Motor Racing: Schumacher is forced to miss Monza

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The Independent Online
MICHAEL SCHUMACHER ruled himself out of the Italian Grand Prix at Monza on 12 September and the European Grand Prix two weeks later after recurring problems forced him to withdraw during his first day back behind the wheel at a Ferrari practice session yesterday.

"I had a test and there were problems in my leg. It is impossible to drive properly at the moment," the Ferrari driver said.

It was Schumacher's first driving appearance since he broke his leg at the British Grand Prix on 11 July. But he had bad news for the many well- wishers present at Monza to cheer his return. "I don't think I will compete in the next two races," he said.

Schumacher, who had limped into a news conference, said the conditions at Monza had made it particularly difficult for him, completing only 27 laps. "The bumps on this circuit and the curves on this circuit are pretty severe," he said. "It is pretty difficult. I had pain all the way through and you can't drive like that. I took painkillers but it did not really help."

Hundreds of Ferrari fans had greeted Schumacher when he went out on the track in the morning. One banner declared: "The king is back." In spite of his decision, the German said he was still recovering at the rate his doctors had predicted.

"After the surgery the doctor said I would not be back in the car for 12 to 16 weeks. Here I am after seven weeks. Maybe you can say it was too early, but we had to try. It is not a step back - we just must take more time."

Asked if he had deliberately delayed his return so as not to be forced into helping Ferrari team-mate Eddie Irvine in his world championship tussle with Mikka Hakkinen, Schumacher said his prime concern was for the team. "I and Eddie Irvine have always driven for Ferrari. I don't believe Eddie ever drove for me and my interest, and I wouldn't drive for him. We drive for the team."

Irvine and the stand-in Mika Salo were also putting in a few laps. The Ulsterman currently trails Hakkinen, the reigning world champion, by a single point in the drivers' championship, with Schumacher 28 points adrift in fifth. Schumacher said his advice for Irvine was "drive fast and don't crash. It up to Eddie to deliver. There are four races to go and with only one point difference everything is possible, he has a good opportunity."

Two races remain after the European Grand Prix - Malaysia on 17 October 17 and Japan on 31 October.