David Coulthard led off the line initially, but a spectacular accident brought out the red flag after a five-car incident in the first corner. As Schumacher muscled ahead of Mika Hakkinen's McLaren for second place, brother Ralf was stranded on the grid. Further back, Alexander Wurz was caught out in the concertina as Jean Alesi braked his Sauber to avoid Heinz-Harald Frentzen's Williams. For the second race in succession the young Austrian found himself involved in a dramatic accident as his Benetton barrel-rolled over Alesi and landed upside down in the gravel bed. Jarno Trulli and Johnny Herbert were also involved.
At the restart half an hour later, the two McLarens left the grid side by side but Hakkinen slowed dramatically with gearbox failure and there were more phenomenal avoidances as the silver car crept to the first corner. There, Ralf Schumacher spun after confusing the grass with the tarmac. This time Wurz edged Trulli into Alesi and, as the Prost landed atop the Sauber, the safety car was deployed while the wreckage was cleared away.
Moments before, Schumacher had snatched second place from Giancarlo Fisichella so, as Oliver Gavin, the former racer, paced the field behind the Mercedes CLK, Coulthard, Schumacher, Fisichella, Villeneuve and Frentzen in the two Williams, then Rubens Barrichello and Damon Hill followed him nose-to- tail. It said everything that the hapless Ricardo Rosset had climbed as high as 10th in the melee.
It seemed that fate had dealt Coulthard a handful of aces for, with Hakkinen out, victory would dramatically enhance his championship prospects.
The race resumed after five laps, and immediately Coulthard and Schumacher dropped the rest. For 10 laps they fought, never as much as a second apart, until the safety car came out again after Pedro Diniz had spun from ninth place and thrown earth all round the circuit.
No sooner had the race started again at the end of the 17th lap, however, than Coulthard also slowed. Hot on the heels of double failure at Le Mans, Mercedes-Benz saw their lead car slow and creep to the pits with a throttle problem.
That same lap Mika Salo crashed his Arrows, and Herbert spun, and out came the safety car again. Gavin seemed likely to lead more laps than the winner.
Schumacher cannily made his first fuel stop at this stage, but then earned a stop-and-go penalty after trying to race Frentzen while the safety car was out, and easing his fellow countryman off the road in the first corner.
This time Villeneuve was the villain of the restart, his do-or-die lunge past Fisichella for the lead on the now notorious first corner throwing his Williams through the gravel. As he stumbled away, he chopped across Esteban Tuero's Minardi and lost his own rear wing for his pains. For the second year in succession the home hero had blundered catastrophically.
Fisichella thus led from Schumacher, and Hill momentarily moved up to second place when Schumacher obeyed his penalty on the 35th lap. Hill's glory was fleeting and, shortly after Schumacher had repassed, the crippled Jordan crept into retirement.
Schumacher got his head down and compiled a string of fastest laps that brought him ever closer to Fisichella. When the Italian refuelled on the 44th lap the German regained the lead, and his own stop six laps later was so slick that the Ferrari emerged inches ahead of the Benetton.
An extraordinary race was all but over. Fisichella finished an honourable second, with Eddie Irvine backing Schumacher superbly by climbing from last on the opening lap to an excellent third ahead of the battle-weary Wurz and the two Stewart Fords.
"We will see how we go in the next two or three events," Jean Todt, Ferrari's sporting director, said before the race, "What happens in them will decide whether we can still win the World Championship."
On yesterday's form McLaren and Mercedes need to keep the champagne on ice a while longer.
Canadian Grand Prix
1 M Schumacher (Ger) 10pts
2 G Fisichella (It) 6pts
3 E Irvine (GB) 4pts
4 A Wurz (Aut) 3pts
5 R Barrichello (Bra) 2pts
6 J Magnussen (Den) 1pt
1 McLaren 75pts; 2 Ferrari 53; 3 Benetton 25; 4 Williams 16; 5 Stewart 5; 6= Sauber 4, Arrows 4.Reuse content