I was losing time to Michael. They said they understood but I don't know what happened after that. This is a team decision. I'm not blaming David.'

Schumacher, who made his Formula One debut on this majestic circuit, three years ago, and claimed his first victory here, 12 months later, put himself in control yesterday by passing the pole position holder, Rubens Barrichello, at the third corner. The threat to his eighth success of the season, one short of Nigel Mansell's record, came in the form of a spin and the subsequent stewards' investigation. Schumacher skilfully corrected his error, deliberately completing a 360-degree rotation and continuing as if nothing had happened.

Martin Brundle was heading for another place in the points with the distinctly improving McLaren when he, too, went over a kerb and slid into a wall. Eddie Irvine made a less spectacular exit from the contest, parking his Jordan Hart with a flat battery. Johnny Herbert was never in contention for points, but grimly hung on to his uncooperative Lotus-Mugen to finish and be classified 12th.

Results, page 27

(Photograph omitted)

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