Michael Schumacher equalled Nigel Mansell's record for winning the first five races of a season in Spain yesterday, but said that an exhaust problem left him mentally exhausted. Well, not as mentally exhausted as everyone who had to sit and watch yet another crushing performance by the world champion and Ferrari.
Once a pathetic Spanish attention seeker known as J.M.C. had been tackled and dragged away after prancing along the pit straight while the field was completing the grid formation lap - these people are fast becoming as tedious as streakers - the only diversion was provided when Jarno Trulli snatched the lead going into the first corner in his Renault.
The Italian admitted that when he had let the clutch out it just happened to coincide with the red start lights going out. "It was right on the limit of a jump start, the type of start you have once in your life. I was very lucky."
By the 10th lap, however, Schumacher was in charge and romped away to the 75th victory of his career. Behind him, team-mate Rubens Barrichello made the most of his decision to stop only twice to refuel (almost everyone else made three stops) and snuck ahead of Trulli to cement second place.
Trulli clung on to finish on the podium, disappointing 108,300 fans by holding off his team-mate Fernando Alonso. By the flag the local hero had reduced a 10-second gap to nothing.
"I was looking after Fernando at the end but I was quite comfortable judging his pace," Trulli said. "I was kind of playing with him and it was nice to come across the line together."
The Italian was relieved to make the podium. "It means a lot for me," he said. "We've been very close many times and small mistakes from me, and some misfortune, took it away. I have a very close friend at home, Dino Toso [Renault's aerodynamicist], who is going through a very difficult time, and has a big battle ahead of him. This trophy is for him."
Fifth place was a bit of a disappointment for Takuma Sato, who had started his BAR Honda from third place, but it was the best the team could do on the day. Ralf Schumacher had an unobtrusive run to sixth place just ahead of Giancarlo Fisichella's Sauber Petronas, after his BMW Williams team-mate Juan Pablo Montoya dropped out with a brake problem on the 46th lap.
How much Jenson Button's unfortunate slip in qualifying cost everyone who had hoped to see a real race will remain a matter for conjecture, but the vagaries of running in the pack and fighting in a group cost him dear. All that you can say is that Schumacher's fastest lap, which was the fastest overall, was 1m 17.450s on lap 12. Button was next best, with 1m 17.495s. But Alonso, Barrichello and Sato were also in the 1m 17s. Had the Englishman started on the front row, where he had seemed likely to, who knows what might have happened?
As it was, Button made barely any progress in the early stages, remaining in his 14th grid placing until the third lap and then staying there until the first round of stops began. After that he was back to 14th and had advanced only to 12th before the next round. After that he was able to break free and make up ground, so that by his final pit stop, on lap 44, he was up to seventh. That dropped him back again, however, and eventually he came home a lapped eighth.
"I didn't get a very good start, then I was a little disappointed with the first stint because it just wasn't possible to overtake," said the man who had led so confidently in Imola a fortnight earlier. "I really struggled, to be honest. I lost so much time in the high-speed corners because when you're close to other cars you lose a lot of downforce. We had good straightline speed so we thought we would be able to overtake on the straight, but I had no chance; overtaking is so difficult here."
It was what Schumacher discovered while he was chasing Trulli early on. "Jarno was pushing hard, and didn't give me a chance," he said. "I just needed one lap earlier, or one later than him on the first pit stops. I had the feeling that I could go quicker, and when he came in on the ninth lap I was able to do so and jump him when I came in a lap later. It could have worked either way, but I'm just happy that it did."
Button, however, had little to cheer except for a single point. "I didn't get a very good start and I was a little disappointed with the first stint because it just wasn't possible to overtake," he said. "I really struggled to be honest. Considering where I started, I'm pleased to have been able to salvage a point here."
Otherwise, all he could do was look forward to Monaco. No doubt his error will attract criticism, but some knocks as well as some accolades will only strengthen him as he learns more about the level on which a champion like Schumacher operates.
"Ross [Brawn] told me about the exhaust problem in my first stop," Schumacher said. "This time the team heard the problem earlier than me. I didn't feel it at that time and then it developed and became obvious to me. I just reduced the revs. Any exhaustion I felt was mental as a result, rather than physical.
"You expect any moment to stop, not to finish, so when it worked I had quite mixed emotions." Barcelona produced plenty of them.
1 M Schumacher (Ger) Ferrari 1:27:32.841
2 R Barrichello (Bral) Ferrari 1:27:46.131
3 J Trulli (Ita) Renault 1:28:05.135
4 F Alonso (Spa) Renault 1:28:05.793
5 Takuma Sato (Jap) BAR 1:28:15.168
6 R Schumacher (Ger) Williams 1:28:46.645
7 G Fisichella (Ita) Sauber 1:28:49.949
8 J Button (GB) BAR 1 lap behind
9 F Massa (Bra) Sauber 1 lap
10 D Coulthard (GB) McLaren 1 lap
11 K Raikkonen (Finl) McLaren 1 lap
12 M Webber (Aus) Jaguar 1 lap
13 C da Matta (Bra) Toyota 1 lap
G Pantano (Ita) Jordan
J Pablo Montoya (Col) Williams
C Klien (Austria) Jaguar
O Panis (Fra) Toyota
N Heidfeld (Ger) Jordan
J Gianmaria Bruni (Ita) Minardi
Z Baumgartner (Hun) Minardi
Fastest lap: M Schmacher 1:17:450Reuse content