Motor Racing: Schumacher is 'excluded' from Spanish GP

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SUNDAY'S Spanish Grand Prix here is shrouded in doubt by the raging storm over Formula One's new regulations. And last night the two Benetton-Ford cars, one of them driven by the world championship leader, Michael Schumacher, were technically excluded from the event.

The changes, decreed as a safety measure following the deaths of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger, and the severe injuries sustained by Karl Wendlinger, are said by many competitors to have increased the dangers. Schumacher, an official of the resurrected Grand Prix Drivers' Association, has already suggested that the race could be postponed until the autumn.

At the end of a five and a half hour meeting of the drivers last night, a demand was made to change the Circuit de Catalonia. Niki Lauda, the drivers' mentor, said: 'We have asked for a chicane in front of the Nissan corner. The organisers have said it can be done but we have got to get approval from FIA (the sport's governing body). We've got to see how the cars go in the morning before we can reach any conclusions.'

The leaders of the drivers' association are anxious not to be seen as confrontational but the feeling among the rank- and-file is that the cars and the circuit must meet with their approval. Asked what the drivers would do if the Nissan corner was not altered to their satisfaction, Martin Brundle said: 'We won't be happy - but they'll do it. A lot of drivers have not driven the cars with the new modifications so we'll have to look at that situation in practice.'

The Italian Alessandro Zanardi said: 'We have all agreed that we want a chicane built to our satisfaction and if we don't have one, we will not race.'

Meanwhile Peter Collins, managing director of Lotus- Mugen Honda, said he would withdraw his cars if this morning's first practice session confirmed his fears.

One of the Lotus drivers, Pedro Lamy, suffered serious leg injuries when he crashed while testing at Silverstone on Tuesday and Collins believes the accident was a direct consequence of the aerodynamic changes, which reduced the downforce and cornering speeds of the cars. The team suspect a problem with the rear structure.

Collins added his voice to that of Benetton-Ford's managing director, Flavio Briatore, who criticised the stewardship of Formula One in an open letter to its president, Max Mosley, and said his drivers would be racing at their own risk.

Collins, who has named Zanardi as Lamy's replacement here, said: 'These changes have been made with undue haste. We have had insufficient time for the teams to assess the full ramifications of everything. I do not think there's any doubt Lamy's accident was precipitated by the changes. We know other teams have experienced similar problems with rear-wing structures which have not been, through fortune, as serious as ours. It is quite possible you'll see some teams not running cars. If we are not satisfied with the safety of our cars after first practice, we will not proceed.'

Williams-Renault are among the teams who suffered cracks in their rear-wing structures, and Frank Williams, the managing director, said he would leave decisions on participation with his engineers.

The stewards of the meeting responded to Briatore's letter by tossing the ball back into the Italian's court. In a statement, they said that unless he took full responsibility for his cars, they would not be allowed to practise or race.

Briatore responded by saying: 'The car has been passed by the scrutineers. It's the job of the scrutineers to say if the car is safe. I didn't know the rules had been changed on this, also.' He followed up his verbal response with a written reply to the stewards. However, the stewards later insisted that until Briatore gave them the required written confirmation, his cars would not be allowed to compete. Briatore will doubtless resume the political sparring this morning and is expected to find a way of climbing down without losing too much face.

The teams have come prepared to race according to the new regulations and Frank Williams maintained that only a few would be in a position to convert their cars. It all points to a critical session this morning. Anything approaching a serious incident would almost certainly cause a halt to proceedings.

One driver not at the GPDA meeting was the new boy, David Coulthard, confirmed as successor to Senna and partner to Damon Hill, at Williams, if only on a race-by-race basis. Williams, having failed to lure a more experienced driver, have handed the 23-year-old Scot, until now their test driver, the opportunity to make the job his own.

Coulthard said: 'Of course, I'd like to be in for the season, but at this stage there is no point in looking any further. Formula One has gone through a different period but my opportunity has come now and if I had any doubts I wouldn't be here.'

Williams, with the support of Bernie Ecclestone, president of the Formula One Constructors' Association, has endeavoured to bring Nigel Mansell back into Formula One but there now seems little prospect of that happening this season, at least before the end of the IndyCar series.

KARL WENDLINGER, who sustained serious head injuries in a crash during practice for the Monaco Grand Prix a fortnight ago, is gradually coming out of his coma. 'He's able to answer simple instructions such as 'clench your fist, open your eyes, close your eyes',' Doctor Dominique Grimaud, of the Nice Saint-Roch hospital, said yesterday. 'The latest signs are very encouraging.'