Motor Racing: Schumacher appeals to delight of home fans

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The Independent Online
MICHAEL SCHUMACHER has been seduced by all the emotions of a homecoming and decide to expose himself to a potentially catastrophic confrontation with Damon Hill and Ferrari in Sunday's German Grand Prix here.

Schumacher announced last night he was appealing against the two-race ban and deduction of six points, imposed by the World Council of the sport's governing body, the FIA, for ignoring a black flag during the British Grand Prix, earlier this month. The appeal will enable him to compete in front of his own fans.

The 25-year-old leader in the world drivers' championship is conscious, however, that he and his Benetton-Ford are vulnerable to attack from two sources. More powerful machinery on this circuit and the chance that if his appeal is rejected, he could be liable to a stiffer sentence.

Hill, trailing Schumacher by 33 points, is champing at the bit, Ferrari are gaining strength and the championship is full of possibilities. But the picture will remain blurred until the appeal is heard, and that will not be until after next month's two races, in Hungary and Belgium.

Schumacher's attention is now focused on Sunday, the race and the 150,000 sell-out crowd. He said: 'I am racing for two reasons. One, for every driver the most emotional and important race is his home grand prix, and so it is for me.

'I am really aware so many fans are here expecting me to race and I was really unhappy they might not see me. There is no reason to penalise them. I have heard of people who bought tickets six months ago and many who could not get tickets and expected to see me on television. That is the real reason I decided to race.

'Even then, it was a difficult decision as there are examples of people going to appeal and the penalty turned out to be even stronger. We took a risk to be here this weekend to take part in my home grand prix for the fans and for my own feelings.

'I know there have been things wrong. I know I made mistakes in the Silverstone race, and I understand I have to be punished for them, but we believe the penalty was too harsh and that is another reason for going to appeal. But I am still feeling hopeful it will turn out better than it was.'

Schumacher, if not entirely repentant, was subdued and careful in his selection of words. The team have patently embarked upon a course of reconciliation, as the statement by their managing director, Flavio Briatore, confirmed.

'The decision made by the World Council was very hard for the team and driver, and this was a hard decision for us,' Briatore said. 'Michael made the decision and I believe it was made for the sport. There was no way Michael would penalise all the fans he has in Germany, and there is no way I want to play a political game by not participating in this race.

'I want everyone to understand Benetton is in line with FIA, and respects the decision made in Paris. I appeal because it is my right to appeal and believe the penalty is very severe. But, for the sport, it's the right decision for Benetton and Michael to race here.'

Hill is undoubtedly psychologically prepared for a great race. Although he does not admit as much, the Williams-Renault driver must be a might relieved Schumacher is racing and that restless natives are not prowling for targets to vent their frustration.

'I hope I get a good reception because what has happened is nothing to do with me. It's right and it's good that Michael is here, in front of his own fans, and I want this opportunity of showing I can race against him here and win,' Hill said.

'He'll be pumped to the maximum this weekend, but I think he knows this is a circuit where it will be more difficult for him to win. I think we are favourites and Ferrari just second, though it will be a close thing with Michael.'