Rush of blood overtakes simple road sense

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The Independent Online
In the grandstand across from the pit lane at Silverstone hung a banner quite explicit in its instruction. "If all else fails, ram him Damon". Going into Priory corner on the 46th lap Damon Hill performed a manoeuvre to suggest he had taken this advice quite literally.

Of course, this was not the case but a rash attempt to take Michael Schumacher on the inside through a gap which might have been difficult to negotiate in a Mini, resulting in disaster for both of them. Coming to rest on gravel, their high-powered machines had suddenly the look of abandoned ploughshares.

For such careless and dangerous driving on the highway, Hill would be looking at a lengthy suspension. If he had been on a horse, enforced inactivity would be inevitable. That Schumacher was severely reprimanded by the race stewards, along with Hill, is astonishing.

As Hill had 14 laps in which to recover the advantage cancelled out by Benetton's pit-stop strategy and just 0.4sec separated them, there was no need for him to take the sort of chance that Formula One drivers are only expected to employ as a last desperate resort.

In fact, overtaking at the head of the field has become a most difficult move. As a result races develop frequently into a procession, the result, barring misfortune or errors, dictated by pole position and computerised strategy. It was developing that way at Silverstone yesterday. More boffins than speedsters. The edge Hill gained from achieving his fourth pole position of the season was lost when he made the first of two pit stops ahead of Schumacher, who did not plan to leave track more than once. Overtaking did not come into it until the British driver had a rush of blood to the head.

Overtaking is a matter to which a number of officials in Formula One are giving serious attention. They want to keep the sport as safe as possible but many people believe that because overtaking is central to the excitement cars should be set up to make it less risky. Personally thinking, aerodynamics is an abiding mystery but apparently some benefits could come from what is known as reducing the downward pressure.

At least yesterday's race was different. A fresh winner on the podium. In his 71st grand prix drive Johnny Herbert got to open the first bottle of champagne. A majority in the crowd of 90,000 came to cheer Hill and ended up applauding a 25-1 outsider.

That many of them bother to attend is a tribute to their enthusiasm, endurance and patience. Is there another country in the world where sports fans would willingly suffer the privations of simply getting to Silverstone. The appalling traffic arrangements encountered in the Northamptonshire countryside.

Considering the vast profits involved it is time the promoters of the event got a grip of the fact that if some punters are coming in by helicopter, the rest are not arriving by stagecoach.

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