Schumacher spearheads the red tide

Ferrari's legendary testa rossas - red heads - took human form here in Malaysia yesterday as Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello celebrated a championship-clinching performance by donning red wigs as they headed for the podium. Schumacher had just equalled his own record - shared with Nigel Mansell - of nine victories in a season, narrowly holding off David Coulthard's persistent challenge, while Barrichello followed them home.

Ferrari's legendary testa rossas - red heads - took human form here in Malaysia yesterday as Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello celebrated a championship-clinching performance by donning red wigs as they headed for the podium. Schumacher had just equalled his own record - shared with Nigel Mansell - of nine victories in a season, narrowly holding off David Coulthard's persistent challenge, while Barrichello followed them home.

The 14 points they garnered were more than enough to add the World Championship for Constructors to the drivers' title that Schumacher clinched in Japan a fortnight ago. As the evening shadows lengthened, the entire Ferrari team assembled to celebrate and the pit lane was flooded by the red tide.

"It was a very tight and tough race and DC [Coulthard] was pushing me all the way," Schumacher said, "so it was tough physically and on the car. When David was pulling away from me originally I was concerned because I couldn't go any faster. At that point he was definitely quicker than me. But I was hoping he would pit early. He did, and our strategy did the rest. He put me under pressure at the end, but I looked after the last set of tyres so that I could have defended myself if I needed to fight him off."

In his final grand prix Johnny Herbert chose the right strategy of a single fuel stop and had climbed to fourth place by the 28th lap when his pit stop went horribly wrong. The engine stalled as he came in, then the refuelling hose jammed momentarily, dropping him to 12th place. Then, with seven laps left, his Jaguar suffered a catastrophic failure of the right rear suspension, and was pitched into an alarming accident at 170mph. The green car skimmed wildly across a gravel bed and Herbert was extremely lucky not to roll over before he hit the tyre barriers very hard. Having extracted himself from the cockpit he signalled marshals to carry him to safety. He was later released from the medical centre with bruising to his left leg, but remained characteristically cheerful.

"I guess it was inevitable that having begun my F1 career being carried to the car," he said, referring to the serious accident he suffered in 1988 which smashed his feet, "I would end it being carried from it."

During the drivers' parade in vintage cars on race morning, the McLaren-Mercedes pilots had thrown water at their Ferrari rivals, who had in turn retaliated, but the bonhomie disappeared even before the start of the race. Schumacher, on pole position, moved momentarily before all five red lights had gone out, but checked himself. Hakkinen, too, crept forward, but was a fraction later in stopping and triggered the penalty beam on the track that monitors each driver's movement. As all five lights went out the two left the grid together, and once again Schumacher's now famous lunge into his opponent's path proved fruitless as Hakkinen took the lead.

Coulthard, too, edged up alongside Schumacher on the outside of the first right-hander, to hold the inside line for the left that followed. At the end of the first lap McLaren were thus first and second, with the two Ferraris on their heels.

McLaren's race was already in jeopardy, though, for Hakkinen was judged to have jumped the start, and a 10-second stop-and-go penalty was imposed. The Finn stayed in front for two laps before waving Coulthard by, but then also made it very easy for Schumacher to pass, suggesting that the ambiguous anti-blocking rule might have been uppermost in his mind long before he actually headed for the pits. He made his mandatory stop on the fifth lap and dropped back to 18th place, so Coulthard was left to fight the Ferraris single-handed.

Initially he did well, opening a gap of 2.4sec over Schumacher by the time he made his first fuel stop on the 17th lap. But Ferrari cannily kept the world champion out for another seven laps, and for the first four of them he got the hammer down to set fastest laps. By the time he had made his first stop, on lap 24, he had enough in hand to resume ahead of the Scot.

Each would stop again, Coulthard on the 38th lap, Schumacher the 39th, and for the remainder of the race there was never more than two seconds between them. By the finish they were less than a second apart, but Coulthard could not find within his armoury the superb passing move that he had used on Schumacher during last year's race.

The Scot blamed a momentary off-track lapse on the 12th lap for causing his McLaren to overheat for the next five laps, and that in turn prompted the team to call him in earlier than intended to have grass cleaned out of the radiator ducts. "If Michael had made a mistake I would have got past him," Coulthard suggested, "but unfortunately he didn't."

Hakkinen, who thought he could have won, was instead condemned to fight back through the field and did so well enough to set fastest lap on his way to fourth place.

Another strong performance from Jacques Villeneuve brought BAR-Honda fifth place and left them on equal points with Benetton in the chase for a lucrative fourth place in the constructors' points table, and Eddie Irvine rounded out the top six in his Jaguar.

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