Motor racing: Wendlinger in 'deep coma' after accident: Grand prix fraternity left fearing another fatality after Austrian crashes during practice for Sunday's race in Monaco

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The Independent Online
ANOTHER driver lay critically ill in hospital last night as the curse on Formula One refused any respite. Austria's Karl Wendlinger sustained head injuries when he crashed during practice for Sunday's Monaco Grand Prix here.

Wendlinger, a compatriot of Roland Ratzenberger, killed at Imola a fortnight ago, was in a deep coma and on a ventilator. He had bruising and swelling of the brain.

The 25-year-old Sauber-Mercedes driver lost control of his car plunging down the hill from the Tunnel to the Harbour Chicane, just before the end of the unofficial practice session. Braking down from 180mph, the car slewed sideways into a watertank barrier between the track and the escape road. His head was said to have struck the barrier.

In a statement, his team said: 'The telemetry data failed to reveal anything indicating a technical defect.' It was noted, however, that Wendlinger had braked 13 metres later than on his previous, fastest lap.

Wendlinger was lifted from the car by track marshals and driven to the Princess Grace hospital here before being transferred to the intensive care unit of Saint Roch hospital, in Nice.

There, Professor Dominic Grimaud confirmed the driver's condition was serious. He added there would be no further announcement 'until tomorrow, except in the case of an important change in his condition'.

Sauber's other driver, Heinz-Harald Frentzen, took no part in the afternoon qualifying session.

Wendlinger made his Formula One debut in 1991 with Leyton House and rejoined Sauber for the launch of their grand prix venture at the beginning of last season. He is currently eighth in the title standings.

Emergency meetings are already under way and continue today. There is a growing belief that a major overhaul of Formula One is now imperative. Patrick Faure, head of Renault Sport, yesterday urged a co-ordinated safety campaign which, he suggested, should be led by Alain Prost, the retired four-times world champion.

Last night, Max Mosley, president of FIA, the governing body, met the Formula One Constructors' Association and accepted its recommendation for an 80kph speed limit in the pit lane here, where restrictions had been made already. The constructors also called for a review of safety precautions on existing circuits with particular emphasis on the possible consequences of car failure or driver error. It was agreed that an experienced driver should participate in this review and nominated Gerhard Berger.

His fellow Austrian Niki Lauda, three times world champion, survivor of an horrific crash in 1976, dedicated safety crusader and now a consultant to Ferrari, rejected any proposal to suspend the season. He said: 'Sunday's race should not be called off. It's not the way.

Instead we must take steady progress, race by race, to find out what is happening.'

Lauda's case was supported by a current competitor, Johnny Herbert, who had his lower legs seriously injured in a crash six years ago. The Lotus-Mugen Honda driver said: 'Death and danger are all part of the sport and we are all willing to take the risks. If it happened to me I wouldn't expect them to call off the race.

'Maybe they will but that would be a strange decision because it doesn't seem that any of the accidents were connected. It is ridiculous to suggest Formula One should be stopped. If the public don't want to come any more because of the accidents, then we might have to try again. But I don't feel more trepidation.'

Prince Rainier reportedly said he may cancel the race if Wendlinger dies, but Mosley insisted that was a decision for the race director alone. Jacky Ickx, the former sportscar and Formula One racer, said track directors sometimes had to take hard decisions. 'I was criticised for stopping this race 10 years ago,' he said, 'but I was only concerned about saving lives.'

The other drivers contested the first qualifying session unaware of the severity of Wendlinger's injuries. Here, on the track, was an

eerily presented gauge of what the sport had already lost. In the absence of Senna, winner of this race six times in the past seven years,

Michael Schumacher claimed provisional pole with ease. His Benetton-Ford was 1.3sec clear of his closest challenger, Britain's Martin Brundle, in a McLaren-Peugeot. Mika Hakkinen, in the other McLaren, was third, followed by the Ferrari pair, Berger and Jean Alesi. The sole Williams-Renault driver, Damon Hill, was a subdued sixth. Mark Blundell in a Tyrrell- Yamaha was ninth and Herbert 13th.

MONACO GRAND PRIX (Monte Carlo, 3.328km, 2.069 miles) First qualifying times: 1 M Schumacher (Ger) Benetton-Ford 1min 20.230sec (169.330kph, 92.809mph); 2 M Brundle (GB) McLaren- Peugeot 1:21.580; 3 M Hakkinen (Fin) McLaren-Peugeot 1:21.881; 4 G Berger (Aut) Ferrari 1:22.038; 5 J Alesi (Fr) Ferrari 1:22.521; 6 D Hill (GB) Williams-Renault 1:22.605; 7 P Martini (It) Minardi-Ford 1:23.162; 8 E Comas (Fr) Larrousse-Ford 1:23.514; 9 M Blundell (GB) Tyrrell-Yamaha 1:23.522; 10 G Morbidelli (It) Footwork-Ford 1:23.580; 11 C Fittipaldi (Bra) Footwork-Ford 1:23.588; 12 J J Lehto (Fin) Benetton-Ford 1:23.885; 13 J Herbert (GB) Lotus-Mugen Honda 1:24.103; 14 O Beretta (Fr) Larrousse-Ford 1:24.126; 15 U Katayama (Japan) Tyrrell-Yamaha 1:24.488; 16 A de Cesaris (It) Jordan-Hart 1:24.519; 17 R Barrichello (Bra) Jordan-Hart 1:24.731; 18 O Panis (Fr) Ligier-Renault 1:25.115; 19 M Alboreto (It) Minardi-Ford 1:25.421; 20 P Lamy (Por) Lotus-Mugen Honda 1:25.859; 21 D Brabham (Aus) Simtek-Ford 1:26.690; 22 E Bernard (Fr) Ligier-Renault 1:27.694; 23 J Belmondo (Fr) Pacific-Ilmor 1:29.984; 24 B Gachot (Bel) Pacific-Ilmor 1:48.173. Did not start: H-H Frentzen (Ger) Sauber-Mercedes; K Wendlinger (Aut) Sauber-Mercedes.

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