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When is an appeal not an appeal

BENETTON has withdrawn its appeal against Michael Schumacher's suspended one-race ban, imposed by the stewards of the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa eight days ago. The stewards had found Schumacher guilty of an infringement of the FIA code of driving conduct because he blocked Damon Hill and banged wheels with the British driver.

Schumacher protested his innocence - as he does in all matters - and the Benetton team announced it was going to appeal. A little sober thought, however, led the team to conclude that an appeal was a dangerous move as the FIA International Court of Appeal has the right to increase punishments if it considers an appeal to be groundless. The Spa stewards argued a very strong case in their report, citing interviews with Damon Hill and Schumacher and video evidence. It left Benetton with no possible new argument and so the team backed down.

Less charitable souls in the F1 paddock have even suggested that the appeal at Spa was from the outset little more than a cosmetic gesture, widely reported in the press after the decision to suggest that the team was opposed to the decision of the stewards but barely mentioned when it was dropped.

Benetton issued a ridiculous press statement when it withdrew the appeal saying that the decision had been taken "in the best interest of the sport".

The best interest of the sport, according to Damon Hill in a newspaper column last week, is to ensure that Schumacher cannot drive as he did at Spa.

"I feel it is important that driving standards are maintained at the top of the sport," said Hill. "Otherwise, things will degenerate into a free-for-all. It is my view that Schumacher has become entirely predictable when in a position where he knows he has either lost the advantage or thinks he cannot win. Then it would seem he will resort to any tactic in order to prevent anyone else winning."

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