MOTOR RACING: Hill sunk by Schumacher's superior strategy

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MOTOR RACING

DERICK ALLSOP

reports from Monaco

Damon Hill's distraught expression was eloquence itself. Just when he thought he had Michael Schumacher at his mercy, the German revealed the unpalatable truth: the Monaco Grand Prix was under his total control all along.

Schumacher turned this Blue Riband event into a one-man demonstration run, leaving Hill and the rest to take their places in the frankly tedious procession.

It was fairly hard work watching from the sidelines but from the inside of Hill's Williams-Renault it was excruciating viewing. As Hill, the early leader, pulled in to the pits for the first of his two stops, Schumacher's Benetton-Renault went on ... and on ... and on. Not only did Schumacher find more speed over the now open road, it became apparent he had elected to stop only once.

Hill knew then that his hope of winning this, the grand prix his father Graham claimed five times, had disappeared. "I was pretty disillusioned," Hill admitted afterwards. He said he and his team had got their pit-stop strategy "horribly wrong" yet conceded that factor alone did not explain their eclipse.The performance of the Schumacher-Benetton combination was simply irresistible.

Hill was grateful to collect an uncomplicated second place after Jean Alesi's Ferrari hit the barrier avoiding Martin Brundle's spinning Ligier- Mugen. Gerhard Berger, in the other Ferrari finished third, Johnny Herbert was fourth in the other Benetton and Mark Blundell, McLaren-Mercedes' emergency call up following Nigel Mansell's withdrawal, a commendable fifth.

In Hill's eyes, however, only victory mattered here. After taking pole position with enormous conviction on Saturday, he and his team were still confident despite being outpaced by Benetton and Ferrari in yesterday morning's warm-up.

They changed their overnight plan, deciding to stop twice instead of once in the firm belief their opponents could not have had such an advantage with heavier fuel loads. They misread the situation. Benetton felt that once they were ahead of Hill, Schumacher would not be overtaken on this ludicrously narrow twisting circuit. In the event Hill was never to get the world champion within range after that first stop.

"I'm bitterly disappointed," Hill said. "I so much wanted to win here. This is the race you win or nothing. Everyone else is just a runner-up. It's a long race anyway here, but when you can't make an impression on a guy with more fuel it's an even longer race.We've lost something from yesterday to today. We were going to do one stop last night and revise the situation and got caught out again.

"I'm pretty cheesed off. We're making it too easy for Michael. It is my final choice but we put together the information and reach a consensus.

"It's not just strategy though. We did not have the race package we wanted to win. Benetton and Michael did a fantastic job and beat us. The championship is a long way from over. Michael is only five points ahead so we're still within striking distance. But we have got to work harder."

Schumacher seized the opportunity to assume command in the middle sector of the race and was able to complete a second consecutive win here at a comfortable pace, still crossing the line 34 seconds ahead of Hill.

"Monte Carlo is always something special," Schumacher said. "We had problems early in the weekend but the team's late-night work has again paid off. Our car runs better with more fuel but I was still surprised I was able to open such a gap."

Hill had the task of holding his pole position advantage a second time, the race being stopped after a pile-up at the original start. He and Schumacher were clear as David Coulthard in the other Williams appeared to veer across the bows of Alesi's car. Berger was also caught out in the mayhem. Both Ferrari drivers and the young Scot had to change to spare machinery for the restart.

Again Hill kept Schumacher at bay and gradually he opened what must have been an encouraging gap. The problem of negotiating back markers checked Hill's progress but it was all academic anyway. Schumacher was soon to take over and Hill was relegated to competing for the consolation prizes Coulthard was forced into early retirement by a gearbox failure and Herbert's three points helped Benetton to a four-point lead over Williams in the constructors' championship.

Blundell may have no dreams of contesting the championship yet but he was probably the most satisfied Briton here last night. He laboured all weekend with the McLaren and his two points will reinforce his prospects of keeping the job.

Eddie Irvine, in a Jordan-Peugeot, was also anticipating a place in the points until a wheel rim failure brought his race to a premature end.

DETAILS FROM MONTE CARLO

MONACO GRAND PRIX

(78 laps, 161.256 miles)

1 M Schumacher (Ger) Benetton-Renault 1hr 53min 11.258sec

2 D Hill (GB) Williams-Renault +11.447sec

3 G Berger (Aut) Ferrari +1 lap

4 J Herbert (GB) Benetton-Renault +1

5 M Blundell (GB) Marlboro McLaren +1

6 H Frentzen (Ger) Sauber-Ford +2

7 P Martini (It) Minardi Ford +2

8 J Boullion (Fr) Sauber-Ford did not finish, +2

9 G Morbidelli (It) Footwork-Hart +4 laps

10 P Diniz (Bra) Forti-Ford +6 laps

Did not finish

11 L Badoer (It) Minardi 68 laps completed

12 O Panis (Fr) Ligier 65

13 M Salo (Fin) Tyrrell 63

14 R Barrichello (Bra) Jordan 60

15 B Gachot (Fr) Pacific 42

16 J Alesi (Fr) Ferrari 41

17 M Brundle (GB) LIgier 40

18 T Inoue (Japan) Footwork 27

19 U Katayama (Japan) Tyrrell 26

20 A Montermini (It) Pacific 23

21 E Irvine (GB) Jordan 22

22 D Coulthard (GB) Williams 16

23 R Moreno (Bra) Forti 9

24 M Hakkinen (Fin) McLaren 8

Did not start

25 D Schiattarella (It) Simtek

26 J Verstappen (Neth) Simtek

Fastest lap: Alesi 1:24.621 (141.581 kph)

Drivers' Championship

(after five races)

1 Schumacher 34pts

2 Hill 29

3 Berger 17

4 Alesi 14

5 Herbert 12

6 Coulthard 9

7 Hakkinen 5

8 Frentzen 4

9 Blundell 3

10 Irvine 2

11 Panis 1

Constructors' Championship

1 Benetton 36pts*

2 Williams 32

3 Ferrari 31

4 McLaren 8

5 Sauber 4

6 Jordan 2

7 Ligier 1

* Benetton deducted 10 points and Williams six for fuel irregularities.

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