Motor Racing: Schumacher quick to put Senna in a spin: Hard-charging German confirms potential as Hill's second place consoles Williams

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Michael Schumacher turned the fantasy of a Formula One contest into stirring reality here yesterday. The precocious German outmanouevred and outpaced Ayrton Senna, then turned the closing stages of the Brazilian Grand Prix into a victory pageant after the universal favourite slithered ignominiously out of the race.

It was left to Britain's Damon Hill to collect the compensation of a distant second place for Williams-Renault, the defending champions, immediately ahead of Jean Alesi, in a Ferrari.

But this was the day Schumacher and Benetton-Ford confirmed their arrival as credible challengers to the throne most believed was destined for Senna and Williams.

A protest against Schumacher's car, lodged by Jordan after the race, was thrown out and the result declared official.

Schumacher was able to wrest the lead from Senna at the first of their two fuel and tyre stops, and maintained it with utmost conviction into the final 16 laps. Senna had little alternative but to push hard. In the event, he pushed too hard. He lost control, went into a half-spin, and was dispatched to the side of the track.

As he hitched a lift back to the sanctity of the pits, thousands of his compatriots abandoned their places in the stands and despondently drifted home.

It is, as Schumacher will concede, too early to conclude that Williams' grip has gone and that Senna, three times a world champion, has found his match. It seems wholly possible, however, that the championship will produce one of the outstanding head-to-head confrontations of modern times.

Schumacher had hunted down Senna in the first third of the race and, once ahead, demonstrated both his phenomenal pace and disarming composure. At the age of 25, he has his third grand prix victory and superstardom guaranteed.

Only Senna had been in the same class. The rest were a lap adrift. They might as well have been in a different hemisphere.

Schumacher said: 'We knew our car was fantastic and that the engine was reliable from the winter testing we have done. We were hoping for a lot of success this season but not straight away. What the team have done is really crazy, and this result is their reward as well.

'I didn't really feel danger because I could control the pace. The only danger was at the beginning, when I did not have a good start and Jean got in front of me. But the strategy in the team was fantastic, and they got me out quickly from the first stop.' Senna said: 'It was my mistake. I was tired, on the limit and pushing hard. But I had no choice.'

Hill's gamble on only one pit stop burdened him with a heavy load he was never able to carry into the thick of the fight proper and Alesi, consigned to the spare car, was grateful to be on the podium.

Hill said: 'It's sad for the team that Ayrton went out but I am pleased with second place. After the problems I had in the early part of practice, I hadn't been able to find the right set- up and I gambled with one stop because I thought it would be worth a try. I won't be doing that again.

'It's a bit demoralising to be lapped, but consistency paid off and I was there for second place.'

Rubens Barrichello restored a little Brazilian self-esteem with fourth place in a Jordan- Hart, Ukyo Katayama gave

Tyrrell-Yamaha an excellent fifth and Karl Wendlinger sustained the progress of Sauber- Mercedes with sixth position. Johnny Herbert just missed out on the points, bringing in the much maligned Lotus-

Mugen Honda seventh.

All fears of a holocaust were unfounded. Teams took fuel stops in their stride and enabled the front-runners to set an astonishing pace.

Three British drivers, Mark Blundell, Martin Brundle and Eddie Irvine, were involved in more conventional racing incidents. Blundell crashed at 150mph, his Tyrrell succumbing to a suspected wheel failure, while Irvine and Brundle played differing roles in Jos Verstappen's spectacular accident.

Senna catapulted the Williams into precisely the start he wished for, and was none too dismayed when Alesi shot ahead of Schumacher. The Benetton and Ferrari twice exchanged places in a thrilling if brief duel, but next time round Schumacher completed the pass and fended off Alesi's attempted retaliation.

The chase was on. Senna's advantage, up to four seconds in the first three laps, gradually came down to less than a second and both speared into the pits at the end of the 21st lap. To Senna's dismay, Schumacher's splendid crew had sent him back ahead and the Benetton was never again to come under serious threat. Schumacher's pit board was to convey news of the Brazilian's demise. It read: 'P1 - Senna Out.' Schumacher was able to savour those last laps at a more leisurely pace and completed his magnificent success against a backdrop of sparsely populated stands at the Interlagos circuit.