Schumacher quick but Mosley sharp

motor racing
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The Independent Online
Max Mosley, the president of FIA, the sport's governing body, yesterday demanded that Formula One's protagonists adopt a more adult approach to their jobs to uphold sporting ethics here. Their immediate response was grown up enough and did the image of the game no harm at all.

Mosley, speaking before the first qualifying session for tomorrow's San Marino Grand Prix, expressed displeasure with the drivers in general for public opposition to new super licence requirements, with the world champion, Michael Schumacher, in particular, over the circumstances of his mysterious weight loss in Brazil and with Elf for challenging the ruling on their fuel at that first race of the season.

He contended the drivers' delay in signing their super licences was "a complete waste of time and very childish". He also said: "It was unfortunate the world champion should get involved in a misunderstanding over how much he did or did not weigh. It shows lack of an adult attitude."

Schumacher and the rest then went to work and produced a gripping and highly competitive contest that remained in the balance until the final lap. The Benetton-Renault driver held provisional pole by 0.008sec from Ferrari's Gerhard Berger. David Coulthard and Damon Hill, the Williams- Renault pair, were just behind, followed by Jean Alesi in the other Ferrari. The first five were covered by half a second.

Afterwards Schumacher said: "Max Mosley and I have not had a word together since before Brazil and I have had no opportunity to explain the situation. It may be there should be a conversation between us to explain it and he may judge it differently. It would be wrong for me to comment more. I would rather hear it directly from him."

Benetton appear to have made a significant step forward since the last race, but while Ferrari and Williams had both their drivers in the frame the German's team-mate, Johnny Herbert, was more than two seconds adrift in eighth place.

Ferrari seem to have maintained their progress, Berger's late thrust emphasising the point. The upshot is that we have three teams at the sharp end and the prospect of ever closer racing.

Alesi put down his marker early in the session but Coulthard's reply took him to the top of the timesheets. Schumacher was next up, only to fall to Hill. Schumacher fended off another charge from Coulthard to reassert himself and even Berger's heroic effort was not quite sufficient.

Coulthard said: "It's quite amazing what Ferrari have done. We know we have our work cut out to get in front of them. The grid at the front is very close and it makes it very exciting to watch, and that's good for the sport."

Hill, relieved to get his act together after a relatively modest showing in unofficial practice on Thursday, said: "It was exciting and very close. I expect it to stay that way. I still believe we have the best car/engine combination and it's up to me to get the best out of it."

Coulthard's development in the year since he took over from Ayrton Senna is hugely impressive, though while most observers await the first signs of friction between him and Hill, the British drivers are, so far, role models of adulthood. Coulthard's graduation has earned the admiration of Schumacher, and he doubtless also hopes divisions in the Williams camp will enable him to continue ruling the world championship.

Schumacher, who admitted he would rather not have returned to the track, albeit much altered, that claimed the lives of Senna and Roland Ratzenberger 12 months ago, said: "I think David is getting better and better and he's giving Damon a harder time. He's doing a fantastic job."

The group immediately behind Alesi is led by Mika Hkkinen, in a McLaren- Mercedes, Eddie Irvine, in a Jordan-Peugeot, Herbert and Nigel Mansell, in the second McLaren.

Mansell, rejected by Williams when they signed Coulthard, also credited the Scot with a "fantastic job". The 41-year-old former champion said: "There was a bit of disappointment for me not going to Williams, but I'd like to congratulate David.

"It will take me another two or three races to get up to speed," he added, "but sooner, rather than later, I'm sure we can be competitive and challenge Williams, Benetton and Ferrari."

SAN MARINO GRAND PRIX (Imola) First qualifying session: 1 M Schumacher (Ger) Benetton-Renault 1min 27.274sec (ave speed 121.149mph); 2 G Berger (Aut) Ferrari 1:27.282; 3 D Coulthard (GB) Williams-Renault 1:27.459; 4 D Hill (GB) Williams-Renault 1:27.537; 5 J Alesi (Fr) Ferrari 1:27.813; 6 M Hkkinen (Fin) McLaren-Mercedes 1:28.343; 7 E Irvine (GB) Jordan-Peugeot 1:28.516; 8 J Herbert (GB) Benetton-Renault 1:29.403; 9 N Mansell (GB) McLaren-Mercedes 1:29.517; 10 R Barrichello (Bra) Jordan-Peugeot 1:29.580; 11 G Morbidelli (It) Footwork-Hart 1:29.582; 12 O Panis (Fr) Ligier-Mugen Honda 1:30.801; 13 M Salo (Fin) Tyrrell-Yamaha 1:31.221; 14 H-H Frentzen (Ger) Sauber-Ford 1:31.358; 15 U Katayama (Japan) Tyrrell-Yamaha 1:31.630; 16 J Verstappen (Neth) Simtek-Ford 1:32.156; 17 A Suzuki (Japan) Ligier- Mugen Honda 1:32.297; 18 P Martini (It) Minardi-Ford 1:32.445; 19 T Inoue (Japan) Footwork-Hart 1:32.988; 20 L Badoer (It) Minardi-Ford 1:33.071; 21 K Wendlinger (Aut) Sauber-Ford 1:33.494; 22 B Gachot (Fr) Pacific Lotus-Ford 1:33.892; 23 D Schiattarella (It) Simtek-Ford 1:33.965; 24 A Montermini (It) Pacific Lotus-Ford 1:35.169; 25 P Diniz (Bra) Forti- Ford 1:36.686; 26 R Moreno (Bra) Forti-Ford 1:37.612.