JULY 17, 1995

The Silverstone crash

IF all else fails, ram him Damon" said a banner in the grandstand opposite the Williams pit at Silverstone last Sunday.

IF all else fails, ram him Damon" said a banner in the grandstand opposite the Williams pit at Silverstone last Sunday. The British race fan who waved it has quite clearly not forgotten the Hill-Schumacher accident in Adelaide last year. The crash ended Damon Hill's World Championship hopes and most observers blamed Schumacher for a deliberate take-out - a professional foul. Michael has always denied it.

At Silverstone Hill and Schumacher collided again and it was a similar case. Schumacher was ahead, Hill was challenging. The two were fighting for the lead as they dived into Priory Bend on lap 46 of the British Grand Prix. It looked like a racing incident. The blame could be shared between them. But there were a few slivers of doubt as to why the accident had occurred. Was it really a racing incident? Or had Schumacher lured Hill into a trap? How can one judge? The only man who really knows - as in Adelaide - is Michael himself. From one camera angle it looked as though Damon had completely overcooked the maneuver, but from an aerial camera it was clear that Michael had left Damon a lot of space going into the corner and had backed off slightly earlier than normal. Damon saw a chance and went for it. When Michael turned sharply back across the track, Damon stood on the brakes, but there was no way to avoid the impact and the pair sailed off into the sand trap.

"It was just like Adelaide," said Schumacher, which is about the worst thing he could have possibly come up with, given the circumstances in Australia.

The team press release quoted Michael throwing the blame squarely at Damon: "I think what Damon did was totally unnecessary. In fact it was really stupid. There was no room for two cars and there is no place to overtake there. If I hadn't been there I think he would have gone straight into the gravel. So, he had absolutely no reason to attempt an overtaking move at that time."

That was a valid point and one of which Damon was well aware. So why did Damon make the move?

"It was just a racing accident," said Damon. "I thought I saw an opportunity that I could take advantage of, but I am afraid that Michael is a harder man to pass than that and we had an accident."

Some of the people in the F1 paddock reckoned that on the lap before the accident Michael brake-tested Damon at Becketts and that the crash was also deliberate. If both retired neither would get points and so Schumacher would keep his 11 point lead in the championship. If Damon had got ahead the gap in the title race would be down to seven points and Hill could conceivably be in a position to take the lead in the World Championship at Hockenheim.

It all sounds rather unlikely, but the problem for Michael is that people actually believe that he is capable of such a move. Hill had absolutely nothing to gain from a wild move and the signs before the crash indicated that Michael was not going to be able to hold Damon back. He was locking wheels left, right and center before the collision and Hill closed on him like a hawk on a homing pigeon. The gap between them went down from 1.5s on lap 42 to 0.7s on lap 43 and 0.4s on lap 44. On lap 45, Michael was fractionally faster (on account of Michael's sudden slowing up through Becketts). On lap 46 came the crash.

The stewards later issued severe reprimands to both drivers - which was a very strange decision for a racing accident. They seemed to think that both drivers had been deliberately at fault: Schumacher luring him into the trap and Hill diving in, not caring if the move was successful.