Schumacher beats brother to close in on seventh title

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The Independent Online

For a while it actually seemed as if Ralf Schumacher was headed for victory in Canada, but a super-slick two-stop strategy by Ferrari delivered Michael Schumacher his 77th victory, his seventh of the season and his seventh in Montreal. It could scarcely have been a better day for the world champion, as a record seventh title drew ever closer.

Ralf made a perfect start from pole position to grab the lead, and proceeded to build it over Button, Alonso, Montoya, Schumacher, Raikkonen and Barrichello. But Jarno Trulli's race ended even before the first corner when his Renault suffered a suspected suspension failure accelerating off the startline. Further back, rookie Christian Klein's move on David Coulthard going into the first corner ended with the Austrian spinning the Scot, and then landing his Jaguar on team-mate Mark Weber's car.

Barrichello passed Raikkonen on the sixth lap, but otherwise it was the usual Canadian follow-my-leader game until the McLarens were the first to refuel - the unfortunate Coulthard on lap 11, Raikkonen lap 12. Button and Montoya came in on lap 13, Ralf on lap 15, so by lap 16 Michael had only Alonso ahead of him as Ferrari's master plan stayed smoothly on track. Alonso's stop on lap 17 promoted the world champion to the lead. Now it was just a matter of how long the red cars would stay out before they needed more fuel, and how big a gap they could build in the meantime.

The answer was not as long as anticipated, as Barrichello refuelled on lap 18, Schumacher on 19. Against expectations, this handed the lead back to Ralf, with Button pushing up to second ahead of the Ferraris, which naturally were running in team formation, separated by Montoya.

As Button pushed hard to challenge Ralf Schumacher, brother Michael found his hands full fending off Montoya until the Colombian's second stop on lap 30, by which time the champion was 11sec adrift of his brother and had Barrichello breathing down his neck.

When Ralf fell only 3.7sec behind his brother after his second stop on lap 33 things looked rosy, especially as Barrichello was clearly faster than his team leader at this point. The two Ferraris circulated nose-to-tail at the head of the field, with Ralf apparently just awaiting their stops. Barrichello's came on lap 44, but as Michael just kept running Ferrari's strategy became clearer and hopes in the BMW Williams camp began a slow fade. Michael stopped finally on lap 47, but a lap later Ralf was in no position to exploit that as he came in from a brief lead for his final call a lap later.

By the time everything settled down again after Button and Montoya pitted on lap 49, Michael was leading comfortably from Ralf, Barrichello, Button and Montoya. Alonso's race had ended with a mechanical failure at the start of the 45th lap, the first time this year that Renault had failed to finish a car.

Over the remaining laps Schumacher consolidated his lead as everyone else seemed to lose heart, merely settling for points-scoring finishes. By the finish the Ferrari was almost 10sec ahead of the BMW Williams, until Michael eased off in the final lap. Button and Montoya provided what few thrills remained as the Colombian hounded the Briton. Button just clung on to finish fourth. Behind them, Kimi Raikkonen lost sixth place to Giancarlo Fisichella after having to stop on the 61st lap for a replacement steering wheel following an electronic problem.

In an incident in the pits on lap 21, a Jordan mechanic was injured when Nick Heidfeld was signalled to rejoin before his refuelling process had been completed, while Felipe Massa escaped unharmed after crashing his Sauber very heavily after losing a wheel on lap 65.

"This was a very satisfying win, and one that I owe to the team and its fantastic work," Schumacher said. "We planned this race very carefully, and I am delighted that all our work paid off so handsomely. I couldn't have asked for more" The win gives the unstoppable Schumacher 70 points to Barrichello's 66 and Button's 43, while Ferrari have 122 points, Renault 61 and BAR Honda 51. Don't bet on a repeat at Indianapolis, in seven days' time.

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