Top Stories from the Sports pages of the International Herald Tribune,
Monday, May 22, 2000

Schumacher Captures Slick Victory

Hakkinen Left in the Spray as Field Battles on a Wet and Wild Track

By Brad Spurgeon International Herald Tribune
NUERBURGRING, Germany - The brutal elements in the Eifel Mountains turned the European Grand Prix into a war of attrition on Sunday.

But while only nine cars crossed the finish line after a rain-soaked wind-blown race, the top four finishers were also the top four in the Formula One driver standings. It was more than just a fluke. It was the survival of the fittest.

Michael Schumacher won his home race, and gave Ferrari its first victory at the Nuerburgring since 1985. He completed the 67 laps of the 4.55 kilometer (2.83 mile) track in 1 hour, 42 minutes, 0.307 seconds for an average speed of 179.540 kilometers per hour over the 305.252 kilometers. Mika Hakkinen was second in a McLaren-Mercedes, 13.8 seconds behind. David Coulthard came in third in the other McLaren a lap behind. He was followed closely by Rubens Barrichello in the other Ferrari.

''I knew all weekend that we would be strong enough to fight for the victory,'' said Schumacher. ''But I had to fight for it. It was an interesting fight. I enjoyed it. I have seen my fans standing here for three days in this bad weather and I hope this win has warmed their hearts a bit.''

It was Schumacher's 39th victory and his fourth this season out of six races. It was also his second at the Nuerburgring, where he won in 1995 in a Benetton. Schumacher increased his lead in the drivers' standings to 46 points, 18 more than Hakkinen in second.

Schumacher is the only driver to have scored points in every one of the six races this season.

Schumacher started from second on the grid, behind Coulthard but ahead of Hakkinen in third.

From the start, Schumacher drew up alongside Coulthard down the straight, but Hakkinen was faster off the grid than both the men ahead of him and dived between them, rubbing tires with Schumacher. Schumacher backed off, handing the lead to Hakkinen.

''I knew that was the only chance,''

Hakkinen said, adding it was one of the best starts of his career.

But the constantly changing weather would ensure that winning would take more than a good start.

It had rained on and off over the previous four days. It was also unseasonably cold. A light drizzle fell on the cars as they waited on the grid but all of them started without rain tires and by the start the rain had stopped.

For the first eight laps the Ferraris and the McLarens conducted two duels at the front. Schumacher trailed Hakkinen by less than a second. Behind them Coulthard led Barrichello by a second.

Jacques Villeneuve was almost 10 seconds back, just ahead of Giancarlo Fisichella.

At the end of the ninth lap, Fisichella passed Villeneuve. Pedro de la Rosa, in an Arrows, was right behind and tried to do the same but Villeneuve blocked him. Villeneuve would eventually drop out of the race with a mechanical problem.

The rain began to fall again very heavily in lap 10, and the race became a battle of nerves between Hakkinen and Schumacher as both tried to maintain their speed with dry-weather slick tires on an increasingly slippery track. Schumacher won the duel when he finally got past the Finn on lap 11.

''When we were heading for the back straight,'' Hakkinen said, ''I was very cautious about going into the corner and not losing the back end and not going off. And it gave Michael the opportunity to close in, and he was able to overtake me in the chicane. I backed off a little because of the rain.''

Schumacher pulled steadily away but had a scare on lap 28 when he almost slipped off the track. He was 15.8 seconds ahead of Hakkinen by the end of the lap with Coulthard a further 14.8 seconds back. On the same lap, Mika Salo slid off in a Sauber

Lap 30 brought a multiple pile-up. Eddie Irvine, in a Jordan, trying to overtake Jos Verstappen in an Arrows, ran into him and knocked both cars out of the race. Ralf Schumacher in a Williams was just behind, could not stop on the slippery track and ran into Irvine. None of the drivers suffered any injuries.

It was the beginning of a string of minor spinouts and accidents and mechanical breakdowns that would knock out more than half the contestants.

Hakkinen regained the lead after Schumacher made his second pit stop on Lap 35. But despite an effort by Hakkinen to make up the lost time by delaying his own stop for another 10 laps, Schumacher regained the lead when Hakkinen made his stop, overtaking him just as the Finn made his way out of the pits.

Ferrari increased its lead in the constructors championship. It has 62 points, 10 clear of McLaren, in second. Ferrari has won four of the first six races of the season. Last year the team won its first constructors' title since 1983, but it is still chasing after its first drivers' title since 1979 when Jody Scheckter won.

The next race is the Monaco Grand Prix on June 4.

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