Formula One: Tactical triumph for Schumacher

San Marino Grand Prix: Ferrari exploit McLaren's misfortunes as Hakkinen crashes and Coulthard is lost in traffic
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The Independent Online
TWO CAVORTED, one reluctantly went through the motions. The significance and implications of yesterday's San Marino Grand Prix were captured in the antics on that champagne-swilled stage.

While Michael Schumacher soaked up the adulation for winning and taking the lead in the world drivers' championship, and Rubens Barrichello felt compelled to commemorate his third place by standing on his head, David Coulthard could manage only a token camouflage of his dejection.He would go on to blame uncooperative back markers for holding up his progress and condemning him to second place when he should have won.

However, behind the complaints may lurk a realisation that he contributed to his own downfall. He failed to exploit the superiority of the McLaren- Mercedes, and having at last been allowed through by Olivier Panis, the Scotsman ran off the track. He returned to find himself again trailing the Prost-Peugeot. That embarrassing error, as much as any mobile blockade, undermined his prospects of victory here and his chances of launching a viable title challenge.

McLaren's hopes again appear to rest in the hands of Mika Hakkinen, the champion. The Finn, operating on a two-stop strategy, catapulted to the front and was 14 seconds clear of his partner when he crashed after 17 laps. Schumacher, running third, sensed Coulthard was to stop only once. He and his Ferrari crew opted for a second visit to the pits and, not for the first time, engineered an improbable opportunity.

The German launched a characteristic charge after his first call for fuel and tyres, and by the time Coulthard made for his pit the balance of the race had shifted. The surviving McLaren could not contain the No 1 Ferrari in the crucial middle sector of the grand prix and Schumacher had time in hand to complete his second stop and retain the lead.

Coulthard escaped the congestion caused by Panis and Giancarlo Fisichella's Benetton only to follow Damon Hill's Jordan-Mugen and Barrichello's Stewart- Ford to the line. Schumacher had won by 4.2sec. Hill registered his first points of the season with fourth place, Fisichella was fifth and Jean Alesi collected the final point for Sauber.

Eddie Irvine's late retirement denied him and Ferrari another place on the podium, and Johnny Herbert's still later misfortune deprived Stewart of further points.

Schumacher's elation was unconfined. He had delivered Ferrari their first success here in their heartland for 16 years and invigorated the championship just when it seemed Hakkinen was positioning himself to squeeze the life out of it. He may yet do that. Somehow, you cannot envisage Coulthard producing the consistent pace or aggression to take up the McLaren standard and resist the genius of Schumacher. It all points to another Hakkinen- Schumacher duel for the title.

"Even on the parade lap I had a good feeling today," Schumacher said. "Supported as we are and after so long, delivering this victory is very special. We had a strategy with options and Ross Brawn [Ferrari's technical director] made the final decision to stop twice. It gave us the opportunity to get ahead so it was not a risk. I knew a lead of 20 seconds would be enough for the second stop."

The sublime driving of Schumacher and the astute stewardship of Brawn again confounded the odds. Coulthard was unable to capitalise on the performance advantage of the McLaren and his partner's mistake. Hakkinen accepted responsibility for his coming together with the wall, but Coulthard heaped responsibility on others, even if his expression scarcely reflected the conviction of his words.

"I'm disappointed because this is a race I should have won," Coulthard said. "The backmarkers were particularly unhelpful and I lost a lot of time in the traffic, which was the difference between winning and coming second. I think a fine would exercise their minds."

Panis and Fisichella were involved in their own race, albeit down the order, while in the later stages Barrichello and Hill were competing for a place on the podium. However, Coulthard and his boss, Ron Dennis, insisted priority should have been given to a driver racing for the win. Dennis, who made for the Prost camp in high dudgeon to demand they order their driver from Coulthard's path, said: "It's lack of sportsmanship. I don't think it applies just to drivers, but to team managers as well. If you are a lap down you advise your driver to get out of the way. The rules provide for traffic to move over. We were racing against the clock. We knew David Coulthard had the right strategy. It was frustrating to lose this way."

McLaren and Ferrari remain the powers of Formula One but behind them the pecking order is the subject of fascinating dispute. Williams are in danger of being overtaken not only by Jordan but also by Stewart. The promise of Australia and Brazil was confirmed here as Barrichello fended off Hill to earn his first place on the podium since his second place at Monaco two years ago. The Brazilian dedicated his achievement to his countryman Ayrton Senna, who died here five years ago.

Barrichello's performance earned a pounds 20,000 bonus for one of his engineers, Alan Maybin, who had a pounds 100 bet his team would claim a top three finish before the British Grand Prix.

SAN MARINO GRAND PRIX (Imola, Italy): 1 M Schumacher (Ger) Ferrari, 1hr 33min 44.792sec (62 laps at ave speed 195.481 kph-121.49mph); 2 D Coulthard (GB) McLaren-Mercedes +4.265sec; 3 R Barrichello (Bra) Stewart-Ford +1 lap; 4 D Hill (GB) Jordan-Mugen Honda +1 lap; 5 G Fisichella (It) Benetton- Playlife +1 lap;

6 J Alesi (Fr) Sauber-Petronas +1 lap; 7 M Salo (Fin) BAR-Supertec +3 laps; 8 L Badoer (It) Minardi Ford +3 laps; 9 M Gene (Sp) Minardi-Ford +3 laps; 10 J Herbert (GB) Stewart-Ford +4 laps; 11 A Zanardi (It) Williams- Supertec +4 laps.

Not classified: P Diniz (Bra) Sauber-Petronas 49 laps; O Panis (Fr) Prost- Peugeot 48; E Irvine (GB) Ferrari 46; H-H Frentzen (Ger) Jordan-Mugen Honda 46; T Takagi (Japan) Arrows 29; R Schumacher (Ger) Williams-Supertec 28; M Hakkinen (Fin) McLaren-Mercedes 17; P de la Rosa (Sp) Arrows 5; A Wurz (Aut) Benetton-Playlife 5; J Trulli (It) Prost-Peugeot 0; J Villeneuve (Can) BAR-Supertec 0.

Constructors' championship: 1 Ferrari 28pts; 2 McLaren-Mercedes 16; 3 Jordan-Mugen Honda 13; 4 Williams-Supertec 7; 5 Stewart-Ford 6; 6 Benetton- Supertec 5; 7= Arrows Prost-Peugeot and Sauber-Petronas, 1.

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