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Schumacher takes shock win in Spain
29th April, 2001

Schumy and Montoya on the podiumMika Hakkinen fell short of taking a record fourth win at the Spanish Grand Prix when his car expired with less than half a lap remaining. His time advantage became irrelevant as second placed man, Michael Schumacher - whom Hakkinen had passed in a superior pit stop strategy to take over the lead - took the chequered flag.

Rubens Barrichello, running in a safe third place until a rear suspension failure put him out on lap 51, forfeited his place to BMW WilliamsF1 driver Juan Pablo Montoya, who finished the first race of his Formula1 career in second.

First points of the season also came to Jacques Villeneuve, who finished in 3rd some 50 seconds behind the leader and ahead of yet another points finish for Jordan driver Jarno Trulli.

McLaren's roller coaster race started to go wrong even before the race started. David Coulthard saw all his previous day's qualifying go to waste when he stalled his car on the grid, requiring him to start from the back. This was something that the new electronics should have prevented and he seemed angry that his team boss Ron Dennis had put it down at the end of the race to 'brain fade'.

But it was the German, by being the earliest to press the button electronically launching his carVillenueve shows off his trophy - without the slightest amount of wheel spin - down to the first turn, who took the lead. There was not a single puff of tyre smoke as all but one of the 22 cars moved regimentally forward.

The only car stuck on the grid was the Jordan of Heinz-Harald Frentzen, his traction control failing to take command. He eventually started manually but was left to do the catching up as the grid streamed past.

Hakkinen took up position behind the Ferrari into the first turn, with Barrichello, having briefly lost a length to Ralf Schumacher, retaking third. Trulli and Montoya had already begun to trail the leading quartet as they came round for lap 2.

Coulthard's demise worsened when, having made up some 60 percent of the field before the first turn, he was hit from behind and he himself rear ended the Arrows of Enrique Bernoldi at turn 3 - forcing him to pit on the second lap for a new nose. The ensuing 40 second delay ensured that he would have to fight all the way for the eventual 2 points that he well and truly earned.

By lap 3 Schumacher was setting fastest laps, but with Hakkinen matching them with ones of his own, and the two cars continued to pace each other with little variation in time differences for the first half of the race.

Frentzen meanwhile, having dropped from his 8th place on the grid, was about to fall foul of 20th placed man and new Jaguar driver, Pedro de la Rosa. An overtaking manoeuvre at turn 7 saw the German forced out when the Spaniard gave him no where to go but over the wheel of his R2. The Jordan pointed at the sky briefly before coming to rest harmlessly by the side of the track alongside the unapologetic de la Rosa.

"I saw him at the very last moment I had no where to go," de la Rosa said. "I didn't see him and he touched my rear wheel and I went off."

Coulthard gives Mika a lift back at the end of the race.Frentzen did not seem too dismayed and, revealing his maturity in a sport in which de la Rosa has performed only 34 starts, said: "I don't know whether he saw me or not. It was clearly my corner. His front wheel touched my rear wheel. Nevertheless it was a racing accident... it happened because I didn't have a very good start."

By lap 12 the top three had pulled out a 7-second lead over fourth placed BMW WilliamsF1 man Ralf Schumacher, his car jut managing to hold steady on the harder Michelin tyres.

Montoya in 6th place was beginning to hound Trulli, who was again in the thick of it and keeping Jordan in the spotlight. But a slower pit stop from the Silverstone based team on lap 22 allowed the BMW WilliamsF1 driver to leave his garage over a second earlier, taking the advantage which he was not to lose.

Team mate Ralf Schumacher's race, however, was to be a lot less satisfying than his win at Imola a fortnight previously. A suspected brake problem saw him dive off the track and into the gravel a lap earlier, his race over. "I touched the brakes and the rear came out," he said later. "I either lost the brakes or something else was wrong. I wouldn't normally spin in this position."

Mika Hakkinen took over the lead when Schumacher made his first stop on lap 23, pitting himself 4 laps later but rejoining in second position. Coulthard had made gains from the back and after his stop he had reached 11th place, and was gunning for the BAR of Olivier Panis.

By mid race the positions had changed little, with Montoya now chasing a distant Barrichello followed by Villeneuve and Trulli.

The race was about to change, however, after the second round of stops. Again Hakkinen stayed out as the lead Ferrari made its stop and, such was the amount of time made up by the fuel-light McLaren, that the Finn was easily able to pit and exit ahead of the Ferrari - increasing the gap by some 5 seconds after only two laps on his fresh rubber.

At the same time Barrichello had pulled into the pits with a rear suspension problem. He was sent on his way but returned to retire on the next lap. This put Montoya on the podium for the first time and Villeneuve following, with an even higher score than he could have hoped for. But it would get even better for them both at Hakkinen's expense.

Once again Kimi Raikkonen was driving his Sauber to the limit, sparring with Jaguar's Eddie Irvine. The Finn would eventually end his race in 8th position, whilst Irvine complaining constantly that his car was too slow pulled over in front of his own pits, and his Ford bosses, with a blown Cosworth engine.

Retirements and a steel will had brought Coulthard up to within a second of 6th placed NickSchumy consoles Mika Heidfeld by lap 61, and an original passing stunt using the slipstream of backmarker Jenson Button, saw the Scot slip between both cars at the end of the pit straight. He was in the points finally and would at least maintain his record of a scoring finish at each race so far this season.

The McLaren pits were a picture of relief and joy as they saw their man begin his last lap with Schumacher barely cruising to maintain his second place. But it all changed in a moment. At first the McLaren looked like it was running out of fuel, but the tell tale spouts of blueish-white smoke began to fishtail from the back if the car, and he finally pulled off.

Schumacher sailed past 10 seconds later to take the final 5 turns to the finish, and an extremely lucky result in the circumstances. Coulthard, bringing up the rear, picked up his luckless team mate to the cheers of the packed grandstands on his way back to parc fermé, where he was met with a hug by a grateful but nonetheless victorious Schumacher.

"Goddamn it," said a bewildered and practically speechless Hakkinen. "It's super disappointing. It was going so easy! I was just cruising, short shifting, braking easily and accelerating gently. It would have been incredible if I had taken a fourth win but it just didn't work out for me."

Schumacher was almost apologetic for taking the win. "I am simply sorry," he said. "We did a good race reminiscent of our races last year. Seeing him stop just five corners from the finish was shocking. It's not how you like to win a race."

Nevertheless Ferrari now have the advantage going into the second quarter of the season. But their performance has still not improved to the same point at which they won the first two races of the year. Hakkinen still has it all to do and Coulthard, with his botched start, saw his flame flicker for a moment in Spain. With BMW WilliamsF1 still in the frame, although not as forceful this time, it could still be a three way fight for the title.

"The pain will come tomorrow," Ron Dennis said afterwards. But for Ferrari the expected pain turned into blessed relief, and their path to another double championship now looks straighter than ever.

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