Ferrari's waiting game leaves Schumacher in total control

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The Independent Online

The more you practise something, the easier you can make it look. And the one thing more than any other that Michael Schumacher is well versed in is winning Grands Prix.

The more you practise something, the easier you can make it look. And the one thing more than any other that Michael Schumacher is well versed in is winning Grands Prix.

He did it again at Silverstone yesterday, taking his third British Grand Prix triumph, and the 80th success of a career that shows every sign of gathering momentum rather than slowing down.

Thanks to Kimi Raikkonen it wasn't quite the shooting-fish-in-a-barrel job that some of the other nine wins he has taken this season have been, but he was in control all the way through, even when he wasn't leading.

From pole position Raikkonen took off as if he was running on fuel vapour only, building a three-and-a-half-second lead by the end of the opening lap, but after opening that out to 4.3sec on the second, the gap began coming down again. The McLaren, it transpired, was actually running more fuel than the chasing Rubens Barrichello and the same as Jenson Button's BAR-Honda (they would both stop for more on lap 11, two laps later than the Brazilian); it was just the Finn's brio that had taken him clear.

Schumacher watched all this from fourth place initially, content to bide his time and doubtless chuckling into his helmet. He knew that he was on a two-stop strategy and that he could stay close enough when it mattered, and after his rivals headed for the pits for their first of three stops, he took the lead and stayed out on track until lap 15.

Even at this early stage it was clear that the race, as such, was over. As Button began a slow fade out of contention, Raikkonen kept up the pressure, with Barrichello hounding him. And as the revised McLaren's new fuel load was depleted the Finn drew closer again to Schumacher. It was clear, however, that the Ferrari would be able to go longer before refuelling.

Raikkonen pitted again on lap 28, but this time Schumacher stayed out until lap 37. When he rejoined Raikkonen was less than a second behind and pushing with all the suppressed urge of a man liberated from his season-long confinement in an uncompetitive car. Schumacher might have had the upper hand, but Raikkonen was keeping him honest. It was also clear, by now, that the champion did not need to stop again, whereas his rivals, on their three-stop strategies, did. But that was when a hefty accident for Jarno Trulli cut them a break.

The Italian's Renault crashed dramatically into the tyre wall on the exit to the Bridge corner, which is taken at 167mph, and scattered itself further as it rolled into a gravel trap. As Trulli was helped away, shaken but not stirred, and the safety car was deployed, Raikkonen, Barrichello and Button all dived into the pits and were able to make their final stops for fuel without losing much ground to Schumacher, who was running slowly behind the safety car. That was the moment when a glimmer of hope was born, and it clung to life through the 46th lap, when racing resumed and Raikkonen sped past the pits a mere two-tenths of a second behind the Ferrari.

It was too good to last, however. The red car was now the one with the lower fuel load, and steadily Schumacher pulled away as Barrichello moved in to hassle Raikkonen again. That was how they finished, with an unhappy Button left behind in fourth place.

"I am amazed at how the race went," Schumacher said. "I thought we had a good strategy, where to a certain extent we sacrificed qualifying for the race, but I never expected it to pay out so early. Even if he [Kimi] had gone ahead after my second stop I would not have worried as he had to come in again. I did not want to overdo it and just let the potential of the car do the work. But I lost a comfortable lead with the safety car and that meant after it went in I had to fight hard for a couple of laps until my tyres came good and then I was able to pull out a lead again."

Four stops in France; two in Britain. Frankly, Ferrari could have sent him into Towcester for a Big Mac and fries for the crew, and he'd still have won.

Raikkonen was philosophical after the best race of his troubled season. "Second is a great result. I struggled with the balance on the rear with my last set of tyres and as a result it wasn't possible to attack harder and pass Michael in my last stint. But the outcome is very motivating for the team." For the fans, too.

Behind Barrichello, Button quickly came to terms with the postponement of his dream to win at home after struggling all race for rear-end grip. "We came into this race expecting a lot more than we were able to deliver," he admitted. "Today's race performance was nowhere near our testing performance earlier in the year. Our pace showed that we weren't as fast as we were at the start of the season. Somehow we've managed to drop behind a bit, which is very disappointing, particularly in front of our home crowd."

The team had an unpleasant setback yesterday morning when some of their key engineers were the innocent victims of a drunk driver on the road into the circuit. Nobody was hurt, but after treatment they were forced to miss the race.

Further back, fortune smiled on Juan Pablo Montoya when the man who may well replace him at Williams-BMW next year, Giancarlo Fisichella, had a longer than scheduled final stop to have his engine's air pressure replenished, dropping his Sauber-Petronas behind the Colombian's car. "You see," team boss Peter Sauber said pointedly, but with a smile, to his driver, "today we had a car that was much quicker than the Williams..."

The final placings went to David Coulthard and Mark Webber, the Australian's Jaguar finishing three-tenths of a second ahead of Fisichella's team-mate, Felipe Massa.