Motor Racing: Schumacher speeds away to conquer Hill: Grand Prix of Europe sees challenger left trailing in returning German's wake while Mansell finds himself caught in a trap

Click to follow
The Independent Online
MICHAEL SCHUMACHER was as good as his word yesterday: he took over where he left off, proved himself a class apart, and reduced Damon Hill to a demoralised second best.

The much-heralded showdown for the Formula One world championship may yet provide a contest worthy of the billing but here at the Grand Prix of Europe, Hill could not contain his German adversary.

Schumacher's sense of injustice at being stripped of points, disqualified and suspended, and his disdain for Hill, fired him and his Benetton-Ford team with a passion that carried them to another plane. His three-pit-stop strategy, facilitated by an equally slick and motivated crew, again worked for him, while Hill and his Williams-Renault team, sticking to two stops, laboured by comparison. Even Hill's better start and early lead failed to scupper the opposition's plan.

Schumacher's victory, his eighth of the season, gives him a five-point advantage with two rounds of the championship remaining. Still more disconcerting for the Englishman was the enormity of Schumacher's superiority. They crossed the line 24 seconds apart, though that scarcely gauges the scale of the annhilation. That showed in Hill's face.

The drivers' results table is also informative. Apart from his eight maximum scores, Schumacher has points from only one other race, his second place in Spain, which he accomplished stuck in fifth gear. He broke down in Germany and, for disciplinary reasons, was unable to figure in the other four races.

It is too simplistic to say he was a man inspired yesterday. He has been irresistible all year. The circumstances leading up to this race merely made the winning more precious, the satisfaction more apparent.

Nigel Mansell's fruitless comeback and Benetton's return to the top of the constructors' table deepened Williams' depression. Mansell's race started badly, barely recovered, and ended prematurely in a gravel trap.

Mika Hakkinen, driving a McLaren-Peugeot, assumed his now familiar third place. Eddie Irvine earned his best result, fourth for Jordan-Hart, Gerhard Berger, in a Ferrari, was fifth and Heinz-Harald Frentzen, of Sauber- Mercedes, was sixth.

Schumacher stayed on Hill's tail for 15 laps before making the first of his stops and wrenching control. After Hill, too, had returned from the pits, it was to confront reality. The younger man was flying, taking the race with him.

Schumacher said: 'It's all you want after missing two races, to be in the position where you left off. It has been hard for the team, the pressures, things going on. But the motivation was even more than before. We are a team and always were a team, and we have proved how good we are. I'm just very, very pleased.'

Should Schumacher beat Hill by five points at next month's Japanese Grand Prix, the title will be his. Hill and his Williams ought to be a stronger combination there, but then he expected a more competitive performance here.

He said: 'Schumacher always impresses. He made a point but he's not unbeatable. The pit strategy was right, especially as I led in the early part of the race, but it went away from us in the middle of the race. I thought we had a good chance here. But I never say die, I never give up.

It's certainly not over. I was pretty disappointed at the margin of victory.

This is the race where, if anywhere, you would expect Benetton to be better.

Second place keeps things alive. I lost the battle but not the war.'

Schumacher's only concern was encountering some trademark aggression displayed by Hakkinen as he attempted to lap the Finn. Hakkinen stubbornly declined to yield and twice turned his McLaren across the Benetton's bows.

'It was 99 per cent perfect for me,' Schumacher said. 'I was held up by someone.'

Mansell became embroiled in the squabble for places until his series of mishaps. It was left to Irvine to lead the rest of the United Kingdom drivers and register a gratifying three points. Irvine, who has had too many incidents for his own good this season, prudently retreated from a fight with Hakkinen. 'Maybe another time,' he said.

Johnny Herbert, on his debut for Ligier-Renault, was eighth and Mark Blundell, driving a Tyrrell- Yamaha, 13th. Martin Brundle, his torment unending, completed only seven laps before the engine of his McLaren blew up.

GRAND PRIX OF EUROPE (Jerez): 1 M Schumacher (Ger) Benetton-Ford 1hr 40min 26.689sec (ave speed 113.43mph); 2 D Hill (GB) Williams-Renault 24.689sec behind; 3 M Hakkinen (Fin) McLaren- Peugeot +1:09.648; 4 E Irvine (GB) Jordan-Hart +1:18.446; 5 G Berger (Aut) Ferrari; 6 H-H Frentzen (Ger) Sauber-Mercedes; 7 U Katayama (Japan) Tyrrell-Yamaha; 8 J Herbert (GB) Ligier-Renault; 9 O Panis (Fr) Ligier-Renault; 10 J Alesi (Fr) Ferrari; 11 G Morbidelli (It) Footwork-Ford; 12 R Barrichello (Bra) Jordan-Hart; 13 M Blundell (GB) Tyrrell- Yamaha all +1 lap; 14 M Alboreto (It) Minardi- Ford; 15 P Martini (It) Minardi-Ford; 16 A Zanardi (It) Lotus-Mugen Honda all +2; 17 C Fittipaldi (Bra) Footwork-Ford; 18 E Bernard (Fr) Lotus- Mugen Honda both +3; 19 D Schiattarella (It) Simtek-Ford +5. Did not finish (not classified): 20 N Mansell (GB) Williams-Renault 47 laps completed; 21 D Brabham (Aus) Simtek-Ford 42; 22 A de Cesaris (It) Sauber-Mercedes 37; 23 E Comas (Fr) Larousse-Ford 37; 24 J Verstappen (Neth) Benetton-Ford 15; 25 H Noda (Japan) Larousse- Ford 10; 26 M Brundle (GB) McLaren-Peugeot 8.

World Drivers' Championship standings: 1 Schumacher 86pts; 2 Hill 81; 3 Berger 35; 4 Hakkinen 26; 5 Alesi 19; 6 Barrichello 16; 7 D Coulthard (GB) 14; 8 Brundle 12; 9 Verstappen 10; 10 Blundell 8; 11 Panis 7; 12= N Larini (It), Fittipaldi, Frentzen 6; 15 Katayama 5; 16= K Wendlinger (Aut), De Cesaris, Martini, Bernard, Irvine 4; 21 Morbidelli (It) 3; 22 Comas 2; 23= Alboreto, J J Lehto (Fin) 1.

Constructors: 1 Benetton-Ford 97pts; 2 Williams- Renault 95; 3 Ferrari 60; 4 McLaren-Peugeot 38; 5 Jordan-Hart 23; 6 Tyrrell-Yamaha 13; 7= Ligier-Renault, Sauber-Mercedes 11; 9 Footwork-Ford 9; 10 Minardi-Ford 5; 11 Larrousse-Ford 2.