Motor Racing: Schumacher splits the Williams pair

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The Independent Online
ALAIN PROST assumed his familiar position at the front of the provisional grid for tomorrow's German Grand Prix here. Immediately behind him, however, was not his Williams-Renault team-mate, Damon Hill, but Benetton-Ford's Michael Schumacher. It amounted to a final indignity on a traumatic day for the Englishman.

Hill, intent on securing his place in the Williams team for next season, retreated to the sanctuary of the motorhome bemoaning the behaviour of his car and the Italian driver, Michele Alboreto, with whom he had had a contretemps during the unofficial morning session. The image of the reticent rookie has been destroyed these last couple of days.

The new, strident Hill made for the BMS Lola-Ferrari pit after his Williams span off at a chicane. He challenged Alboreto even before he could extricate himself from his cockpit and gave him a piece of his mind.

'You can imagine what I said,' Hill offered by way of explanation. 'It's just a pity I didn't know the Italian for it. He opened the door to let me through then came across me. I was totally incensed. It was so unnecessary and stupid. I was the victim of his cantankerousness. I think Michele has reached the IndyCar stage of his career.'

Alboreto matched that gem with one of his own. 'I think,' he replied, 'the English expression is 'He's getting too big for his boots'. What happened was a racing incident. I gave him the line but he spun off.

'He should keep his cool. He's too inexperienced to blame anyone. It's not fair to come into the pits like that. He should have talked quietly about it. He was shouting at me but I couldn't hear because I still had my earplugs in and my helmet on.'

That little business out of the way, Hill proceeded with qualifying, only to encounter more difficulty. He found the Williams an unusual handful, almost ran into his partner at a chicane, and ultimately lost second place to the man all Germany seems to want to see here tomorrow. A crowd of 150,000 is expected to witness Schumacher's assault on the Williams pair.

The Benetton driver gave a healthy Friday attendance a sample of his determination, bullying the B193 through the chicanes and Stadium Complex to within six-tenths of a second of Prost's time, and putting a similar distance between himself and the second Williams. A dismayed Hill is hoping for a more responsive car and the opportunity to retrieve his place alongside Prost this afternoon.

Hill said: 'It was the worst session I've had all season. The car was terrible. I had trouble with the brakes and it kept wanting to swap ends. It was like driving in the Manx rally. We have a lot of sorting out to do for tomorrow. I couldn't drive the car in the race like that. I don't want to be third on the grid here. Schumacher will be like a man possessed.'

Mark Blundell was more content with his fourth place, making good use of the Renault engine bolted to his Ligier. His team-mate, Martin Brundle, was denied fifth place by Ayrton Senna's late run in the McLaren-Ford. Johnny Herbert provisionally qualified with his Lotus- Ford in 12th, while Derek Warwick, one of the many drivers to spin yesterday, was 21st in a Footwork-Mugen Honda.

Whatever the outcome of the race the result will stand, probably leaving Prost and Williams safely on course to their respective championships. Bernie Ecclestone, the president of the Formula One Constructors' Association, suggested common sense had at last prevailed and guided the teams to their peace pact. He said: 'Everyone realised it was getting a bit of a farce. Instead of thinking short term it was time to start thinking long term.'

He confirmed that all technological aids except semi-automatic transmission will be outlawed from next season, but declined to reveal the proposals he expects will soon be approved for next year. It is understood, however, that refuelling and a limit of 64 engines per team for the championship will be introduced in a further endeavour to spice up the show and reduce costs.

Ecclestone again conceded that Nigel Mansell's absence had affected the spectacle of Formula One. He said: 'I'd like to see Nigel in Formula One, where he belongs. I think he's suffering as much away from it as we are without him. I talk to him all the time. We shouldn't have let him go. If a suitable team was there, I think he'd be happy to be back.'

GERMAN GRAND PRIX (Hockenheim) First qualifying times: 1 A Prost (Fr) Williams-Renault 1min 39.046sec (248.54kph, 155.337mph); 2 M Schumacher (Ger) Benetton-Ford 1:39.640; 3 D Hill (GB) Williams-Renault 1:40.211; 4 M Blundell (GB) Ligier-Renault 1:40.279; 5 A Senna (Bra) McLaren-Ford 1:40.642; 6 M Brundle (GB) Ligier-Renault 1:40.916; 7 R Patrese (It) Benetton-Ford 1:41.101; 8 A Suzuki (Japan) Footwork-Mugen Honda 1:41.138; 9 G Berger (Aut) Ferrari 1:41.290; 10 J Alesi (Fr) Ferrari 1:41.304; 11 M Andretti (US) McLaren-Ford 1:41.531; 12 J Herbert (GB) Lotus-Ford 1:41.564; 13 A Zanardi (It) Lotus- Ford 1:41.858; 14 K Wendlinger (Aut) Sauber 1:41.922; 15 E Comas (Fr) Larrousse-Lamborghini 1:42.086; 16 R Barrichello (Bra) Jordan-Hart 1:42.152; 17 C Fittipaldi (Bra) Minardi-Ford 1:42.658; 18 P Martini (It) Minardi-Ford 1:42.786; 19 J J Lehto (Fin) Sauber 1:42.845; 20 P Alliot (Fr) Larrousse-Lamborghini 1:42.912; 21 D Warwick (GB) Footwork-Mugen Honda 1:42.977; 22 L Badoer (It) BMS Lola-Ferrari 1:43.345; 23 A de Cesaris (It) Tyrrell-Yamaha 1:43.471; 24 T Boutsen (Bel) Jordan-Hart 1:43.476; 25 M Alboreto (It) BMS Lola-Ferrari 1:44.198; 26 U Katayama (Japan) Tyrrell-Yamaha 1:46.709.

(Map omitted)