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Ralf Schumacher wins maiden title
April 15th, 2001

Ralf Schumacher finally broke Williams' three year and 54 race drought to take an emphaticRalf on the track win at the San Marino Grand Prix. Leading from the start, he dominated a race that was significant for the retirement of his older brother, Michael, following a puncture on lap 26 - the German's first retirement for 10 races.

Suffering wheelspin, Coulthard lost his lead on the line but was the only car able to keep in touch with the BMW powered WilliamsF1, as the pair proceeded to open up a lead of well over a minute on the rest of the field. Third placed driver, Rubens Barrichello, benefiting from a hastily revised pit stop strategy to pull in front of Mika Hakkinen, came in over half a minute down.

The Finn, still looking to find a way into the championship race, was foiled again this time by the quick off the mark Jordan of Jarno Trulli, who made a battle of his own with the Finn to eventually finish 49 seconds behind him. With the retirement of the second BMW WilliamsF1 of Juan Pablo Montoya, Jordan also took the final point, Heinz Harald Frentzen having raced in the midst of the pack for most of the GP.

Ferrari's 'hard tyre' strategy failed to pay off as Schumacher's Ferrari was forced down to 5thRalf exuberant after his win place from the start. Coulthard's McLaren failed to get a grip on the track allowing the third placed BMW WilliamsF1 of Ralf Schumacher to power through and into the Tamburello turn. Trulli too made a brilliant start, passing Hakkinen on the inside on the main straight and taking up third slot behind the rapidly accelerating lead duo.

It was less than a lap before Montoya began to attack, passing Olivier Panis to take 6th place and, three laps later, Schumacher in a move reminiscent of Brazil for 5th, behind Hakkinen.

But already it was clear that this would be a two-horse race as Ralf Schumacher and Coulthard proceeded to pull out a lead that was some two seconds a lap faster than the rest of the field and at such an early stage, some 28 seconds covering the grid.

Even Barrichello got the better of his seemingly ailing team mate - the world champion having to make do with a badly handling car - and finally managed to get into the points by overtaking Panis on lap 7.

It was unusual to see the Ferraris in such a predicament and even more unusual to see the Sauber of 21 year old Kimi Raikkonen challenging M Schumacher for position. A brilliant drive from the rookie ended on lap 18 when he spun off at the Tosa turn after his steering wheel came loose.

The rest of the field behind Schumacher were in a different race. The Jaguars struggled down in 13th and 16th position, and the Benettons continued a battle with their underpowered Renault engine. Giancarlo Fisichella was almost cruising in 15th with Jenson Button having been forced to make an unscheduled early pit stop in 19th place. Button ended his day last of the finishers and Fisichella retired in the pits.

Complaints had filtered through from the pits that drivers had been radioing in to say that Trulli in third place was slowing up the field but to judge from the 2 second gap that he was holding against Hakkinen this might have been a case of more than a few sour grapes.

With a third of the race gone it was Michael Schumacher who called it a day. Having picked up a slow puncture on lap 24 he pitted to have it replaced but, having lost a lap in getting to his garage, retired after a further lap brought worries that the damage to the rim may have affected his brakes.

"After the puncture there was something wrong with the rim," he said, "and I was happy to stop."

Trulli was the first of the front runners to pit, on lap 26, rejoining the race in 7th place and followed by Coulthard on lap 29 and then Ralf Schumacher and Hakkinen a lap later. The top two did not change but, leaving his refuelling as late as possible, Barrichello managed a shortened stop to come out ahead of Hakkinen, taking the third place, which he was not to lose.

Irvine retired his Jaguar on lap 44 in a cloud of dark smoke, the team having another difficult weekend but the greatest disappointment came with the pit stop of Montoya who suffered a jammed fuel nozzle. As the crew struggled to remove it, the white-hot brakes started to catch fire and his engine temperature rose. It stalled and lack of pressure in the clutch meant that the engine had to be restarted on the jack and in 1st gear. The car dropped to the ground and roared off over a minute behind. A lap later however he was back in the garage and out of the race, the fourth in succession which he has failed to finish.

There seemed little spirit in the race in the closing stages. The BARs that had looked promising in the early stages had failed to live up to their promise, Jacques Villeneuve suffering a retirement due to gearbox problems on lap 32 and Panis losing out to the Sauber of Nick Heidfeld and his two Honda powered Jordan rivals to finish in 8th.

The day however belonged to Ralf Schumacher and, naturally, the BMW WilliamsF1 pits were jubilant as he crossed the line still four seconds ahead of the McLaren. Barrichello came in a distant third half a minute down, ruing the team's decision to take the route of the harder tyres against Bridgestone's recommendations.

Hakkinen picked up another three points giving him a total of four from four races, and the two Jordans deservedly took 5th and 6th, Trulli having outshone his more experienced partner.

In only its fourth race back after a thirteen year absence, Michelin are on the winners' podium, as are BMW who ironically last won a Grand Prix with Gerhard Berger - now their Motorsport Director - in Mexico in 1986.

For WilliamsF1 it has been a long time, since Jacques Villeneuve took their last race win at theMontoya leads Barrichello Luxembourg Grand Prix in 1997. But the writing has never been so clearly written on the wall. BMW WilliamsF1 has a package that is now the match not only of the McLarens but for Ferrari too.

But things are set to change. Traction control will be introduced from the Spanish Grand Prix in a fortnight. Heavily criticised for enabling poor drivers to look good, the electronic device that prevents wheelspin is seen as taking the initiative away from the driver. It is doubtful whether it will alter the face of the grid, but it could provide some interesting action over the next few races as the slower cars become a little more competitive.

Coulthard now finds himself in equal first place in the drivers' championship with Michael Schumacher and, whilst he may have found the measure of the scarlet cars in recent races, BMW WilliamsF1 are now throwing the championship open to other welcome contenders. The Grove-based team has added only the fifth constructor name to the winners' table in over three seasons. Imola could well have been the beginning of their third golden age.

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