Schumacher's refusal forces rift with Williams

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The Independent Online

As Toyota vacillates over replacing one of their current drivers with new signing Jarno Trulli in time for next week's Japanese Grand Prix, the Italian's 2005 partner in the Japanese team, Ralf Schumacher, might also find himself unexpectedly available.

As Toyota vacillates over replacing one of their current drivers with new signing Jarno Trulli in time for next week's Japanese Grand Prix, the Italian's 2005 partner in the Japanese team, Ralf Schumacher, might also find himself unexpectedly available. The German incensed his BMW Williams paymasters after refusing to get back into a healthy car during Sunday's Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai.

The race marked Schumacher's return to racing after a 12-week lay-off following his accident in the US Grand Prix at Indianapolis in June. He was fighting for fourth place with Fernando Alonso and David Coulthard when a collision with the Scot's McLaren on the 37th lap forced him into the pits with a puncture. After a delay while refuelling the car of team-mate Juan Pablo Montoya, Schumacher was given new tyres but refused to rejoin the race.

"Ralf was told to pull out of the way because Juan was due in for his final pit stop," Sir Frank Williams, the team chief, said. "We weren't sure whether there was suspension-damage or anything hanging off Ralf's car, so it was deemed safer not to continue." Later, however, Williams hardened his stance, telling Germany's Bild newspaper: "I can't understand Ralf's behaviour, the incident could have consequences for him." Schumacher's body language at the time was crystal clear as he angrily made a crossed-forearms gesture in the back of the pits indicating that he had no intention of restarting the race. "I'm supposed to have shown unsportsmanlike conduct?" he asked in Bild. "They didn't want me in the box [pit] because they were waiting for Montoya. After I turned the engine off, suddenly I was supposed to climb back in. But I was already a minute behind." The incident is the latest in a series of rows between Schumacher and the team which he is leaving in order to join Toyota. Team sources say he will be dropped early, though test driver Antonio Pizzonia, may have jeopardised his chances by spraining his ankle in a fall in his hotel in Shanghai.

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