HOCKENHEIM, Germany, Reuters
Ralf Schumacher won his home German Grand Prix on Sunday on an afternoon rich in drama and controversy that veered between despair and delight for brother Michael. Brazilian Rubens Barrichello was second for Ferrari behind the Williams driver with Canadian Jacques Villeneuve third for British American Racing (BAR) in a race of attrition run in sweltering heat. Just 10 of the 22 starters were still running at the finish with outsiders snapping up unexpected points. Benetton’s Giancarlo Fisichella was fourth and British team mate Jenson Button fifth ahead of Prost’s Jean Alesi. It was Ralf’s third win but the excitement was elsewhere during an incident-packed 45 laps that saw both Michael and McLaren title challenger David Coulthard retire and fail to score points. Their retirements left Ferrari’s triple champion still enjoying a 37-point lead over the Scot with just five races — worth 50 points — left. But retirement was merely a trough in a roller-coaster afternoon for Michael that began with a horror crash involving him and Brazilian Luciano Burti on the starting grid. The Ferrari driver clearly had a problem with his car at the first start and pulled over into the middle of the track to avoid speeding cars behind. But Burti, starting six rows behind Schumacher in a Prost, careered into the back of the German and his car rose vertically before barrel-rolling on to an Arrows and then bouncing away into the gravel. Schumacher walked sadly back to the pits after an accident that appeared to have ended his hopes of a record-equalling 51st win before more than 100,000 devoted fans throwing firecrackers and clamouring for Ferrari. But a red flag signalling a restart quickened his step and he sprinted back to the garage to collect the spare car. Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya, starting his Williams on pole for the first time, led for the opening 21 laps before a jammed fuel hose led to an agonising 29.9-second first pit stop and put paid to his chances. The Williams driver pulled over on the pit straight with a blown engine on lap 26 moments before the same thing happened to Coulthard near the Jim Clark curve — named after his boyhood hero who died at the track in 1968. Two laps before, Michael had retired after a pit stop when his car slowed. He got out of the car, slowly removed his helmet and then applauded the fans. But his gloom soon turned to delight when Coulthard’s McLaren let out a puff of smoke and pulled over. The Scot expressed diasappointment later with the restart, pointing out that cars had already driven through the debris before the race was halted. Schumacher stayed out on the edge of the track, listening to his brother’s progress on a radio and breaking out into applause as he took the chequered flag.
He embraced his brother later in the pits as fans saluted them with a roar of klaxons. It was Williams’ first win at Hockenheim since Briton Damon Hill in 1996 and put Ralf just six points behind Coulthard in third place in the standings. “I always had a bit of bad luck here and to win the race in Germany is a great feeling,” Ralf said.