Top Stories from the Sports pages of the International Herald Tribune,
Monday, August 31, 1998

Hill Endures Rain and Fog to Capture Belgian Grand Prix

Race Is Marred By Accidents

By Brad Spurgeon International Herald Tribune
SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium - Damon Hill drove his Jordan Mugen Honda to victory through nearly constant rain and fog on Sunday in a Belgian Grand Prix that was marred virtually from start to finish by accidents and spinouts, one of which led to a pit-lane confrontation between two of the leading drivers.

It was the first victory for the Jordan team after 127 races. It was Hill's 22d victory and his third at Spa but his first since the Japanese Grand Prix in 1996, when he clinched the world championship that year in a Williams.

The race in Belgium was supposed to be a showdown between the two championship leaders, Mika Hakkinen and Michael Schumacher. Neither finished.

Schumacher, who had won at Spa four times, rammed into the back of David Coulthard's McLaren on the 25th lap of the race when visibility was at its worst. Schumacher, who was leading by more than half a minute at the time, lost a wheel in the incident.

Driving on three wheels, Schumacher followed Coulthard's damaged McLaren back to the pits and got out of his car as several members of his Ferrari team tried to hold him back. He then marched over to the McLaren garage and he confronted Coulthard. ''You tried to kill me,'' Schumacher reportedly said.

After the race, the stewards judged the accident to be ''a racing incident'' and decided that no action would be taken against either driver. Coulthard's McLaren team said its driver was slowing down to let Schumacher pass.

''I am very annoyed about what happened,'' Schumacher said. ''It was clear that we would have taken the lead in the championship, as I was by far the fastest car on the track. Coulthard seemed to be running 5 to 6 seconds slower than his real pace once I was behind him. He has the experience to know that you do not slow down on a straight like that without giving any warning.''

Hakkinen, Coulthard's teammate, had spun out at the first corner after the second start while trying to defend his position against Schumacher.

Schumacher, Hakkinen and Hill were part of a group of only seven drivers to escape a gigantic pile-up down the second straightaway after the first corner on the first start.

Coulthard came in contact with Eddie Irvine's Ferrari at the hairpin and spun into the middle of the track. The two cars went spinning off, setting in motion a chain reaction that would put every car in the race from the 10th back to the 21st out of action. The last man of the pack, Esteban Tuero, driving a Minardi, managed to slalom through the wreckage untouched.

It was one of the worst pile-ups in recent Formula One history, but, miraculously, none of the drivers were injured. Four were unable to return to the race since their teams did not have an extra car.

After the race restarted, however, the downpour increased and things grew worse. Two laps after Schumacher ran into Coulthard, Giancarlo Fisichella ran his Benetton into the back of Shinji Nakano's Minardi in an almost identical incident. The Benetton was destroyed but Fisichella was unhurt.

Because the Benetton came to rest in the middle of the track, the safety car came out. There were still 18 laps to go, but only 6 cars were left in the race although Coulthard and Nakano returned to the track after repairs.

The last 15 laps became a battle for victory between Hill, his teammate Ralf Schumacher, and Jean Alesi in a Sauber.

Hill covered the 44 laps of the 6.968 kilometer (4.32 mile) track in 1 hour, 43 minutes and 47 seconds for an average speed of 177.229 kilometers an hour (109.881 miles per hour). His victory, along with his teammate's second place finish, put the Jordan team in fifth place in the constructors title championship race.

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