Michael Schumacher didn't come to the original spa for the waters. Yet the wet brought him a step closer to repeating as Formula One driving champion.
There was water, water everywhere during the Belgian Grand Prix and Damon Hill couldn't put a drop to good use as he was outdriven and outwitted by his German rival.Schumacher's masterly concocted victory with brilliant wet-weather driving in a neck-and-neck race with Hill left him with a 66-51 edge in the driver standings going into the Italian Grand Prix in two weeks.
"It was bloody difficult," Schumacher said. A qualifying mishap left him 16th on the starting grid, yet he was in the lead by the 16th of the 44 laps and went on to notch his 16th career victory. That ties him for ninth on the career victory list with Sterling Moss.
It took some spectacular, if unconventional, driving to achieve it.
When Belgium's inevitable showers hit the race just before the halfway mark, Schumacher decided to stay out on the 4.333-mile track on slick tires. He was gambling it wouldn't keep raining.
Hill did the logical thing, ducking into the pits for wet-weather tires, and indeed he was soon vying for the lead.
Then Hill learned that logic isn't always the answer to the low clouds and curtains of rain clinging to the pines of the Ardennes hills.
Schumacher started weaving all over the track, closing off any hole Hill found.
"I knew it was going to dry out," Schumacher said.
Hill's Williams Renault team was hopping mad with Schumacher's daredevil capers, especially when the cars touched wheels at top speeds. Williams lodged a protest, which Formula One officialdom converted into a warning to Schumacher. Should he be guilty of similar driving in the next four races, he'll be suspended for a race.
It wasn't the answer Williams was looking for, and it certainly didn't set well with Schumacher.
"We had some pretty hairy moments out there," Hill said.
The strategy was "to keep him behind me for as long as possible," Schumacher retorted.
Hill was angry to the point that he was caught speeding in the pit lane and was slapped a 10-second penalty stop late in the race.
"It would have been a great race. It's a bloody shame," Hill said.
At that, it appeared Schumacher had everything figured out. Hill made five pit stops, sometimes coming for wet-weather tires only to find out that the rain had stopped by the time he had returned to racing.
"If it had carried on raining, I would have been a hero," Hill said.
Schumacher was left to his own devices to judge the fickle weather. "I knew I had to take my chances and fortunately it worked out," he said.