reports from Aida
Yet another post-race clash between Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill lent a final edge to the Pacific Grand Prix, which the German won to clinch his second consecutive World Championship.
The race had effectively ended on the 60th of its 83 laps at the point when Schumacher made his third and final pit stop and emerged from the pit lane with his lead over David Coulthard still intact. But for the Williams-Renault team the agony continued for another 23 humiliating laps.
"It's not over until everyone has done their final pit stop. Then you find out where you are on the track," Coulthard admitted. And having once nursed a massive lead of 36 seconds in the early stages, the Scot found that he was still four seconds adrift of Schumacher, and unable to challenge on worn tyres, when the showdown finally came. "If I'd come out ahead after my second stop I think it could have been close," he added. But the fact of the matter was that both he and team-mate, Damon Hill, were left to rue yet another race in which Schumacher - who had started behind both of them on the grid - had driven as if he had another gear.
Inevitably, comparisons will be drawn between Schumacher's ruthlessly probing style and that of the late Ayrton Senna, whose mantle he has taken over, and in clinching the world title this 18th triumph made him history's youngest double champion and confirmed him without question as Formula One's leading exponent.
He had cannily saved three new sets of tyres against the two of the Williams duo, but initially his plans went awry as Coulthard leapt into the lead from pole position and the aggressive Hill edged him wide in the first corner to counter his attempt to pass round the outside. Hill's move kept Schumacher at bay, but let the Ferrari duo of Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger into second and fourth places. Hill just held on between them but Schumacher temporarily dropped to fifth.
"At that point I didn't think I could win, only score the three points I needed to clinch the title," Schumacher said. "But as the race developed and the first pit stop was perfect I was able to pull in front of Damon and Alesi and start to catch David. The way the team has come up with strategies is unbelievable. There hasn't been one mistake this season."
Indeed, Hill's first stop underlined the paucity of Williams' efficiency in this area, and was compounded by a problem with the refuelling equipment which made his stop twice as long as Schumacher's. Both men had pitted on lap 19, together with Alesi, but Schumacher beat both on to the track again, and left Hill to struggle with Alesi as he himself pushed dramatically after Coulthard. The Scot admitted that he had committed himself to a two-stop strategy to the three of his main rivals, and Schumacher was able to catch and pass the Williams, make his final stop, and still win the day after a peerless display that highlighted his aggressive ability on a day when neither Williams driver seemed to have sufficient firepower in their overtaking armoury. Hill could only pass Alesi in the pits during their second stops, and by the time he did he had lost far too much ground. Coulthard lost time dearly in traffic and chased Schumacher home almost 15 seconds adrift. Behind Hill, a depressed Berger drove his heart out in a misfiring Ferrari but could finish no higher than a lapped fourth ahead of team-mate Alesi, who just fended off the persistent attentions of Johnny Herbert by a scant half-second.
On his way to his disappointing third place, 48.333sec behind Schumacher, Hill survived a bump into the back of Eddie Irvine's Jordan-Peugeot on the 24th lap, but was far more concerned afterwards with comments Schumacher had made to him about his tactics in the early stages. Hill had moved over to block Schumacher on the 11th lap in a tit-for-tat move that paid him back for the Belgian Grand Prix, and said with barely concealed anger: "Michael has told me he is not happy with what I did. I find that extraordinary, completely extraordinary. The FIA has just ruled that we are completely free to do what we like so long as it isn't dangerous, so I did. I drove in that style and he didn't like it, but he's got no grounds to complain."
On this day of days Schumacher was not about to let anything tarnish his celebrations, but responded in a censorial tone: "The regulations allow us to do this and I didn't see it as dangerous, but it is something between Damon and me which is why I spoke personally to him. It is something we should sort out ourselves."
Hill softened his comments by adding: "It has been a very tough fight this year but I am truly respectful of Michael's ability as a driver. He has shown on numerous occasions that he has extraordinary talent and speed, so congratulations."
Their battle for the 1995 World Championship may be over but, Hill's accolade notwithstanding, their mutual antipathy is clearly set to continue.
Details from Aida
PACIFIC GRAND PRIX (Aida, Japan, 83 laps, 190.98 miles): 1 M Schumacher (Ger) Benetton-Renault 1hr 48min 49.972sec (average speed 105.291mph); 2 D Coulthard (GB) Williams-Renault +14.920; 3 D Hill (GB) Williams-Renault +48.333; 4 G Berger (Aut) Ferrari +1 lap; 5 J Alesi (Fr) Ferrari +1; 6 J Herbert (GB) Benetton-Renault +1; 7 H-H Frentzen (Ger) Sauber-Ford +1; 8 O Panis (Fr) Ligier-Mugen Honda +2: 9 M Blundell (GB) McLaren-Mercedes +2; 10 J Magnussen (Den) McLaren-Mercedes +2; 11 E Irvine (GB) Jordan- Peugeot +2; 12 M Salo (Fin) Tyrrell-Yamaha +3; 13 P Lamy (Por) Minardi- Ford +3; 14 U Katayama (Japan) Tyrrell-Yamaha +3; 15 L Badoer (It) Minardi- Ford +3; 16 R Moreno (Bra) Forti-Ford +5; 17 P Diniz (Bra) Forti-Ford +6. Did not finish (not classified): 18 R Barrichello (Bra) Jordan-Peugeot 67 laps completed; 19 G Morbidelli (It) Footwork-Hart 53; 20 T Inoue (Japan) Footwork-Hart 38; 21 A Montermini (It) Pacific-Lotus-Ford 14; 22 A Suzuki (Japan) Ligier-Mugen-Honda 10; 23 J-C Boullion (Fr) Sauber-Ford 7; 24 B Gachot (Fr) Pacific-Lotus-Ford 2.
Fastest lap: Schumacher 1:16.374 (108.934mph).
World Drivers' Championship standings (after 15 races): 1 Schumacher 92pts (Schumacher wins drivers' title); 2 Hill 59; 3 Coulthard 49; 4 Alesi 42; 5 Herbert 41; 6 Berger 31; 7 Frentzen 15; 8= Barrichello, M Hakkinen (Fin) 11; 10 Blundell 10.
Formula One Constructors' Championship standings (after 15 races): 1 Benetton 123pts; 2 Williams 102; 3 Ferrari 73; 4 McLaren 21; 5= Jordan, Sauber 18; 7 Ligier 16; 8 Tyrrell 2; 9 Footwork 1.
* Benetton deducted 10pts and Williams six for fuel irregularities.Reuse content