Top Stories from the Sports pages of the International Herald Tribune,
Monday, July 3, 2000

Coulthard Captures French Prix

Scot Outduels Schumacher, Cutting German's Lead in Title Chase

By Brad Spurgeon International Herald Tribune
MAGNY-COURS, France - The Formula One championship popped back into gear -- at precisely the halfway point of the season -- at the French Grand Prix on Sunday, as David Coulthard outslugged Michael Schumacher, won the race and reduced the German's lead in the championship standings.

Coulthard drove his McLaren-Mercedes around the 72 laps of the 4.25-kilometer (2.64-mile) track in one hour, 38 minutes and 5.538 seconds for an average speed of 187.1 kilometers per hour and a distance of 305.886 kilometers. Mika Hakkinen, Coulthard's teammate, came in second, 14.7 seconds behind, while Rubens Barrichello, Schumacher's teammate at Ferrari, was third.

Schumacher had dominated the championship and led the race up until the halfway point, when Coulthard passed the German in a chilling maneuver on the hairpin corner. Schumacher later dropped out of the race with an engine failure, but Coulthard had already proven that he can challenge for the title this year. He reduced Schumacher's lead to only 12 points (from 22 at the beginning of the race) with eight races left to go.

It was Coulthard's ninth career victory, his third this year and his first at Magny-Cours. Coulthard also has increased his lead over his teammate, Hakkinen, to six points, from only two before the race.

Schumacher did not go down gently, however. Under extremely hot, sunny skies and before a sellout crowd of 112,653 spectators, he started from pole position, while Coulthard, 29, started from second place on the grid. Coulthard got off to a better start than the German, but Schumacher swerved over to block the Scot to prevent him from passing. That allowed Barrichello to pull up alongside Coulthard and pass him through the first corner, shoving the Scot back to third.

Coulthard said he thought victory was beyond his grasp at that point.

''It's one thing believing you have a quick car, it's another thing finding a way past,'' he said. ''It was just a question of weighing up the risk. And I have to say that in the end both Rubens and Michael were very fair. Hard, but fair. It was a good race.''

But Barrichello was slower than Schumacher and after the first 10 laps the Brazilian was 5.0 seconds behind his teammate, with Coulthard less than a second behind him but held up by the Ferrari.

''I was just settling in on the race,'' Barrichello said, ''and making it a little bit easier on Michael.''

Hakkinen held back steadily at two seconds behind Coulthard, while Jacques Villeneuve, in a BAR, finished six seconds back, in fifth place. For nearly a third of the race, Coulthard was stuck behind the Brazilian. Then, on lap 22, he passed him on the hairpin corner in a perfect passing maneuver before he flew off in pursuit of the race leader.

It proved to be a practice session on the hairpin for what would later end up as the three high points of the race on the same corner. After 30 laps, Schumacher had lost his comfortable lead, as Coulthard was only 1.9 seconds behind him. Hakkinen had passed Barrichello during the pit stops and the Finn maintained his distance from Coulthard at only 2.6 seconds.

On lap 34, two laps short of the halfway point of the race, which was also the halfway point of the season's 17 races, Coulthard tried to overtake Schumacher on that same hairpin. But Schumacher saw him coming and drew his car over to try to block the Scot, as he had done at the start of the race.

Coulthard raised his hand in obscene gestures and dropped back.

''I have to apologize for my hand gestures, that's not at all in keeping with the sport,'' Coulthard said. ''But you can understand my emotions were running high. I knew that to be in a position to battle for the championship I needed to win here today, and I felt I had a clean run on the outside and I felt he drove me wide.''

But Coulthard got his nerves together again and went back on the attack, making several threatening moves with his car as if to pass. Finally on lap 40, at the same hairpin he got through. But not before contact was made between Schumacher's right front tire with Coulthard's left rear tire.

Coulthard then flew off much faster than the Ferrari.

''This is a sport and there are sporting ways of going about doing it,'' he Coulthard said. ''Every one of us here knows when we're being sporting and when we're not being sporting. And that's the thing that defines what we're trying to do on the track.''

Schumacher's race was really over on lap 59, again at the hairpin, when his car jerked off the racing line, Hakkinen passed him and then the Ferrari's engine began to smoke. Schumacher parked it on the side of the track.

''The tires on my car seemed to suffer a drop in performance earlier than on the others,'' Schumacher said. ''I started to slow and Coulthard managed to get past me. Finally, I had an engine problem and I had to stop. I am disappointed, but I had said the championship wasn't over and, unfortunately, today I was proved right.''

The first and second place finish also brings McLaren closer to Ferrari in the constructors' standings, with 82 points to 88.

''The 'rules' of this championship are clear: if we don't win, they do,'' said Jean Todt, the Ferrari director.

Villeneuve came in fourth, Ralf Schumacher, in a Williams, came in fifth and Jarno Trulli, in a Jordan, finished sixth.

''The start was so good that I even surprised myself,'' Villeneuve said. ''I had a good battle with Ralf toward the end. He was better in the corners, but I was quicker on the straights.''

The next race is the Austrian Grand Prix on July 16.

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