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Germany goes to war with Austria

A childish war of words between F1 drivers Gerhard Berger and Michael Schumacher has escalated in recent days to such an extent that it could all end in libel action.

After being awarded his victory in Brazil by the FIA International Court of Appeal 10 days ago, Schumacher said that he could not understand why Berger was upset at losing the victory at Interlagos.

"If Berger had shown as much talent behind the wheel as he has in public relations, he would have won more races," said the piqued German.

Berger was swift to reply, telling Austrian television that "Schumacher is an insensitive egoist capable of spraying champagne at Imola just after someone has been killed."

Schumacher riposted that Berger's memory was faulty because there had not been any champagne on the podium after Ayrton Senna's death at Imola last season.

Berger then attacked again, saying that Schumacher had "jumped in the air like a clown after his San Marino win" and went on to say that the German had "let it be known in Brazil that he had lost 6kgs during the race." This, said the Austrian, was "completely impossible" and he accused Schumacher of being "a liar".

It will be interesting to see if Schumacher disputes this charge as most of the F1 paddock is of a similar opinion to Berger with regard to Schumacher's involvement in the controversy over driver weights in Interlagos. It is ironic that it should be Berger who is attacking Schumacher, because Gerhard also put on a surprising amount of weight before the driver weigh-in.

The dispute has kept the European press amused, but there is a serious consideration to be taken into account. Schumacher and Berger are supposed to be the two leading lights in the Grand Prix Drivers Association; and if they are willing to attack one another so blatantly, there is little hope of the drivers having any say in the decision-making processes of the sport.

On a personal level, the public slanging match will not do much for Schumacher's current disenchantment with F1, which he believes is victimizing him. Michael recently told the German press that he has even considered quitting F1 because everyone seems to be against him. There are many in F1 who feel that Schumacher's paranoia is self-induced because he has chosen to surround himself with a bunch of yes-men and flunkies, who never question anything he says or does and, as a result, he has lost touch with reality.

Interestingly, there were one or two Benetton team members who quietly said the same to us in Argentina recently...

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