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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Schumacher Loses Grand Prix Victory

SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium -- Formula One officials have taken away Michael Schumacher's victory in the Belgian Grand Prix. But, in return, they created a world championship battle fans had already given up on.


Five hours after being sprayed with champagne Sunday, world standings leader Schumacher was disqualified because race stewards said his Benetton Ford car was illegally set up. Victory went instead to his closest challenger in the world standings, Damon Hill.


The decision denied Schumacher his eighth win in 11 races and opened up the world championship chase again after the German had seemingly put a lid on it with his comfortable win. "Rules are rules and that's just tough luck," said Hill of Schumacher's disqualification. "Just as it was not looking hopeful, things have been turned on their head."


Instead of leading the world standings with 86 points and with a massive 35-point gap over Hill, the ruling left Schumacher with 76 points and his challenger with 55. And the German could be given a two-race suspension for another rules violation Tuesday.


At the Belgian Grand Prix, race stewards said a mandatory wooden plank under Schumacher's car, aimed at slowing down drivers, was too thin and gave him an unfair edge over competitors.


And they ruled out Benetton Ford's claim that Schumacher's accidental spin during the race could have caused the shaving of the skidblock.


"The stewards concluded that not one of the defenses offered is acceptable,'" the report said.


Schumacher was not available for comment after the ruling.


Because of Schumacher's disqualification, McLaren Peugeot driver Mika Hakkinen of Finland moved into second place, ahead of Schumacher's teammate Jos Verstappen. Hill's Williams Renault teammate David Coulthard was fourth.


The crude wooden board was introduced into the high-technology sport halfway through this season, following the death of Ayrton Senna and Austrian Roland Ratzenberger at the San Marino Grand Prix in May.


On top of Sunday's stunning disqualification, Schumacher is facing a two-race suspension for ignoring a black flag in the British Grand Prix and Benetton is under investigation for a refueling infringement to make pit stops shorter.


Together, the decisions could stall the world title drive of Schumacher, 25, after he had dominated competitors all season. Now Schumacher can only hope the guardians of Formula One to be lenient Tuesday when they will decide whether to suspend him for the Italian and Portuguese Grand Prix races.


If Schumacher misses the races and Hill wins them, the margin in the standings could be cut to just one point with three Grand Prixs to go.


"I want to be able to win as many races as I can between now and the end of the season," said Hill. "I'm really fired up."


The German dominated Sunday's race to such an extent that even a sloppy spin in his Benetton Ford failed to bring competition within striking distance. Schumacher cruised to victory 13.663 seconds ahead of Hill.


But in the 18th lap, he came too high on the curb of a slow corner and spun 360 degrees. He lost only seven seconds of his 25-second lead.


The skidblock is 30 centimeters wide, one centimeter thick, running the length of the car and made of bone-hard wood. The car is allowed to lose one millimeter of the board's thickness during the race. The report said up to 2.6 millimeters were missing in a vital central location.