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Reflections on the Belgian Grand Prix, or What Now, Damon?

1 September 1997

Andrew Frankl
European Bureau.Chief

The Belgian Grand Prix was proof yet again that Schumacher is in a class of his own. Not just as a driver but as a thinker, a strategist. Just like in Monaco where he guessed right he did it again at Spa. The wings were adjusted, the tyres were of the intermediate variety, all he had to do was pass Alesi and Villeneuve and from then on the race was for second place. Quite astonishing really how he can get it right and how Williams get it wrong every time circumstances change. Make no mistake, had it been bone dry all weekend all of Michael's brilliance could not have stopped Villeneuve from walking away with the race, the Williams was that superior. Or rather would have been.

The team is very good at a certain strategy but seem unable to improvise at the last moment. Maybe the generation gap which Frentzen keeps referring to is more real than imaginary. Let's face it- Frank and Patrick Head have been around for rather a long time.

Anyway, there it was, a humiliating defeat for just about everyone with the exception of Giancarlo Fisichella, the sensation of the year. No wonder Jordan and Benetton are fighting over him tooth and nail, in the eyes of many seasoned observers he is the next Schumacher.More so than brother Ralf who spends more time in the ditches and gravel traps than on the circuits. Mind you he will calm down one day, until then let us hope that he will keep on escaping without serious injuries.

The saga of Damon Hill continues to occupy the British papers. As I have already mentioned he turned down an offer from McLaren, suggesting that it was an insult. Most of us felt it was an offer he should have grabbed with both hands. Two million dollars plus a further million per win sounded pretty good to me. Apparently Dennis-a hard task-master if ever there was one- felt that there was a danger of Hill doing a "cruise & collect", a bit like Nigel Mansell a while ago which ended in a farce. Damon did drive well in Hungary but one swallow does not make a Summer and by Belgium he was back to his usual uninspiring form.

He says-and there is some truth in it-that apart from Michael there are very few people in Formula One who are winners. Not maybe, perhaps one day winners such as Hakkinen and with one notable exception Alesi, but regularly like Senna and Prost used to do and the way he did it last year no fewer than eight times. There are of course those who say that it is not possible not to win in a Williams but here we are more than half-way through the season and Ferrari are leading the championship whilst Schumacher is 12 points ahead in the Drivers' Championship.

Anyway, just to give you an update as of 17.45 p.m. on Wednesday 27th August the situation for 1998 looks like this.

Ferrari: Schumacher and Irvine confirmed.

Williams: Villeneuve & Frentzen confirmed although I have my doubts about the latter.

Benetton: who knows. Supposed to be Wurz and Fisichella. Or Hill, or Trulli..

McLaren: Hakkinen & Coulthard confirmed.

Sauber: Herbert confirmed, second seat could be one of five different drivers.

Prost: Panis confirmed, second seat open, maybe for Hill if enough money can be found.

Arrows: Diniz and maybe Salo.

Minardi: anybody's guess.

Tyrrell: ditto.

Jordan: Ralf Schumacher and Fisichella if they can hang on to him. Hill is keen as are the tobacco sponsors who would find the extra millions.

Stewart: Barrichello and maybe Magnussen although he is currently a huge disappointment.

The reason I was so specific about the timing of this report is because the situation is changing daily. When it does, as always, you will be the first to know.