SEPTEMBER 11, 1995

The Monza crash

MICHAEL SCHUMACHER and Damon Hill seem to be unable to avoid hitting one another at the moment.

MICHAEL SCHUMACHER and Damon Hill seem to be unable to avoid hitting one another at the moment. Having collided in Adelaide last year and again at Silverstone in July, they banged wheels in Belgium, Schumacher receiving a one-race ban suspended for four races, and at Monza last weekend they collided again, while battling for second place in the Italian Grand Prix.

The accident came when they were trying to lap Arrows driver Taki Inoue. The two had a lively argument about the incident; "I turned into the corner not expecting anything," said Schumacher. "Suddenly I felt a big bang and Damon went into me."

Hill blamed Inoue - who twice veered into Damon's path - trying to get out of the way. This caused Hill to brake a fraction later than normal and he slid into the back of Schumacher's Benetton. With the speed of the cars at that point on the circuit and the power of the current F1 brakes, a tenth of a second can make a difference of many feet. "It was just ridiculous," said Hill. "Inoue let Schumacher past and then blocked me and then moved out of the way again. Obviously Michael was very upset but I am upset too. I would never ever want to tangle deliberately or have an accident like that."

Experienced F1 observers were split on why the crash had happened but all agreed that Inoue had been a major factor. Some suggested that Hill had simply made a mistake while distracted by the hopeless Japanese driver; the Benetton team appeared to think that Hill had done it deliberately and protested. Hill explained to the stewards that he had braked late because of Inoue and was not able to avoid the collision. Benetton refused to accept that and insisted that the protest be carried through.

There were, however, observers who reckoned that Schumacher braked earlier than normal intending to trap Damon behind Inoue in the chicane and thus create a gap between the two of them. This backfired because Hill was paying attention to Inoue and not to the Benetton. This explanation is possible although Michael stressed how late he was braking. The videos of the accident left the question rather open.

The FIA stewards came to a curious decision, banning Hill for one race, suspended for one race. This did not suggest any guilt because the punishment would have been very severe if the move was deemed to be deliberate. But a suspended one race ban was a strange decision if Hill really did make an honest error.

"I cannot understand why I got four races when there was a general feeling I was not blame, yet Damon runs into me and only gets one race," said Schumacher after the verdict. This is actually a rather misleading statement as the "general feeling" to which Schumacher refers was not noticeable among our sources in the paddock. Hill accepted the decision of the stewards.

"I gave my version," said Damon, "but the verdict did not go with me."

Damon hinted that he thought Schumacher was to blame for the crash, adding that: "I can only assume he did not want me to get past."