Motor Racing: McLaren face charges over automatic gearbox: Benetton choose temporary replacement for Schumacher as they prepare to explain Hockenheim fire

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The Independent Online
McLAREN-PEUGEOT are to face charges that they broke the rules of Formula One by using a fully automatic gearbox in Mika Hakkinen's car at the San Marino Grand Prix in May.

The sport's governing body, the FIA, said yesterday that the team would have to explain themselves before their World Council in Paris tomorrow - a meeting originally called to discuss the fireball which momentarily engulfed Jos Verstappen's Benetton-Ford in the pits at Hockenheim.

FIA said it had summoned the team 'to answer a charge that the gearbox was fitted with a fully-automatic upchange facility contrary to regulations.' Those regulations, introduced this season to cut down on the electronic gadgetry in Formula One, allow only semi-automatic gearboxes to be used.

Hakkinen finished third in the race which was overshadowed by the death of the former world champion, Ayrton Senna.

It has taken the FIA four months to charge McLaren with breaching the rules, partly because they did not initially have access to the team's software. McLaren failed to supply the source codes and were fined dollars 100,000 ( pounds 65,000) in July.

The meeting will also hear an appeal by Michael Schumacher against his disqualification from the Belgian Grand Prix.

Benetton's world drivers' championship leader was

deprived of victory there because a skid-block on his car was undersized, giving him a possible advantage over other cars. Schumacher is to be replaced in the next two grands prix - in Italy and Portugal - by J J Lehto, of Finland, after he lost his appeal against a two-race ban for ignoring a black flag at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in July.

Schumacher hinted in a German newspaper interview on Sunday that he might leave the team. But, asked what Benetton would do were Schumacher to quit, Luciano Benetton, the company chairman, said: 'We haven't given that any thought. We assume that he will stay with us. There were mistakes made by the team. One must pay for mistakes but in the end I think everything will go well.'

Asked whether his team was being persecuted, Benetton said: 'There is no persecution just very tough controls. Certainly Schumacher was very shocked by the decisions.'

Schumacher told Welt am Sonntag that he would not accept his team going behind his back to do things that were against the rules. Asked if he would leave if it turned out that way, Schumacher said: 'No, not necessarily. That doesn't have to be the case but it could be that I would then go to another team.'