Michael Schumacher's victory in the Monaco Grand Prix here yesterday ushered in a new epoch in Formula One. It was achieved with consummate mastery, absolute composure, the way Senna used to win his races. And it was done in an atmosphere heavy with emotion and the concerted commitment to make this a safer sport.
Schumacher was one of those who had to re-evaluate his desire for racing in the wake of the accidents which killed Senna and Roland Ratzenberger at Imola a fortnight ago. That will was tested further here on Thursday, when Karl Wendlinger was critically injured in practice. The young Austrian still lies in a coma.
Schumacher, of Benetton- Ford, elected to go on, as did Martin Brundle and Gerhard Berger, after their own bouts of soul-searching. Yesterday Brundle was second, in a McLaren-Peugeot, equalling his best performance in grand prix racing, and Berger, driving a Ferrari, was third.
Schumacher, a disarmingly mature 25-year-old, said: 'For all of us the two weeks since Imola have been very diffcult. None of us was sure how to think or feel. Fortunately, I had a test last week and if I had felt afraid in the car I would have had to stop. This was Ayrton's sport. It was his life. I think he would have wanted us to continue and make the best of it.'
Brundle, who competed with Senna for the 1983 British Formula Three championship and came into Formula One along with the Brazilian the following season, was visibly moved by the silence he and the other drivers observed, grouped at the front of the grid with their mentor, Niki Lauda, before the start. The two surviving Brazilians, Christian Fittipaldi and Rubens Barrichello, held their country's flag, bearing a picture of Senna and the words 'Adeus Ayrton'.
Brundle said: 'I was very emotional and almost cried. I wondered if we should have done it just before the start but we decided we wanted to. I'm very proud of the drivers. Everybody has pulled together here and I think we have shown the sport in a positive light. The world has been able to look at the sport as a spectacle today and not at its accidents.'
The campaign to improve the image and safety of Formula One goes on today with further talks between the teams to try to make the authorities' latest technical regulations workable. They are adamant they cannot safely introduce the changes in the timescale decreed.
The governing body, FIA, and the teams must take up the torch the drivers have lit here, conduct their discussions with dignity as well as purpose and ensure the sport follows a course away from tragedy, darkness and recrimination.
Schumacher's boss, Flavio Briatore, says his team cannot revise their cars in time for the next race, in Spain, on Sunday week, and an unlikely fit of pique seems the only threat to the German's relentless pursuit of the world championship. He has a maximum 40 points from the first four races, giving him a 30-point advantage over Berger, in second place. Another win at Barcelona would give him a share of Nigel Mansell's record opening sequence to a season, two years ago.
Recent experiences have guarded all against tempting providence, yet few doubt that, given continued good health, Schumacher's career knows no horizons. For 11 years this race, the most prestigious on the calendar, had been the preserve of just two men: Alain Prost and Senna. History should determine Schumacher's name worthy to be mentioned in the same breath.
Schumacher's only anxiety yesterday was caused by oil spewed by the expiring engine of Mark Blundell's Tyrrell- Yamaha. 'I had a big moment and almost went into the barrier. I was lucky to catch it.'
Berger was not so lucky and did not catch it, a fateful moment which enabled Brundle to jump on his back. The Austrian resisted but could not prevent the Englishman taking him on the descent to Mirabeau, the most significant overtaking manoeuvre of the afternoon. Denied a podium finish at Aida, he was not to be thwarted this time.
Brundle said: 'This has been one of my best days in motor racing. I still have no guarantees of keeping my seat for the rest of the season but I hope I have earned it. This team have had Lauda, Prost and Senna, so they're not easily impressed.'
Brundle's team-mate, Mika Hakkinen, was determined to impress yesterday, yet was hit from behind by Damon Hill, Williams-Renault's sole driver, at the first corner and his race was over. Hill pulled up barely half-way into the opening lap.
Hakkinen, described by Hill as a 'demon' after punting off Senna in the Pacific Grand Prix, said: 'It was more or less a racing accident but a very stupid one. Damon was just being greedy, butting his nose on the outside. It would have had to be a miracle move to pass at the start of the Monaco Grand Prix because it is a bottleneck. After the race I was just sitting there biting my teeth. For Damon to call me 'demon' is a good one - I don't say demon, I say Damon.'
Andrea de Cesaris, in his final appearance for Jordan-Hart before handing back to Eddie Irvine, was fourth, Jean Alesi, in the other Ferrari, fifth, and Michele Alboreto, for Minardi- Ford, sixth. Johnny Herbert retired his Lotus-Mugen Honda with gearbox trouble.
DETAILS FROM MONTE CARLO
MONACO GRAND PRIX: 1 M Schumacher (Ger) Benetton-Ford 1hr 49min 55.372sec (ave speed 88.046mph, 141.690kph); 2 M Brundle (GB) McLaren-Peugeot +37.278sec; 3 G Berger (Aut) Ferrari +1min 16.824sec; 4 A de Cesaris (It) Jordan-Hart +1 lap; 5 J Alesi (Fr) Ferrari; 6 M Alboreto (It) Minardi-Ford; 7 J J Lehto (Fin) Benetton-Ford all +1 lap; 8 O Beretta (Fr) Larrousse-Ford; 9 O Panis (Fr) Ligier-Renault both +2 laps; 10 E Comas (Fr) Larrousse-Ford +3 laps; 11 P Lamy (Por) Lotus-Mugen Honda +5 laps. Did not finish: J Herbert (GB) Lotus-Mugen Honda 68 laps completed; P Belmondo (Fr) Pacific-Ilmor 53; B Gachot (Bel) Pacific-Ilmor 49; C Fittipaldi (Bra) Footwork-Ford 47; D Brabham (Aus) Simtek-Ford 45; M Blundell (GB) Tyrrell- Yamaha 40; U Katayama (Japan) Tyrrell- Yamaha 38; E Bernard (Fr) Ligier-Renault 34; R Barrichello (Bra) Jordan-Hart 27; D Hill (GB) Williams-Renault 0; M Hakkinen (Fin) McLaren-Peugeot 0; G Morbidelli (It) Footwork- Ford 0; P Martini (It) Minardi-Ford 0. Fastest lap: Schumacher 1min 21.076sec.
DRIVERS' CHAMPIONSHIP: 1 Schumacher 40pts; 2 Berger 10; 3= Barrichello, Hill 7; 5= N Larini (It), Brundle, Alesi 6; 8= Hakkinen, Katayama, K Wendlinger (Aut) 4; 11= Fittipaldi, De Cesaris 3; 13 H-H Frentzen (Ger) 2; 14= Comas, Alboreto 1.
CONSTRUCTORS' CHAMPIONSHIP: 1 Benetton-Ford 40pts; 2 Ferrari 16; 3= McLaren- Peugeot, Jordan-Hart 10; 5 Williams-Renault 7; 6 Sauber-Mercedes 6; 7 Tyrrell-Yamaha 4; 8 Footwork-Ford 3; 9= Larrousse-Ford, Minardi-Ford 1.
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