Motor racing: `You tried to kill me' - Schumacher

Belgian Grand Prix: German driver confronts Coulthard in pits as Hill sweeps to a rare victory amid mayhem
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The Independent Online
EVEN BY the standards of this imperious and pernicious circuit, yesterday's Belgian Grand Prix can only be classified as astonishing. A race that started with one of the biggest pile-ups ever seen in Formula One ended with victory for Damon Hill and David Coulthard claiming he had been accused by Michael Schumacher of trying to kill him.

Coulthard vehemently defended himself against accusations of foul play after he was confronted by an irate Schumacher in the pits. Moments earlier, in heavy rain, the German's Ferrari had ploughed into the back of the Scotsman's McLaren, tearing off Schumacher's right front wheel and destroying his chance of taking the lead in the world championship from the other McLaren driver, Mika Hakkinen.

That left the road open, if by no means clear, for Hill to claim his first win in almost two years, and the first success for Eddie Jordan's team in their eighth season at this level. To complete the picture of achievement and irony, Ralf Schumacher, younger brother of Michael, finished second, his best placing.

Hill had been left in Schumacher's wake early in the race. The gap had opened to half a minute when Schumacher lined up his attack to overtake Coulthard on lap 25. Instead of emerging from the heavy spray en route to a three-point advantage over Hakkinen, a wheel and bodywork flew into the air. Schumacher was so incensed he drove his three-wheeler back to the pits at near racing speed and was accompanied in by Coulthard, who needed repairs.

Schumacher climbed out of his car and shrugged off engineers who tried to prevent him from marching towards the McLaren garage. There he angrily faced Coulthard before being hauled away.

"He came into the garage like an animal, saying I tried to kill him," said Coulthard, who finished a distant seventh. "I find his behaviour absolutely disgusting. If he wants to discuss it quietly, man to man, then fine, but this attitude is totally unacceptable. If he's accusing me of that, I've no interest in talking to him. Any allegations he's made are completely untrue and the video evidence will prove it."

Schumacher responded: "He brake-tested me. Obviously lifting on the straight like he did when I hit him is very dangerous. He has the experience to know you do not slow down on a straight like that without giving any warning."

Both drivers were called before the stewards, who decided that Coulthard had not slowed down and that the collision was merely a "racing incident".

"The team came on the radio and told me Michael was coming and asked me to move over," Coulthard said. "I moved well over to the right-hand side. Either he wasn't watching in front of him or there was poor visibility. I hadn't moved over or swerved. He just went straight into the back of me."

Coulthard dismissed the claim that he took Schumacher off to help team- mate Hakkinen. "It is understandable in this twisted world that people would suggest such a thing but you just have to watch the monitor," Coulthard said.

Eddie Irvine, driver of the other Ferrari, was also summoned to the stewards over his collision with Coulthard that triggered the first-lap mayhem that left the track covered with debris. Thirteen cars failed to make it back to the grid for the restart and many of them were destroyed. Amazingly, no driver was hurt, although Irvine limped away from the scene and had an ice-pack applied to his knee before they resumed business in atrocious conditions.

Four drivers had no spare car to drive and soon Hakkinen, too, was a spectator. He spun under attack from Schumacher, and was hit by Johnny Herbert's Sauber. Schumacher wriggled free to chase Hill.

For almost eight laps the Englishman resisted but as the rain fell harder the Ferrari went past. In one lap Schumacher opened a five-second lead and by the middle of the race had a half-minute advantage. It appeared he got unnecessarily close to Coulthard when he knew he was under no pressure to take risks. So now, he still trails Hakkinen by seven points, rather than leading by three.

Hill had maintained his consistent form and his 22nd grand prix win and the first since winning the 1996 Championship beckoned.

The safety car was sent out again as more wreckage was cleared from the track, allowing Ralf Schumacher to close up behind his team-mate.

Schumacher was ordered to hold station, but Jordan's strategy was complicated by the advance of Jean Alesi in third place. Eventually, Hill saw off the threat and took the flag less than a second ahead of Ralf Schumacher.

"I'm incredibly happy for Jordan because they try and try," Hill said. "It shows I can be competitive in another car apart from Williams."

BELGIAN GRAND PRIX

1 D Hill (GB) 10pts

Jordan-Mugen-Honda 1hr 43min 47.407sec

(Average speed 177.229kph)

2 R Schumacher 6pts

Jordan-Mugen-Honda +0.932sec

3 J Alesi (Fr) 4pts

Sauber-Petronas +7.240sec

4 H-H Frentzen (Ger) 3pts

Williams-Mecachrome +32.242sec

5 P Diniz (Bra) 2pts

Arrows +51.682sec

6 J Trulli (It) 1pt

Prost-Peugeot +2 laps

7 D Coulthard (GB) McLaren-Mercedes +5 laps; 8 S Nakano (Japan) Minardi- Ford +5 laps.

DID NOT FINISH/NOT CLASSIFIED

9 G Fisichella (It) Benetton-Mecachrome 26 laps completed;10 M Schumacher (Ger) Ferrari 25; 11 E Irvine (GB) Ferrari 25; 12 E Tuero (Arg) Minardi- Ford 17; 13 J Villeneuve (Can) Williams-Meca- chrome 16; 14 T Takagi (Japan) Tyrrell-Ford 10; 15 J Verstappen (Neth) Stewart-Ford 8; 16 M Hakkinen (Fin) McLaren- Mercedes 0; 17 A Wurz (Aut) Benetton-Mecachrome 0; 18 J Herbert (GB) Sauber-Petronas 0. Did not start: 19 R Barrichello (Bra) Stewart-Ford; 20 O Panis (Fr) Prost-Peugeot; 21 M Salo (Fin) Arrows; 22 R Rosset (Bra) Tyrrell-Ford.

CONSTRUCTORS' CHAMPIONSHIP

1 McLaren 125 pts; 2 Ferrari 102; 3 Williams 33; 4 Benetton 32; 5 Jordan 26; 6 Sauber 8; 7 Arrows 6; 8 Stewart 5; 9 Prost 1.

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