Motor Racing: Sharp-eyed Schumacher's slick success

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Michael Schumacher became the third youngest winner of a Formula One World championship race here yesterday and took still more gloss off Williams-Renault's double success.

Schumacher, at 23, had the wit to make a perfectly timed pit stop in ever-changing conditions and then the assistance of an exhaust failure which kept the charging Mansell at bay in an enthralling Belgian Grand Prix. Only the Belgian Jacky Ickx, in 1968, and Bruce McLaren, in 1959, were younger when taking victory laurels.

Mansell's second place confirmed Williams as constructors champions two weeks after he had secured the drivers' title. Riccardo Patrese, also afflicted by an exhaust problem towards the end, came in third, underlining the consistency of the team this season. Cue celebrations in the Anglo-French camp. Strangely, it was not quite like that. Renault tried their best, serving up bubbly and cake. But the Williams compound was distinctly subdued and their managing director, Frank Williams, left the circuit without speaking to Mansell.

Over on the Isle of Man, meanwhile, Mansell will be pondering his future, his patience now stretched by the apparent lack of progress in negotiations for a new contract. He said: 'I am going back home to relax and collate all the information I have about everything and then make up my own mind. I am not going to wait any longer. I am going to do what is right for Nigel Mansell and his family.

'I understand Renault have stated here that signing me is their number one priority. Well, if I am No 1, they (Williams) have a strange way of showing it. I am thankful to all the team for the world championship but I don't think anyone could have done more for them than Riccardo and I have done and we are very disappointed we cannot be staying together as team-mates. The one thing that is clear is that all sorts of shenanigans have been going on.'

Those 'shenanigans' have polluted the atmosphere around the Williams camp all weekend. Ayrton Senna's revelation that Alain Prost had the contractual muscle to keep him out of contention deepened Mansell's dismay, even if it perhaps improved his prospects of staying.

He felt insulted that, after becoming Britain's first world champion for 16 years, he could not be sure of keeping his job. He had been relegated to third choice. Williams, like Renault, have claimed they want Mansell to stay but have given little public evidence of such intent. If there is a stumbling block over money, there appears to have been no attempt to dismantle it.

The patent message in Mansell's response is that he may walk away from the sport, although this saga has taken so many twists we must be prepared for another. If Mansell is to announce his departure after making his 177th appearance, a record for a British driver, there is no doubt Formula One has acquired a new force in Schumacher.

The Benetton-Ford driver gave Germany its first grand prix victory since Jochen Mass, in 1975, on the circuit where he made his debut just 12 months ago. Martin Brundle completed another excellent team performance with fourth place. Senna, in the McLaren-Honda, took fifth place ahead of Mika Hakkinen's Lotus- Ford. Johnny Herbert was seventh when the engine of his Lotus-Ford stopped on the penultimate lap.

Senna beat Mansell to the first corner but the Englishman and his Italian colleague moved ahead on the second lap and the scene seemed set for a familiar story. The capricious elements of the Ardenne, however, were to direct a thriller with an unlikely ending. A drizzle became a downpour and the principals darted into the pits for wet tyres. All except Senna. He felt a gamble on staying out was his only hope but this time his strategy backfired. By the time he changed, the race was beyond reach.

Again Mansell took over, despite a bump from Jean Alesi's Ferrari, only for the rain to ease and a dry line to appear on the road. A mistake took Schumacher across the grass and behind Brundle, in fourth place, on the 30th lap, and he noticed blisters on his colleague's tyres. He took the crucial decision to switch back to slick tyres.

The rest duly followed, but confusion between the Williams drivers and their crew delayed their stops. Mansell was still able to advance within three seconds of Schumacher with six laps remaining and we prepared for the gripping final act. Unfortunately for Mansell, his exhaust gave in, he lost power, and the chase was over.

Schumacher, whose home town of Kerpen is just 100 kilometres from here, said: 'I had a funny feeling earlier today that I might win. I had tears in my eyes when I raced in my own country, but this has made me really cry. It's something crazy.'

Antonio Sassetti, the Italian owner of the Andrea Moda team, was arrested by Belgian police at the racetrack on Saturday. He was held overnight after being charged with forging documents concerning payment for spare parts. The Andrea Moda cars, driven by Britain's Perry McCarthy and Brazil's Roberto Moreno, failed to qualify for yesterday's race.