Top Stories from the Sports pages of the International Herald Tribune,
Monday, April 10, 2000

Schumacher Captures His 3d Consecutive Prix

By Brad Spurgeon International Herald Tribune
IMOLA, Italy - Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen finally raced to the finish line and the German still came out on top Sunday after a tense battle in the San Marino Grand Prix.

Before 115,000 Italian fans at his team's home race, Schumacher drove his Ferrari over the 62 laps of the 4.933-kilometer (3.06-mile) track in 1 hour, 31 minutes and 39.776 seconds for an average speed of 200.043 kilometers per hour (124.02 miles per hour).

Hakkinen followed only 1.1 seconds behind. David Coulthard, in the other McLaren-Mercedes, finished third, 49.8 seconds later.

Schumacher, who has won all three Grand Prix races this season, increased his lead in the drivers' standings to 30 points, 21 ahead of his teammate, Rubens Barrichello, who finished the race in fourth place and is second in the drivers' standings.

But Schumacher's real adversary was Hakkinen, who won the last two world championships but has only six points after three races this season.

Schumacher said repeatedly in the weeks before the race that he wanted a showdown on the track against the

McLaren cars after Hakkinen was forced to quit the previous two races with technical breakdowns.

''It's what we wanted to do,'' Schumacher said. ''I said after the first two races that I wanted to race the McLarens to see where we are. And now we know where we are. We won the race.''

Under cool, cloudy skies, Schumacher started from second place on the grid and made a bad start as his wheels spun. Hakkinen, who started in the pole position, went through the opening corner first while Schumacher recovered to hold off Barrichello and Coulthard. ''It was a bungled start,'' said Schumacher. ''I was lucky that nobody went by, except Mika, so that I could drive my race.''

After the first lap, Schumacher was already 1.2 seconds behind Hakkinen, and Barrichello was 3.1 seconds behind Schumacher. Coulthard could not overtake Barrichello and spent the next 45 laps trailing the Brazilian by less than a second. It was not until both cars came in for their second pit stop on lap No. 46 that the Scot overtook Barrichello, thanks to a faster stop.

Pit-stop strategy was decisive in the battle between Schumacher and Hakkinen. Both drivers pulled in for their first stop on lap No. 27. McLaren won that duel. The Finn stopped in 7.6 seconds, while Schumacher stopped for 9.9 seconds.

Ferrari tried a different strategy for the second stop. On lap No. 44, Hakkinen stopped in 8.3 seconds, while Schumacher stepped on the accelerator to gain time without Hakkinen on the track in front of him. He stopped on lap No. 48, the last of the top six cars to do so. Ferrari performed the stop in 6.2 seconds, and Schumacher returned to the track just ahead of Jarno Trulli's Jordan, which was in seventh place and blocking Hakkinen.

All around the track the Italian fans leaped to their feet and waved their flags as Schumacher took the lead. He had a 3.7-second gap over Hakkinen, but there were 14 laps left and Hakkinen was catching up fast.

The Finn was held up by slower cars and could not catch Schumacher despite the frequent waving of blue flags by officials to tell other cars to let the McLaren pass.

''I think they are about 20 years old, those blue flags,'' Hakkinen said, ''and they are not so blue anymore, so I suppose it's a bit difficult to see them.''

Hakkinen also said he ran into a metal object on the track, which damaged his car: ''After the first stop I hit some kind of metal piece of something, and it destroyed the front of the of the floor completely and lost aerodynamics on the front. So the car was hard to drive after that.''

Jacques Villeneuve of Canada finished fifth, on his 29th birthday.

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