Schumacher gamble reaps high reward

Brazilian Grand Prix: Ferrari's No 1 benefits from two-stop policy as Hakkinen fails and Button just misses out on the points
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The Independent Online

Michael Schumacher and Ferrari dealt Mika Hakkinen's quest for a third consecutive world championship another solid blow as the German exploited a brilliant strategy to speed home as a dominant victor of yesterday's Brazilian Grand Prix.

Though Hakkinen narrowly led away from pole position on the starting grid, Schumacher's opening pace immediately made clear Ferrari's adventurous two-stop refuelling strategy. Having rebuffed an initial advance as they left the line, Hakkinen was powerless to resist as Schumacher's lighter - and therefore slightly faster - Ferrari swept by, under-braking for the first corner at the end of the second lap. A little further back, Rubens Barrichello in the second Ferrari survived a slippery moment over a kerb to squeeze ahead of David Coulthard's McLaren, the Scot's car heavy with fuel as the team planned to stop as late as possible.

Hakkinen was soon forced to turn his attention to an attack from the increasingly aggressive Barrichello, and the crowd's hero finally made it past the defensive McLaren at the end of the 14th lap, passing Hakkinen going into the first corner.

Ferrari's first stop on the 20th lap dispatched Schumacher in 10.1 seconds, and he resumed in third place. But neither Barrichello nor Hakkinen was destined to make it to the finish.

Barrichello delighted his countrymen by leading for two laps until his own stop, which again handed the initiative to Hakkinen who began to ease away from Schumacher's fuel-heavy Ferrari. The race was turning back into McLaren's favour, as Hakkinen lapped faster even though his tyres were more worn.

Barrichello's engine began smoking on the 27th lap to the consternation of his vocal fans, and his demise became only a matter of time. At the end of the lap the bitterly disappointed Brazilian crept into the pits, where his car caught fire and the blaze had to be put out.

No sooner had that drama been enacted than Hakkinen too crept towards the pits at the end of the 29th lap. It was immediately clear that this was no routine stop, and sure enough he drove straight into the garage with a mechanical failure. Coulthard now lay only 8.6sec adrift of Schumacher, with both due to make pit stops. Initially the Scot closed in, only to lose a second while lapping an unhappy Johnny Herbert's Jaguar on the 41st lap, and then another when he slid wide over a kerb.

As Coulthard made his single stop on the 43rd lap, the leader was the one losing time, trying to lap the Williams-BMWs of Jenson Button, Schumacher's brother Ralf and Jarno Trulli's Jordan. Schumacher's second stop came after 51 laps, Ferrari sending their man back out after only 7.7sec. As the race moved towards its final stages Schumacher suddenly appeared to be losing speed, dropping four seconds in one lap to Coulthard. "We had a small problem," he admitted, but it was the Scot who was in greater trouble, making do without third gear from the opening laps.

Almost unnoticed, Giancarlo Fisichella drove an excellent race for Benetton to take third place, running longer than anyone on a tankful of fuel and not stopping until the 51st lap. It augured well for Renault, who recently acquired the team and will rename it by 2002.

Reliable runs placed theJordan-Mugen-Hondas of HeinzHarald Frentzen and Trulli fourth and fifth, the team splitting its chances by running the German on a single stop and the Italian on two. In the closing laps Frentzen was the fastest man on the track as he scythed aggressively into Fisichella's advantage, but his efforts came just too late. For the second consecutive race Ralf Schumacher scored a point for Williams-BMW, while a scintillating drive had at one stage placed the Dutch driver Jos Verstappen in third place for Arrows. He dropped back after his fuel stop, and was later overtaken by the continuingly impressive rookie Jenson Button, who had qualified ninth. When the Arrows understeered off the road on the 57th lap, Button pounced into seventh place and immediately began catching his Williams-BMW team-mate until the German re-established his pace.

It was an unhappy race for Button's countrymen Eddie Irvine, who crashed his Jaguar out of sixth place on the 21st lap, and Johnny Herbert, who retired after 52 with mechanical failure.

The Brazilian GP took place under the shadow of a spate of rear-wing failures. These, together with a ludicrous situation when qualifying had to be red flagged three times after advertising hoardings dropped on to the track, raised serious questions about the organisers' ability to stage the race.

On Saturday the Sauber- Petronas cars of Mika Salo and Pedro Diniz lost their rear wings, prompting the team to withdraw their cars from the race. Then Jean Alesi's Prost suffered a similar failure during yesterday's warm-up. All three failures are believed to have been caused by the combination of high G-forces in the fast and long left-hand bend leading uphill at 170 mph on to the main pit straight, and the ridiculously bumpy surface which, despite resurfacing prior to the race, generated forces for which the cars had not been designed.

Schumacher had no such problems. He said: "This race proves what we have said all along - we have a car that is completely competitive, and we are using it to its best advantage. This was a fantastic day for us."

INTERLAGOS DETAILS

1 M Schumacher (Ger) Ferrari 1hr 31min 35.271sec(ave speed 200.4 kph) 2 D Coulthard (GB) McLaren-Mercedes +4.302sec 3 G Fisichella (It) Benetton-Playlife +39.898 4 H-H Frentzen (Ger) Jordan-Mugen-Honda +42.268 5 J Trulli (It) Jordan-Mugen-Honda +1min 12.780sec 6 R Schumacher (Ger) Williams-BMW +1 lap 7 J Button BMW Williams-BMW +1; 8 J Verstappen (Neth) Arrows Supertec +1; 9 P de la Rosa (Sp) Arrows Supertec +1; 10 R Zonta (Bra) BAR-Honda +2; 11 G Mazzacane (Arg) Minardi-Telefonica +2.

Did not finish J Herbert (GB) Jaguar Racing 51 laps; M Gene (Sp) Minardi-Telefonica 31; M Hakkinen (Fin) McLaren-Mercedes 30; R Barrichello (Bra) Ferrari 27; E Irvine (GB) Jaguar Racing 20; J Villeneuve (Can) BAR-Honda 16; J Alesi (Fr) Prost-Peugeot 11; N Heidfeld (Ger) Prost-Peugeot 9; A Wurz (Aut) Benetton-Playlife 1.

Did not start M Salo (Fin) Sauber- Petronas; P Diniz (Bra) Sauber-Petronas. Fastest lap: M Schumacher 1:14.755 lap 49.

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