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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Hill Captures Italian Prix As Rumors Rile Bennetton

MONZA, Italy-- Damon Hill's victory in the Italian Grand Prix kept him firmly in the chase for the world drivers' championship as team leaders Benetton showed signs of cracking under pressure for the first time.


Without the inspiring presence of Michael Schumacher, who heads the drivers' title race with 76 points to Hill's 65, Benetton looked like a team in confusion Sunday.


They failed to score a point for the first time since the German Grand Prix in July, when Dutchman Jos Verstappen's car was engulfed in flames, and only the second time this season.


Schumacher's deputy, Finn J.J. Lehto, finished ninth, a lap behind the leaders, and Verstappen retired after an accident on the opening lap. As a result, the team which had six victories in the opening seven races of the year was unusually subdued.


In the traditional Monza atmosphere of rumor and intrigue,Benetton was also the team at the center of most speculation,with several sources of gossip suggesting it has received notice from the suspended Schumacher that he wishes to drive for another team.Schumacher missed Sunday's 53-lap race, in front of a disappointing crowd of only 75,000, because he was serving the first part of his two-race ban for failing to obey a black flag during the British Grand Prix.


But to judge from his reported remarks to German television Sunday, he was disappointed with Ferrari and unimpressed with his own team's efforts to defend his championship lead.


According to German reporters who were given an account of his television interview, Schumacher said he had expected "more help from his teammates" in a race he expected Hill to win because of the power advantage of Williams' Renault V10.


Schumacher made no further comments about his own future,which has been linked to McLaren. But Benetton's managing director Flavio Briatore said Schumacher would be staying until the end of 1996.


The German, who is 25, has, however, indicated he will not be testing with Benetton in the next week. Instead he plans to keep away from motor racing, maintain a lower profile and concentrate on his fitness work in preparation for his return to action against Hill.


Hill will hope to have won again before then in the Portuguese Grand Prix in Estoril later this month and to have closed the gap to just one point for the final three races.


"It is essential to grab all 10 points in Portugal," said Hill, who drove doggedly through a demanding race, his visor often covered in oil from Gerhard Berger's Ferrari in the opening laps.


Afterward, Berger revealed how shocked he had been by the chaos around him following his accident, particularly as the session was not halted.


He lay in the sand in a runoff area only meters from the track while cars continued to race past at 300 kph.


"From the first moment to the hospital, it was just unbelievable," Berger said. He said the track marshals did not know how to undo his helmet and take it off and that at Monza hospital where he was sent for X-rays of his neck, he was embroiled in further arguments because of delays and mistakes.