Schumacher coasts home as rivals fight for scraps

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The Independent Online

Formula One is not a race for first position only, Michael Schumacher pronounced. Which is just as well.

Schumacher's dominant victory in the Spanish Grand Prix here yesterday confirmed that the contest for the drivers' championship is, at best, moribund. It was the German's fourth win from five races this season and extended his lead in the standings to 21 points. Unless he again breaks a leg or Ferrari's workforce down tools, he seems assured a record-equalling fifth world title.

Schumacher's Ferrari was so far out of reach for Juan Pablo Montoya's Williams-BMW and David Coulthard's McLaren Mercedes, in second and third places, the German was able to sit back in the closing laps and enjoy the scrap for the minor points, raging just ahead of him.

Jenson Button was struggling to hold sixth position in an increasingly uncooperative Renault as firstly Felipe Massa, in a Sauber, and then Heinz-Harald Frentzen, in an Arrows, began to hound him. The Renault gradually became undriveable with a hydraulic fault and Button could offer no further resistance. Massa and Frentzen went through, eventually also passing Jarno Trulli's sick Renault to claim fifth and sixth places respectively.

Nick Heidfeld finished immediately ahead of them in the other Sauber. Button could not make it to the end, parking his car with five laps to go.

Schumacher was advised by Ferrari's technical director, Ross Brawn, to resist any temptation to lap the cars in front of him but he had no intention of giving up his box seat.

He said: "I wasn't lonely because it was interesting to watch the battle for sixth position. Ross told me it was best to stay away from it but I had already thought I would watch the fight. You can never be sure before a race that you'll be so far ahead but this was the right circuit for our car. It was simply phenomenal here. But there will be circuits where it will be closer and more difficult for us.''

Ferrari would have recorded another emphatic one-two success but for an electrical problem with the gear selection on Rubens Barrichello's car, which left the unfortunate Brazilian stranded on the grid. He has finished only once this season.

Schumacher acknowledged: "It was really bad luck again for Rubens. You know that one day it is going to hit yourself.''

The fringe theatre kept the audience entertained all afternoon. David Coulthard had produced the overtaking manoeuvre of the show, sliding his much-maligned McLaren inside Button to take third place.

Coulthard needed that after his inauspicious start to the season. The result lifted the Scotsman above the young Englishman to fourth place in the championship and reinforced McLaren's third position in the constructors' race.

Williams-BMW presented their own black comedy. Ralf Schumacher set the tone, running wide and hurling unwanted debris from his cockpit. Then, at a Montoya pit stop, the chief mechanic, Carl Gaden, withdrew his 'lollipop' too soon and the Colombian pulled away with the fuel man still attached to the back of the car.

Gaden realised his mistake and stepped in front of the car. Before Montoya could hit the brakes he had run over Gaden's foot. Gaden was bowled over but resumed work later. He had a strapped foot and bruised pride. He said: "I'm mad at myself because I instinctively put my foot out and you don't stop racing cars with your foot.''

Montoya said: "He lifted the lollipop because he thought I could go through, then tried to stop me with his body. I knew he was alright because I could see that. When the race finished the team told me he was OK.''

Ralf Schumacher dropped out of contention, leaving Montoya to take the nominal challenge to the champion. However, the Ferrari was a distant blur, lapping on average almost a second quicker.

Gerhard Berger, BMW's motor sport director, spoke for the paddock when he said: "Forget the championship. There is no chance to stop Michael. In the constructors' championship there is an outside chance. It is no problem for Formula One if Michael Schumacher is dominant. If someone does a good job he deserves the win. Michael's success is unbelievable.''

Montoya, who has moved ahead of his team-mate to take second place in the championship, said: "Second place is better than I expected from this race. There was nothing I could do against Ferrari.''

Coulthard, too, was thankful for what he received. He said: "The only excitement for me was an interesting battle with Jenson and he was very fair. We have to develop the car and push. We're not competitive enough.''

Button glimpsed the prospect of his maiden appearance on the rostrum until the handling of the Renault rendered such aspirations fanciful. He said: "It's a big disappointment. The car got more difficult to drive until my arms were completely crossed coming out of the corners. It would have been great to have made the podium but in the end I couldn't even finish let alone make third.''

Allan McNish brought home his Toyota in eighth place but Eddie Irvine lasted only two-thirds of the course in his Jaguar. For Minardi there wasn't even the satisfaction of a bit part. They pulled both their cars out of the race after a series of wing failures.

RACE RESULT

1 M Schumacher (Ger) Ferrari

2 J P Montoya (Col) Williams-BMW

3 D Coulthard (GB) McLaren-Mercedes

4 N Heidfeld (Ger) Sauber-Petronas

5 F Massa (Br) Sauber-Petronas

6 H-H Frentzen (Ger) Arrows-Cosworth

Drivers' Championship (after five races): 1 M Schumacher (Ger) 44pts; 2 J P Montoya (Col) 23, 3 R Schumacher (Ger) Williams 20.

Constructors' Championship: 1 Ferrari 50pts; 2 Williams-BMW 43; 3 McLaren-Mercedes 13.

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