Top Stories from the Sports pages of the International Herald Tribune,
Monday, July 31, 2000

Barrichello Dodges His Way to a Victory

Numerous Obstacles Mar the German Course

By Brad Spurgeon International Herald Tribune

As he stood on the highest step of the victory podium Sunday after the German Grand Prix, Rubens Barrichello had several good reasons to break out in tears and make gestures of thanks to a man in the heavens. But Barrichello also owed a little thanks to a man who had intervened from another direction.

In a strange but gripping race, the Brazilian drove from 18th place on the starting grid to a first victory in his 125th Grand Prix. He also preserved Ferrari's first place in the constructors' championship and kept his teammate, Michael Schumacher, from surrendering his lead in the drivers' championship.

''I still cannot believe it,'' Barrichello said. ''I had been told that when you are leading a race, the last lap is the longest, and it really felt like that. I had lost the taste because it was such a long time ago. It was tricky because the rain was falling on different parts of the track at the time.''

Barrichello stayed in fourth place in the drivers' standings with 46 points, but he closed to eight points behind both Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard and 10 points behind Schumacher. Either McLaren driver would have overtaken the German had they won the race.

The man in the heavens to whom Barrichello gestured, he said, was Ayrton Senna, his mentor and fellow Brazilian, who died at the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994.

''I dedicate this race to him because he helped me so much in my life since 1984,'' he said. But it was through his own driving that Barrichello, 28, won the race. He drove a cool, steady race and made an audacious and courageous decision after the heavens opened up and flooded half the track to keep his dry-weather tires rather than to change to wet-weather tires as most of his rivals did.

But when he started the race from 18th position, it didn't look so good.

Coulthard, on pole position, swerved off the start to block Schumacher who started from second place. Hakkinen, starting fourth, flew off in the opposite direction around Coulthard and Schumacher. Hakkinen took the lead while Schumacher ran into Giancarlo Fisichella in a Benetton, who started fourth. Both cars spun off the end of the straightaway and into the tire barrier.

Schumacher got out of his car and walked back to the pits with a scowl.

Hakkinen sped off, having gone from fourth into first before the first corner.

Barrichello raced through the pack, climbing to seventh place after only three laps. On lap 12 he overtook Pedro de la Rosa in an Arrows for fourth place, and on lap 15 he passed Jarno Trulli in a Jordan for third place.

The German fans, who had fallen silent after Schumacher's accident, were cheering each overtaking maneuver by the one remaining Ferrari. With 30 laps left in the race, Barrichello was only 14 seconds from Hakkinen, the race leader, and 12.4 seconds from Coulthard in second.

Then on lap 25, as the storm clouds grew dark, a message from the race control tower came across teams' computer screens announcing: ''MAN ON TRACK.'' A spectator in a white poncho had run out to the edge of the track and threatened to go on it.

On lap 26 the safety car neutralized the race to allow officials to remove the man from the track. The man ran across the track between speeding racing cars and was then taken away in an official vehicle. Race officials reported that the man was a former employee of Mercedes, the engine supplier of McLaren, who had been fired from his job.

The event turned the race into a free-for-all as most of the cars that had not already stopped for fuel and a change of tires went into the pits. Barrichello took advantage of the moment to make his second stop, and Coulthard lost time behind the safety car while his team-mate Hakkinen made a stop.

The race restarted on lap 29 with Hakkinen in first, Trulli in second, Barrichello in third and Coulthard in sixth. An accident on lap 30 involving Jean Alesi in a Prost and Pedro Diniz in a Sauber -- neither driver was hurt -- brought out the safety car again while the debris was cleared up.

When the race began again on lap 32, a spinout down the straightaway by Alexander Wurz in a Benetton almost brought the race to a halt again, but his car was off the track soon enough not to stop the race. During the same lap, the rain, which had begun to fall lightly a few laps before, became a downpour around one sector of the track, and most of the drivers decided to make yet another pit stop to put on rain tires, including Hakkinen and then Coulthard.

But not Barrichello.

''I was told Hakkinen was coming in, and I wanted to stay out one more lap,'' Barrichello said. It was the audacious decision that allowed the Brazilian to win his first race as Hakkinen and Coulthard came out from behind after their pit stops.

Barrichello covered the 45 laps of 6.825-kilometer (4.240-mile) track in one hour, 25 minutes and 34.418 seconds for an average speed of 215.340 kilometers per hour and a distance of 307.125 kilometers.

Ferrari maintains its lead in the constructors' championship by 102 points to 98 for McLaren.

The next race is the Hungarian Grand Prix on Aug. 13.

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