JULY 12, 1999

Schumacher out of action

MICHAEL SCHUMACHER crashed heavily during the opening lap of the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. The Ferrari star's F399 suffered a rear brake failure at Stowe Corner and went straight off at around 130mph. The sand trap barely slowed the car at all and Schumacher hit the wall - which was protected by tires - almost head on. It was a huge accident. The Ferrari stood up very well to the impact but the double World Champion suffered two broken bones in his lower right leg. According to Ferrari, the breaks to the tibia and the fibula bones are clean and Michael should have a relatively quick recovery. He underwent an operation on Sunday afternoon at Northampton General Hospital and this should help speed up the recovery. It remains to be seen how long it will take Michael to recover but he will be aiming to be back in action as soon as possible in order to maintain his World Championship challenge.

Schumacher will almost certainly have to miss the Austrian Grand Prix and it is unlikely that he will be fit to race at Hockenheim - a week later. He could rush back but it is likely that he will be warned against that by surgeons because a second crash could cause much worse damage if the bones are weak. Rushing back from leg injuries is a dangerous business and can cause long-term damage. French racer Eric Bernard destroyed his F1 career in 1991 by trying to get back into action too quickly. He did too much training and broke his leg a second time and was not fully fit until a year after the accident, although he later recovered sufficiently to finish second in the German Grand Prix in 1994. Surgery may help speed up the healing process but it may also mean that Schumacher will have metal screws in his legs and that too can cause problems as Olivier Panis discovered after his crash in Montreal in 1997.

Schumacher's crash presents Ferrari with a difficult problem as the German is now second equal in the World Championship with his Ferrari team-mate Eddie Irvine. Ferrari will want Irvine to score as many points as possible while Schumacher is out of action - to maintain the team's challenge in the Constructors' title, but this will mean that Schumacher will be behind Irvine in the Drivers' title and might need the German to support him in the battle with McLaren's Mika Hakkinen.

There is also the problem of who Ferrari will put into the team for the next few races. The obvious choice is Minardi's LucaƊBadoer, who is the team's test driver and has a lot of experience in the F399. Having said that Badoer has not shown himself to be on the pace of Irvine and Schumacher and Ferrari might prefer to give another more experienced driver a test and run him in the next few races. The obvious candidate is Mika Salo who is highly-rated by Ferrari's Jean Todt and who has been racing this year with British American Racing.

We expect that the team will not act until it becomes clear exactly how long it will be before Schumacher will be ready to return to action.

If Badoer does switch to Ferrari, he is likely to be replaced at Minardi by Frenchman Stephane Sarrazin, who stood in for Badoer when he was injured earlier in the season.