MOTOR RACING: Sparring over Spa incident heats up

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The Independent Online
FERRARI AND McLaren- Mercedes issued conflicting communiques yesterday as the controversy over the Spa incident developed into a strategic cold war.

As Michael Schumacher and David Coulthard began preparations for the Italian Grand Prix at Monza on Sunday week, their teams were again professing they were not to blame for the collision that cost the German the championship lead and so incensed him he accused the Scot of trying to kill him.

Ferrari were first off the grid with a new statement, followed later by McLaren's rejoiner. Schumacher had already called on Coulthard to agree a peace pact, and now the British team have invited their counterparts to a private meeting to end the public wrangling.

The stewards threw out Ferrari's protest but the Italians are clearly intent on sustaining the pressure in the build-up to this crucial race, which McLaren's Mika Hakkinen starts with a seven-point advantage.

McLaren are conscious they face an angry backlash - fears confirmed yesterday when the 27-year-old Scot was met with banners saying "Coulthard Killer" and "Licensed To Kill By Mercedes" while testing at Monza - and are planning their security measures. A public accord of some sort with Ferrari would make life more comfortable for them.

Ferrari stated: "After some misleading interpretations of the dangerous accident with David Coulthard's McLaren, which led to the elimination of Michael Schumacher's Ferrari from the Belgian Grand Prix, Ferrari has once again examined all the various film and photographic evidence from the Grand Prix in Belgium. This shows without doubt that:

"1 For almost an entire lap, Coulthard ignored the blue flags and never gave way to Schumacher, even though he had several opportunities to do so, as required by the rules.

"2 On several occasions Michael Schumacher moved off line to show Coulthard his car was there, before maintaining the correct gap between them, as former Formula One driver Ivan Capelli said in his live broadcast on RAI [an Italian TV station].

"3 Coulthard's sudden deceleration, while on the racing line, was sudden and before he needed to do so. Given the poor visibility, the accident was unavoidable, despite Schumacher making every effort to do so.

"Ferrari will make no further statement about what happened and considers the incident closed. We now look forward to a return to a climate of good relationships between the teams."

McLaren replied: "It was understandable that immediately following this incident emotions were running high and incorrect conclusions reached. It is our regret this incident occurred and that its subsequent interpretation by Ferrari has challenged the integrity of our team and driver. It is clear the incident was accidental and a consequence of the actions of both drivers involved who were competing in appalling weather conditions.

"At no time leading to the incident did David Coulthard apply the brakes or lift from the throttle, he was merely driving in a manner which would allow Michael Schumacher to pass. The stewards concluded the accident was a racing incident.

"We wish to continue to compete in a sporting manner and not become involved in a protracted public discussion with Ferrari on the incident but extend an invitation to discuss the matter further in private if there is a wish to do so."