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FORMULA ONE // International conflict of interests

Whoever came up with the notion that opposites attract has obviously never met Formula One drivers Damon Hill and Michael Schumacher. They're opposites all right, but it fuels what is arguably the nastiest rivalry in auto racing.

Hill, a Briton, is a deathly serious and sometimes brooding man of experience and respected racing heritage (his dad was two-time F1 champion Graham Hill). He never sways from his principles and is quick to snap at those who do.

Schumacher is the German version of the young, Hollywood type who seemingly came out of nowhere and drives on natural talent, which is aided by his intense devotion to physical fitness and his thorough understanding of auto racing technology.

When these two get together on the racetrack, more than sparks can fly.

In fact, their wars on and off the track are becoming commonplace. For the last two seasons, they have banged, bumped and beat each other around the F1 series, swapping paint and a few choice words as they've battled for the series title, which Schumacher has managed to steal from Hill each time.

In the Pacific Grand Prix last year in Japan, Hill tried to block Schumacher from passing early in the race, a move some deemed wreckless and deliberate. He wasn't disciplined for the move, but he got an earful from Schumacher.

At Monza, Italy, they were in the midst of a fierce battle when they crashed, knocking each other out of the race. Afterwards in the sandy edge of the track where their cars had come to a halt, Schumacher charged over to Hill's car and ripped into his rival, sparking a heated exchange that had F1 fans talking for weeks.

Publicly, neither driver confesses to having a genuine dislike for the other. Most times they try to downplay any animosity that might exist. But their actions on the track say otherwise.

"I don't think it's good to have antagonism between two guys who are driving machines along a narrow strip of tarmac at 180 mph," Hill conceded. "If there really is any dislike between two drivers, there's no way you can permit that. But the friction between Michael and me is a purely competitive one. Or it should be."

Said Schumacher: "It's something we should sort out ourselves."

With their rivalry comes a delicate balancing act. While the tiff between the sport's two leading drivers, who combined for 13 victories in 17 races last year, has undoubtedly boosted interest among fans it also has pushed the envelope in terms of being dangerous.

F1's top brass, Bernie Ecclestone, has recognized this, and after witnessing their on-track scuffles one too many times, he issued a warning to both men to cool it before someone gets hurt.

"We've told each other how we feel," Hill said, "but I don't suppose we'll ever agree on anything."

The rivalry is expected to continue this season but perhaps not to the same degree as in years past. That's because Schumacher has left the highly-successful Benetton team and is driving for Ferrari.

It remains to be seen whether Schumacher will be as competitive with this new team. Meanwhile, Hill has stuck with the Williams team, which has brought more competition for Schumacher with the hiring of Jacques Villeneuve, the reigning IndyCar champion.

One thing is for sure, Hill remains determined to wrestle the F1 title from Schumacher. "I know I can beat Schumacher. And I know deep down in my heart I can be champion," Hill said. "I won't quit. And I won't pack this damn game in until I get my hands on that world championship."

HILL

Age: 35

F1 seasons: 4

Country: England

Team: Williams-Renault

1995 victories: 4

1995 rank: 2

Comments: Son of two time F1 champion Graham Hill. . . . Finished second to Schumacher in standings past two years. . . . First races in F1 were with Brabham team in 1992 before turning Williams test drive into full-time ride in '93. . . . Came within a point of the title in '94. . . . Has 13 career victories, one less than his father, and 11 career poles.

SCHUMACHER

Age: 27

F1 seasons: 5

Country: Germany

Team: Ferrari

1995 victories: 9

1995 rank: 1

Comments: Two-time series championship winner. . . . Got his F1 start with Jordan in 1991, then jumped to Benetton after one race. . . . Won Benetton's first drivers' title in '94, then repeated the feat last year while leading the team to its first contructors' title before joining Ferrari this season. . . . Has 19 career wins, ninth all-time, and 10 career poles. . . . Is the youngest driver ever to win consecutive F1 titles.

LINEUP

The tentative lineup of teams and drivers:

Benetton-Renault: Jean Alesi, France, and Gerhard Berger, Austria.

Williams-Renault: Damon Hill, England, and Jacques Villeneuve, Canada.

Ferrari: Michael Schumacher, Germany, and Eddie Irvine, Northern Ireland.

McLaren-Mercedes: David Coulthard, Scotland, and Mika Hakkinen, Finland.

Jordan-Peugeot: Rubens Barrichello, Brazil, and Martin Brundle, England.

Ligier-Mugen Honda: Olivier Panis, France, and Pedro Diniz, Brazil.

Sauber-Ford: Johnny Herbert, England, and Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Germany.

Tyrell-Yamaha: Ukyo Katayama, Japan, and Mika Salo, Finland.

Footwork-Hart: Jos Verstappen, Netherlands, second driver TBA.

Minardi-Ford: Pedro Lamy, Portugal, second driver TBA.

Forti-Ford: Drivers TBA.

1995 WINNERS

March 26: Brazilian Grand Prix, Michael Schumacher.

April 9: Argentine Grand Prix, Damon Hill.

April 30: San Marino Grand Prix, Hill.

May 14: Spanish Grand Prix, Schumacher.

May 28: Monaco Grand Prix, Schumacher.

June 11: Canadian Grand Prix, Jean Alesi.

July 2: French Grand Prix, Schumacher.

July 16: British Grand Prix, Johnny Herbert.

July 30: German Grand Prix, Schumacher.

Aug. 13: Hungarian Grand Prix, Hill.

Aug. 27: Belgian Grand Prix, Schumacher.

Sept. 10: Italian Grand Prix, Herbert.

Sept 24: Portuguese Grand Prix, David Coulthard.

Oct. 8: European Grand Prix, Schumacher.

Oct. 22: Pacific Grand Prix, Schumacher.

Oct. 29: Japanese Grand Prix, Schumacher.

Nov. 12: Australian Grand Prix, Hill.

1995 STANDINGS

1. Michael Schumacher, Germany, 102 points.

2. Damon Hill, Britain, 69.

3. David Coulthard, Britain, 49.

4. Johnny Herbert, Britain, 45.

5. Jean Alesi, France, 42.

6. Gerhard Berger, Austria, 31.

7. Mika Hakkinen, Finland, 17.

8. Olivier Panis, France, 16.

9. H.-H. Frentzen, Germany, 15.

10. Mark Blundell, Britain, 13.

11. Rubens Barrichello, Brazil, 11.

12. Eddie Irvine, Britain, 10.

13. Martin Brundle. Britain, 7.

14. Mika Salo, Finland, 5.

14. Gianni Morbidelli (tie), Italy, 5.

16. Jean Boullion, France, 3.

17. Aguri Suzuki, Japan, 1.

17. Pedro Lamy (tie), Portugal, 1.

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