Motor Racing: Schumacher shoots away: German victorious as Senna is shunted off and Hill retires

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The Independent Online
IT WAS effectively over at the first corner, Michael Schumacher guiding his Benetton- Ford clear of the mayhem towards a second consecutive win and an early-season lead in the Formula One world championship that he did not dare believe possible.

He left behind his principal adversary, Ayrton Senna, trapped in the sand and another Japanese controversy, this time at the inaugural Pacific Grand Prix here.

Mika Hakkinen's McLaren- Peugeot ran into the back of his former team-mate's Williams- Renault, which rotated helplessly, to be rammed by Nicola Larini's Ferrari. Senna complained to the stewards but Williams made no protest and officially, the matter ended there.

The one other driver who might have disturbed Schumacher's lunchtime cruise was Damon Hill, in the other Williams, yet he spun in his endeavours to find a way past the redoubtable Hakkinen and, after a spirited recovery from ninth to second, rolled to a halt with gearbox trouble.

Hakkinen had, by then, retired through a loss of hydraulic pressure and his partner, Martin Brundle, was forced to abandon his excellent pursuit of third place with an overheating engine.

All of which made life easier still for Schumacher, and second place went to Gerhard Berger, in the other Ferrari, albeit nearly a lap down. As a brooding Senna was cursing his luck, the next generation of Brazilian drivers celebrated. Rubens Barrichello earned himself and the jolly green Jordan-Hart team their first appearance on the podium, and Christian Fittipaldi followed in fourth place with his Footwork-Ford.

Heinz-Harald Frentzen was fifth for Sauber-Mercedes and Erik Comas sixth in a Larrousse-Ford. Johnny Herbert again hauled the weighty Lotus-Mugen Honda to the finish, only to miss the points, in seventh place.

Schumacher is blessed with far more accommodating equipment and, as in Brazil, he made full use of it. The 25- year-old has his fourth grand prix win and a championship advantage which may prove difficult to break down, even for Senna. The German has 20 points, Senna none.

The crucial seconds after the green light threw open the doors to Schumacher. He started well. Senna, on pole, laboured under wheelspin and Benetton claimed the line into the first corner. Senna conceded and in doing so apparently took Hakkinen by surprise.

Schumacher said: 'I was afraid of a restart, but there was no red flag so I knew I was in a good situation because Ayrton and Damon were my only two competitors for the race. When Ayrton went off, I just had to finish compared with what it would have been like.'

Senna, recalling the four-car accident in the Brazilian Grand Prix, for which Eddie Irvine incurred a three-race ban, said: 'If you let young drivers behave like this you will have accidents every race. Three inexperienced drivers were involved in Brazil and now we have this accident. If it goes on like this the year is going to end very badly.'

The Finn also came in for criticism from Hill. The Englishman said: 'I tried to pass Hakkinen and he rather aggressively closed the door. It is what I would expect from him. He's a bit of a wild boy.

'He is very very aggressive, but the flip side is he is daring and exciting. He was taking the risk. I gave him room and came off worse.'

Hakkinen calmly gave his version of events: 'Senna thought I would try to take him. He pulled into my line and went flat on the brakes. I was going at 250kph and at that speed you are going like an aeroplane. I just slid and touched him and unfortunately he lost the back end. I do not blame him. I thought it was very much a racing accident.

'I went to see him to say I was sorry. I will not mention what words he said, but he did not reply in a positive way.

'The incident with Hill was at an extremely complicated corner. I was taking the racing line and saw Damon putting his nose inside me. I was very surprised and thought he would not make it. It is very dusty and slippery there. I gave him room in case he lost control and that's what happened. He spun and I was fortunate.'

Hakkinen's less controversial contribution to the day's entertainment and Brundle's measured performance suggested the McLaren-Peugeot alliance is gathering momentum. Ferrari, Jordan and others may also have an influence on the shaping of this season.

Hill felt he would have been able to keep pace at the front, though Schumacher was convinced he would have been in control no matter what.

A stern examination of Benetton's potential can be expected at the San Marino Grand Prix, on Sunday week. Imola is a power circuit, which should suit the Williams-Renault. Senna and Hill feel lady luck owes them one. So, too, does Mark Blundell. The Englishman and his Tyrrell-

Yamaha were indisputably innocent victims of the first corner skirmish yesterday.

PACIFIC GRAND PRIX DETAILS

Aida, Japan (83 laps, 307.349km, 190.983 miles): 1 M Schumacher (Ger) Benetton- Ford 1hr 46min 1.693sec (173.9kph, 108.1mph); 2 G Berger (Aut) Ferrari 1:47:16.993; 3 R Barrichello (Bra) Jordan-Hart one lap behind; 4 C Fittapaldi (Bra) Footwork-Ford +1 lap; 5 H-H Frentzen (Ger) Sauber-Mercedes +1; 6 E Comas (Fr) Larousse-Ford +3; 7 J Herbert (GB) Lotus- Mugen Honda +3; 8 P Lamy (Por) Lotus- Mugen Honda +4; 9 O Panis (Fr) Ligier- Renault +5; 10 E Bernard (Fr) Ligier-Renault +5; 11 R Ratzenberger (Aut) Simtek-Ford +5. Not classified (did not finish): 12 G Morbidelli (It) Footwork-Ford 69 laps completed; 13 K Wendlinger (Aut) Sauber-Mercedes 69; 14 M Alboreto (It) Minardi-Ford 69; 15 M Brundle (GB) McLaren-Peugeot 67; 16 P Martini (It) Minardi-Ford 63; 17 J Verstappen (Neth) Benetton-Ford 54; 18 D Hill (GB) Williams-Renault 49; 19 A Suzuki (Japan) Jordan-Hart 44; 20 U Katayama (Japan) Tyrrell- Yamaha 42; 21 M Hakkinen (Fin) McLaren- Peugeot 19; 22 O Beretta (Fr) Larrousse-Ford 14; 23 D Brabham (Aus) Simtek-Ford 2. Did not start (failed to complete opening lap): 24 A Senna (Bra) Williams-Renault; 25 M Blundell (GB) Tyrrell-Yamaha; 26 N Larini (It) Ferrari. Fastest lap: Schumacher 1min 14.23sec (180.0kph, 111.9mph) on lap 10.

World Drivers' Championship standings: 1 Schumacher 20pts; 2 Barrichello 7; 3= Hill, Berger 6; 5 J Alesi (Fr) Ferrari 4; 6 Fittipaldi 3; 7= Katayama, Frentzen 2; 9= Comas, Wendlinger 1.

Constructors' championship: 1 Benetton- Ford 20pts; 2 Ferrari 10; 3 Jordan-Hart 7; 4 Williams-Renault 6; 5= Footwork-Ford, Sauber-Mercedes 3; 7 Tyrrell-Yamaha 2; 8 Larrousse-Ford 1.

Next round: San Marino Grand Prix (Imola, It) 1 May.

Photograph, page 31

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