Motor Racing: Schumacher carries on regardless of Mansell: No French impression for Williams prodigal as Benetton's brilliant German steals show with sixth win of season

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The Independent Online
THE GREAT race barely reached the first corner. Damon Hill pursued gamely but in vain and Nigel Mansell was leaving by helicopter long before Michael Schumacher completed another comprehensive victory here yesterday.

Mansell's acquisition by Williams-Renault for the French Grand Prix stoked up qualifying and the combative instincts of Hill, yet nothing, it seems, can disturb the course of Schumacher and his Benetton-Ford.

Schumacher, relegated to third place on the grid by the British pair, speared between them as the lights blinked to green and, taking three pit stops to Hill's two, shook off the only lingering opposition in the latter two-thirds of the race. He had the luxury of being able to rein in his Benetton over the closing laps and Hill, in turn, was comfortably ahead of third-placed Gerhard Berger, in a Ferrari.

Mansell was never in touch with the front two and eventually lost drive with a hydraulic pump failure. He pulled off the track on the 46th lap, his weekend crusade over.

Schumacher, with six wins and a second place from seven races, is 37 points clear of Hill in the Formula One world championship and showing little sign of relenting. He had his problems here, yet he and his team got their act together when it mattered and his physical condition at the end compounded Hill's frustration.

Glancing at the 25-year-old German, who looked as if he had stepped from an air-conditioned limousine instead of a 130-degree cockpit, Hill, doused in water at his second pit-stop, said: 'I don't think he's human. He's bone dry.'

Schumacher returned: 'You're getting old, Damon.' A florid Berger chipped in: 'It was a day for the beach.'

At 33, Hill is seven years younger than Mansell and at least he passed his domestic examination with distinction. He defied Mansell's charge to take pole and out-paced the old maestro in the race.

Hill said: 'It's an added motivation when you know Nigel has been brought in to prove a point, to prove a point back. The team wants to know if the driver they've got is getting the best out of the equipment and hopefully they can now see that he is. I have to say Nigel has been terrific.'

That was also the official line from the team, who hired Mansell from IndyCars for an estimated pounds 1m. Frank Williams, the managing director, said: 'It was 100 per cent worth bringing Nigel back and we definitely still want him for the final three races of the season.

'He has pushed Damon and helped the whole team. Generally speaking, he is saying the same things Damon has been saying, but perhaps more assertively. He has made a very valuable contribution.'

Mansell himself was philosophical, reminding that disappointments come with the territory, but he, too, felt he had made a contribution. He said: 'The car just went and there was nothing I could do. But I hope I've given something to the team this weekend.

'It was a bit of a heart-breaker, very sad for it to end like that. I wanted to do well and help Damon all I could in the race. I'd like to be with him at the British Grand Prix next week but that's not possible. I just hope he wins there.'

Schumacher was anxious to eliminate the Williams pair quickly and, even though Hill made his 'second- best start of the season', the Benetton was passing him as they negotiated the first bend.

'I was worried they might say I moved on red,' Schumacher admitted. 'I have got used to our new clutch now and I got the start 100 per cent right.'

Hill tracked Schumacher to their first pit stops, made simultaneously, but there the chase effectively ended. Hill said: 'I thought two stops would be enough but from the way Michael pulled away after the first one I twigged they were planning three stops. They probably beat us on strategy with that extra stop.' Schumacher took full advantage of the lighter fuel load and extra set of tyres, saved during Friday's qualifying session.

Jean Alesi ruined Ferrari's hopes of a second points-scoring finish and those of Rubens Barrichello when he went over a gravel trap and then collected the Jordan-Hart with a reckless spin.

Johnny Herbert, in a Lotus- Mugen, crossed the line just six- tenths of a second behind Andrea de Cesaris and again was left out of the points, a distraught seventh. Mark Blundell was 10th after a troubled day in his Tyrrell-Yamaha.

Martin Brundle retired his smoking McLaren-Peugeot on the 30th lap and Eddie Irvine parked his Jordan with gearbox problems.

FRENCH GRAND PRIX (Magny-Cours): 1 M Schumacher (Ger) Benetton-Ford 1hr 38min 35.704sec; 2 D Hill (GB) Williams-Renault 12.642sec behind; 3 G Berger (Aut) Ferrari +52.765; 4 H-H Frentzen (Ger) Sauber-Mercedes +1 lap; 5 P Martini (It) Minardi-Ford +2; 6 A de Cesaris (It) Sauber- Mercedes +2; 7 J Herbert (GB) Lotus-Mugen Honda +2; 8 C Fittipaldi (Bra) Footwork-Ford +2; 9 J-M Gounon (Fr) Simtek-Ford +4; 10 M Blundell (GB) Tyrrell-Yamaha +5; 11 E Comas (Fr) Larrousse-Ford +5. World drivers' championship standings: 1 Schumacher 66pts; 2 Hill 29; 3 Berger 17; 4 J Alesi (Fr) 13; 5 R Barrichello (Bra) 7; 6= N Larini (It), M Brundle (GB); 8 Frentzen 5; 9= M Hakkinen (Finland), U Katayama (Japan), K Wendlinger (Aut), Blundell, De Cesaris, Martini 4; 15 Fittipaldi 3; 16 D Coulthard (GB) 2; 17= Comas, M Alboreto (It), E Irvine (GB), J J Lehto (Fin) 1. Constructors' championship: 1 Benetton 67pts; 2 Ferrari 36; 3 Williams 31; 4 Jordan 11; 5= McLaren, Sauber 10; 7 Tyrrell 8; 8 Minardi 5; 9 Footwork 3; 10 Larrousse 1.