Motor racing: Schumacher on the charge

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The Independent Online
RED FAVOURS draped the hillside beneath the Royal Palace in homage to Ferrari as Michael Schumacher and Eddie Irvine completed their lap of honour side by side, an appropriate demonstration of togetherness on this day of formation dominance.

McLaren-Mercedes were no match for the Italian team in this Monaco Grand Prix, world champion Mika Hakkinen having to settle for third place after losing the advantage of pole position at the first corner.

Once he had been out- accelerated by Schumacher, the issue of first place was scarcely in doubt. Still more devastating for Hakkinen was Irvine's advance to second place, courtesy of an error by the Finn, a perfectly executed two-stop strategy and the Ferrari's obvious liking to this winding, climbing, tumbling street circuit.

It was Ferrari's first clean sweep here at Formula One's most fabled venue, and it served to reinforce the positions of Schumacher and Irvine at the head of the championship standings.

"Aren't we good?" Irvine inquired playfully. Indeed they were. And best of all, of course, was Schumacher, who not only confirmed his place in Monaco's pantheon with a fourth victory here, but also set himself apart from all others in Ferrari's history. This was his 16th win in the scarlet car, taking him past Niki Lauda's record.

Although it was effectively achieved in those critical opening seconds when he defied Hakkinen's attempt to squeeze him to the left, he still had to maintain his pace, precision and concentration.

He opened up and then maintained a substantial gap, in case of emergency, but in the end was able to cruise to the line, half a minute clear of his team-mate. Irvine was seven seconds ahead of Hakkinen.

David Coulthard, in the other McLaren, had been outdragged by Irvine at the start and was never able to figure in the main event. He was forced to retire midway through the race with gearbox failure.

Heinz-Harald Frentzen took fourth place for Jordan-Mugen and the Benetton pair, Giancarlo Fisichella and Alexander Wurz, shared the remaining points.

"There is so little time to celebrate now because we go testing this week," said Schumacher, who now leads Irvine by eight points and, more importantly, Hakkinen by 12, with a quarter of the championship gone. "We'll save it till the end of the season to have a big celebration."

Even his personal portfolio of achievement at Monaco and with Ferrari would not compare with the distinction of a third title and the first by any driver of the Italian marque in 20 years.

"It means a lot to be Ferrari's most successful driver and to have another win at Monaco," he said, "but it is more important to win this race for the championship. When I retire it will be nice to look back at the other statistics."

Hakkinen had enjoyed faultless starts in the early races, but Schumacher, who flew back to Ferrari's test track at Fiorana, on Friday, to practise his starts, was suitably equipped to beat the Finn this time.

"I saw Mika have wheel spin and he tried to move over to make it difficult for me, but he was clever enough not to come over too far and crash," Schumacher said. "My strategy then was to make sure my lead was not less than 20 seconds."

The McLaren seemed impotent by comparison and although Hakkinen was able to fend off Irvine before his pit stop, he overshot at Mirabeu and surrendered the initiative to the Ulsterman. Irvine had time to make a second stop and come out again in front.

Frentzen sustained Jordan's challenge for third place in the constructors' championship, but his team-mate, Damon Hill, managed just three laps before inadvisably trying to take Ralf Schumacher's Williams at the harbour chicane. Instead he was squashed into the barrier.

MONACO GRAND PRIX (Monte Carlo): 78 laps (163.188 miles/262.626 km): 1 M Schumacher (Ger) Ferrari 1hr 49min 31.812 sec (av speed 89.412mph/ 143.864 kph); 2 Eddie Irvine (GB) Ferrari +30.476 sec; 3 M Hakkinen (Fin) McLaren-Mercedes +37.483; 4 H-H Frentzen (Ger) Jordan Mugen-Honda +54.009; 5 G Fisichella (It) Benetton-Playlife 1 lap; 6 A Wurz (Aut) Benetton-Playlife 1 lap; 7 J Trulli (It) Prost-Peugeot 1 lap; 8 A Zanardi (It) Williams- Supertec 2 laps; 9 R Barrichello (Bra) Stewart-Ford 7 laps. Did not finish: 10 R Schumacher (Ger) Williams-Supertec 54 laps completed; 11 J Alesi (Fr) Sauber-Petronas 50; 12 P Diniz (Bra) Sauber-Petronas 49; 13 O Panis (Fr) Prost-Peugeot 40; 14 D Coulthard (GB) McLaren-Mercedes 36; 15 M Salo (Fin) BAR-Supertec 36; 16 T Takagi (Japan) Arrows 36; 17 J Villeneuve (Can) BAR-Supertec 32; 18 J Herbert (GB) Stewart-Ford 32; 19 P de la Rosa (Sp) Arrows 30; 20 M Gene (Sp) Minardi-Ford 24; 21 L Badoer (It) Minardi-Ford 10; 22 D Hill (GB) Jordan Mugen-Honda 3. Fastest lap: Hakkinen 1:22.259 (91.581mph/ 147.354kph).

Constructors' championship: 1 Ferrari 44pts, 2 McLaren 20, 3 Jordan 16, 4 Benetton 8, 5 Williams 7, 6 Stewart 6, 7= Arrows 1, Prost 1, Sauber 1.