Round 11, Belgian Grand Prix, Spa-Francorchamps
SUPERB DICE ENDS IN ANOTHER SCHU SUCCESS
1 Michael Schumacher (Benetton Renault)
2 Damon Hill (Williams Renault)
3 Martin Brundle (Ligier Mugen Honda)
4 Heinz-Harald Frentzen (Sauber Ford)
5 Mark Blundell (McLaren Mercedes)
6 Rubens Barrichello (Jordan Peugeot)
THROUGHOUT 1994 & 1995, Germany’s Michael Schumacher and Britain’s Damon Hill, shared some brilliant battles and controversial collisions. Their rivalry kept the neutrals interested in Grand Prix racing in the post Prost, Senna & Mansell days. In Belgium1995, their scrap will go down as one of the most aggressive and gruelling in their day as the kings of the pack.
The typical Ardennes forest weather played havoc with the title contenders in qualifying. Hill was back in 8th, following car problems and Schumacher even further behind in 16th after a shunt in the drier part of Saturday’s decisive session. This left Gerhard Berger heading team-mate Jean Alesi on an all-Ferrari front row. When the green lights came on, Berger faltered blocked Mika Hakkinen from the inside of the second row. Alesi led into La Source and despite an attack from the Benetton no.2 Johnny Herbert, the Frenchman led through Eau Rouge.
However, Herbert outbraked the Ferrari into Les Combes to lead over the line for the first time. Berger was third, followed by Hakkinen, David Coulthard and Hill already upto sixth. Leaving La Source for the second time, Hakkinen lost the rear end of the McLaren and stalled the engine, whilst Alesi repeated Herbert’s first lap trick to regain the lead. However, after four laps, he was in the pits. Alesi suspected a puncture on his car, but ultimately, suspension failure curtailed his afternoon. On lap five, Herbert dropped his Benetton onto the grass for a quick 180 degree pirouette whilst under pressure from Coulthard. He resumed sixth, behind team-mate Schumacher.
Five laps later and Schumacher easily removed Eddie Irvine from fourth position into the Bus Stop chicane. On lap 13, Coulthard coasted to a halt on the rundown towards Pouhon with gearbox failure. Hill inherited the lead from his luckless team-mate, extending his advantage slowly over the scrapping Berger and Schumacher. When Hill and Berger pitted on lap 16, Schumacher remarkably claimed the lead. Two quick laps were enough for the world champion to pit and rejoin infront of Berger. It didn’t matter too much in the end, as the struggling Austrian pulled the second Ferrari in with electrical malfunctions. At this stage, the rain came down, soaking the drying track.
There was another reminder of the dangers regarding refuelling when Irvine’s Jordan pitted, leaked fuel onto the burning engine cover and ignited around the driver as Eddie went to pull away. Amazingly, the Ulsterman appeared emerged unscathed as the flames were doused out in less than five seconds, due to fast work involving Jordan and Ligier mechanics. What next followed was why the fans love Formula One.
On Lap 22, Hill on wets had caught Schumacher, who gambled on the weather being just a brief shower. Quickly realising his disadvantage to the Williams, Schumacher used tactics which were pushing the boundaries of dangerous driving. Side-by-side through Les Combes, the Benetton and Williams cars wheel-banged and Damon appeared to be squeezed onto the damp kerb. There was no doubt what Hill thought, a deliberate attempt from his rival to knock him out of contention. On the next circuit, more water on the track caught Schumacher out at the same spot and he used the new art of lawnmower racing to get back on the road. Hill sped through, but just half a lap later, a small mistake from the Brit allowed the German back through. With some parts of the road bone dry and others soaking wet, the unpredictable weather was swaying the advantage between the pair backwards and forwards. Many drivers including Herbert and Olivier Panis pitted for dry tyres when the heavens finally opened. The Safety Car was deployed to neutralise the race and limit the damage for Hill. The 1994 winner in the stewards room had been another to have been caught out by the downpour and bungled on the wets while the pace car controlled the pack. Track position may have been lost, but there was still hope for a thrilling conclusion regarding the victory.
Sadly, he was awarded a stop-go penalty with ten laps to go for exceeding the pitlane speed limit. Hill’s engineer, David Brown was incensed with his driver, realising the chance of victory had disappeared in an instant. When the race restarted, Schumacher could relax with a 20 second advantage over former team-mate Martin Brundle, who had quietly snuck into second spot in his Ligier Mugen Honda. On the final lap, the determined Hill caught up with Brundle and was swarming all over the back of the Englishman, clearly struggling with grip from his tyres. On the Kemmel backstraight, the Ligier was overwhelmed by Damon, who outbraked Martin to claim second place back.
Out front, Schumacher claimed his 16th career victory from a distant 16th on the grid. For now, this had been his best drive of the wunderkid’s short career. Hill did well to recover to second, from a resolute Brundle, a charging Frentzen who recorded Sauber’s best result of the season, Blundell and Rubens Barrichello’s Jordan Peugeot. In parc ferme, Schumacher and Hill were having a lengthy debate over ‘that’ incident on Lap 22, clearly with difference of opinion on the incident. What could not be questioned though was the entertainment value for fans; this had turned into another Belgian belter.