Motorsport: Drivers not too slick in wet

By Tony Cary

Two weeks after Silverstone drowned beneath a deluge which forced British Grand Prix organisers to tell 30,000 fans to stay away, Hockenheim was submerged by heavy rainyesterday, interrupting both practice sessions and rendering data accrued for this weekend's German Grand Prix of limited use.

Michael Schumacher provided the day's biggest talking point after falling prey to the slippery conditions late in the second session. The seven-time world champion, four times a winner here, lost control in the stadium section, smashing up all four corners of his car.

After clambering out of the cockpit the 43-year-old managed to smile and wave to the crowd, but his Mercedes team were probably not thanking him for an estimated $400,000 worth of damage.

"I've not been fully concentrated," was his honest explanation. "I was on the radio and doing some changes to the car and touched the white line."

To cap a frustrating day for Mercedes, Nico Rosberg was handed a five-place grid penalty for an enforced change of gearbox. Schumacher's crash also raised further, inevitable speculation about his future in the sport. His third season since coming out of retirement has been his quickest, but he has also been guilty of several errors.

Should Schumacher continue in 2013, it would reduce Lewis Hamilton's options still further.

His McLaren contract expires at the end of this year, and while he is expected to re-sign with the team, Mercedes are one of the few outfits who might be able to tempt him away.

Encouragingly, in light of McLaren's recent travails, their modified car set the pace in the drier morning session, Jenson Button edging out his team-mate. But with heavy showers in the afternoon, and yet more rain forecast for qualifying, there is likely to be a certain amount of guesswork going on as regards finding the correct set-up this weekend.

Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel sounded a note of caution. "McLaren looked very competitive this morning," the world champion said. "But they looked very competitive at Silverstone on Friday as well and their weekend wasn't so good. We have to see what kind of weather we get."

MEANWHILE, THE Nurburgring faces the prospect of bankruptcy and possible closure next week, because the company which runs it has failed to meet debts estimated to be $750m.

The 25km circuit, which opened in 1927, rates as one of the world's most famous. But last week Rhineland-Palatinate state, which owns the complex, announced that it would ask the operating company to file for insolvency. Bankruptcy proceedings could begin next week.

The circuit has operated at a loss for years. But its most serious problems began in 2004 when it started building an amusement park and hotel complex; both have failed to attract sufficient visitors. A new track was built in 1984 for Formula One racing, which has alternated between Nurburg and the nearby Hockenheimring since 2007.

- Agencies

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