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Thursday, November 13, 1997 Published at 18:05 GMT



Despatches
Harry Peart
From London

It's been a difficult week for the motor racing authorities to maintain the glamourous image of the sport. The rulers of Formula One have ruled that one of their top drivers rammed a rival during a race; there have been allegations of race fixing by two of the top teams, and the British Labour party has been ordered to hand back a party donation from Bernie Ecclestone after the sport gained exemption from a ban on tobacco sponsorship. Here's our sports correspondent, Harry Peart.

For a sport that trades on its image of the high life and fast cars, motor racing has been forced to take a rare defensive position. Michael Schumacher is probably the greatest driver of his generation, but his actions at the final Grand Prix in Spain caused widespread condemnation across the world. He could have faces the prospect of being banned and suffering a heavy fine if he had been found guilty of deliberately ramming the car of Jacques Villeneuve who went on to win the title. The motor racing authorities, the FIA, decided that the collision was apparently deliberate, but instinctive and not pre-meditated. Schumacher was stripped of all his points from the season and agreed to appear in an officially sponsored road safety campaign. Many drivers have praised the decision, claiming it will send out a clear message to drivers who may attmept the same thing in future but many fans will be left confused.

There is also confusion over the accusations of collusion between Williams and McLaren to fix the result of the race. Villeneuve allowed the eventual winner Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard to overtake him on the final lap. Transcripts of conversations between the drivers and their pit crews were said to provide evidence of collusion. The FIA committee accepted that allowing the Mclarens to overtake was due to a desire by Williams to avoid any possible crash which would deny Villeneuve the title.

And the weeks publicity also extended to the ringmaster of Formula One himself - the president of the Formula One Constructors Association - Bernie Ecclestone. He found himself having his donation to the British Labour Party funds being returned. Earlier in the week the British government had exempted motor racing from its proposed total ban on tobacco sponsorship. The newly formed Public Affairs watchdog stepped in an ordered the return of the money.





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