Motor Racing: Schumacher strikes back: The team under fire finish first and third in the Hungarian Grand Prix

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The Independent Online
THE STRAINS of Beethoven's 'Ode To Joy' accompanied the podium celebrations of Michael Schumacher and Jos Verstappen here yesterday and a team under siege began to sense liberation again.

Schumacher's victory and Verstappen's third place in the Hungarian Grand Prix provided the deliverance Benetton-Ford craved after the weeks of torment, inquisitions and accusations.

Germany's Schumacher now has a 31-point advantage in the Formula One world championship and although the authorities may yet exclude him from two of the remaining six races, this performance has struck a crucial, perhaps even decisive blow in his contest with Britain's Damon Hill.

The glum countenance of the Williams-Renault driver, second here, suggested he feared as much, despite his words of defiance.

The first points of Verstappen's fledgling career were embraced with equal relish in the Benetton camp. The Dutchman had been trapped in a blazing car at Hockenheim a fortnight earlier, an incident which ignited another blaze of controversy.

Benetton were effectively accused of causing the fire by removing a fuel filter and the resultant, worldwide condemnation inflicted worse scars than the flames.

Benetton felt they were 'in a corner, being punched in the face', according to their managing director, Flavio Briatore. Here, however, both on and off the track, they have fought back: with conviction and stinging effect. There are more battles to come, of course, but if anything this team seem more committed than ever to clear their name and eclipse the opposition.

Their cause in the constructors' championship was aided by the last-lap retirement of Martin Brundle, in a McLaren-Peugeot, the Englishman yielding that third place to Verstappen and having to take fourth instead. McLaren said they suspected an electrical failure though some sources hinted he might have run out of fuel.

Whatever the cause, Brundle would have been third had Verstappen not unlapped himself. The ever-alert Schumacher, able to slow at the end, reduced his pace still further to allow his partner past.

Mark Blundell, in a Tyrrell-Yamaha, resisted the hounding of Olivier Panis, in a Ligier-Renault, to earn an excellent fifth place. David Coulthard, in the other Williams, spun into a barrier when third position beckoned. Johnny Herbert's Lotus-Mugen was forced out by an electrical problem and Eddie Irvine climbed out of his beached Jordan-Hart at the second corner.

Schumacher was in control of the entire production. Although Hill had a better start, the German held the outside line from pole position and led through the first corner. After three or four deceptively even laps, Schumacher pulled away and Hill was powerless to sustain the challenge.

Schumacher elected to make three pit stops, Hill two, and again Benetton's strategy proved the more astute. Schumacher's less powerful yet more nimble equipment coped splendidly with the meandering circuit and its driver made lighter of the traffic than did the disconsolate Hill, completing his seventh win of the season 20 seconds clear.

Hill was critical of the conduct of backmarkers but rather more dismayed that Schumacher had outraced and outwitted him so emphatically. He said: 'I was under the impression I was 10 or 12 seconds behind and then learned the gap was 29 seconds. I couldn't understand how the time had evaporated. I'm hacked off. I thought we would have been more competitive. But the championship is not over yet.'

Benetton are scarcely quaking at the threat. Briatore might have suggested the governing body was the only opponent he feared, but preferred to suggest he trusted that further investigations by FIA into the cause of the German fire would confirm the team's findings, which indicated a faulty valve. Benetton are considering legal action, if necessary, to clear their name.

Benetton's argument about the valve was given further credence by problems his team encountered practising their refuelling technique the evening before the race. Briatore had given his crew the option of not using it and throwing away their prospects of winning the championship. They declined the offer.

Verstappen insisted he had no fears when he came into the pits for his two refuelling stops yesterday. Bravado or not, the operation went smoothly. It was, joyously, that sort of day for Benetton. Cue the music.

Photograph, page 28

DETAILS FROM BUDAPEST

HUNGARIAN GRAND PRIX (77 laps, 191.023 miles): 1 M Schumacher (Ger) Benetton-Ford 1hr 48min 00.185sec (ave speed 105.472mph); 2 D Hill (GB) Williams-Renault 20.827sec behind; 3 J Verstappen (Neth) Benetton-Ford +1min 10.329sec; 4 M Brundle (GB) McLaren-Peugeot +1:12.697; 5 M Blundell (GB) Tyrrell-Yamaha +1 lap; 6 O Panis (Fr) Ligier-Ford +1; 7 M Alboreto (It) Minardi-Ford +2; 8 E Comas (Fr) Larrousse-Ford +2; 9 O Beretta (Fr) Larrousse-Ford +2; 10 E Bernard (Fr) Ligier-Ford +2; 11 D Brabham (Aus) Simtek-Ford +3; 12 G Berger (Aut) Ferrari +4; 13 A Zanardi (It) Lotus- Mugen Honda +5; 14 C Fittipaldi (Bra) Footwork-Ford +8. Not classified (did not finish): 15 D Coulthard (GB) Williams-Renault 59 laps completed; 16 J Alesi (Fr) Ferrari 58; 17 P Martini (It) Minardi-Ford 58; 18 H-H Frentzen (Ger) Sauber-Mercedes 39; 19 J Herbert (GB) Lotus-Mugen Honda 34; 20 A de Cesaris (It) Sauber-Mercedes 30; 21 G Morbidelli (It) Footwork-Ford 30; 22 P Alliot (Fr) McLaren-Peugeot 21; 23 J-M Gounon (Fr) Simtek-Ford 9. Did not start (failed to complete one lap): U Katayama (Japan) Tyrrell-Yamaha; R Barrichello (Bra) Jordan-Hart; E Irvine (GB) Jordan-Hart. Fastest lap: Schumacher 1min 20.881sec (110.384mph).

World Drivers' Championship standings (after 10 races): 1 Schumacher 76pts; 2 Hill 45; 3 Berger 27; 4 Alesi 19; 5 Barrichello 10; 6 Brundle 9; 7 M Hakkinen (Fin) 8; 8 O Panis (Fr) 7; 9= N Larini (It), Fittipaldi, Blundell 6; 12= Frentzen, Katayama 5; 14= K Wendlinger (Aut), De Cesaris 4; 14= Martini, Coulthard, Bernard, Verstappen 4; 20= Morbidelli, Comas 2; 22= Alboreto, Irvine, J J Lehto (Fin) 1. Constructors: 1 Benetton 81pts; 2 Ferrari 52; 3 Williams 49; 4 McLaren 17; 5 Jordan 14; 6= Ligier, Tyrrell 11; 8 Sauber 10; 9 Footwork 8; 10 Minardi 5; 11 Larrousse 2.

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