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Monday, October 23, 2000

Ferrari Gains Constructors' Title as Schumacher Wins Again

By Brad Spurgeon International Herald Tribune
A close season ended with a close race Sunday as Michael Schumacher drove his Ferrari to victory in the Malaysian Grand Prix in Sepang, crossing the finish line less than a second ahead of David Coulthard in a McLaren-Mercedes.

The two teams, which won every Grand Prix race this year -- Ferrari took 10 and McLaren seven -- were fighting for the constructors' title after Ferrari secured the drivers' title at the previous race in Suzuka, Japan. It was the first time since 1988 that only two teams had won all the races.

All Ferrari needed to ensure its second consecutive constructors' title was three points. With Schumacher's victory and a third-place finish by Rubens Barrichello in the other Ferrari, the team walked away with 14 points and a record 10th constructors' title. ''We wanted to win this race, and we did it,'' Schumacher said. ''A very tight race and Coulthard really pushed from the first to the last lap.''

It was the first time in 21 years that Ferrari won both titles in the same season. Before its victory at Suzuka on Oct. 8, Ferrari had not won a drivers' title since 1979. ''This dream result has been obtained thanks to a dream team,'' said Jean Todt, the Ferrari director.

It was Schumacher's 44th victory, his fourth in a row and his ninth this season, a tally he also achieved in 1995.

The race began under overcast skies, in sweltering heat and high humidity. Schumacher, 31, started from pole position but was immediately passed by Mika Hakkinen, in a McLaren, before Coulthard also got by at the first corner.

''I had wheel spin,'' Schumacher said, ''and struggled to get off the line. Then I went third after Coulthard out-braked me on the outside.''

Schumacher's task would be simplified by Hakkinen, who was judged to have jumped the start, and would be given a 10-second stop-and-go penalty.

The race was put on hold by a safety car after four vehicles collided shortly after the start. None of the drivers was injured, but three of them, Pedro de la Rosa, Nick Heidfeld and Pedro Diniz, dropped out of the race.

When the race resumed on Lap 3, Hakkinen immediately let Coulthard pass him -- and Schumacher and Barrichello got by too -- before he served his penalty on Lap 5. If the Finn's hopes of victory were all but over -- the penalty threw him to the back of the pack -- Schumacher's race was now a waiting game.

But the German was helped again on Lap 11 when, while leading the race by five seconds, Coulthard went off the track for a moment, filling one of his car's two radiators with grass.

''The temperatures were going up for five laps and then it sort of stabilized,'' Coulthard said.

On Lap 18 the team pulled Coulthard into the pits earlier than planned to remove the grass, handing Schumacher the lead. With a clear track and lots of time before his own pit stop, Schumacher set a series of the fastest race laps while Coulthard struggled in traffic several positions behind.

From a lead of 24.2 seconds after Lap 19, Schumacher led Coulthard by more than 30 seconds when he made his pit stop after Lap 24, returning to the track just ahead of the Scottish driver.

''It was disappointing because it could have been a bit closer,'' Coulthard said. ''I should have kept the car on the circuit.''

But Coulthard stayed less than two seconds behind Schumacher after that until his second pit stop after Lap 37. He stopped in 7.4 seconds, but on the next lap Schumacher stopped in 6.6 seconds, returning to the track 1.8 seconds ahead of Coulthard.

Coulthard kept within a second of Schumacher for the last 15 laps. ''I saw the gap and I judged it,'' Schumacher said, ''and you don't go 100 percent because you don't want to make a mistake.'' Schumacher crossed the finish line 0.7 seconds ahead of Coulthard, covering the 55 laps of the 5.55-kilometer (3.44-mile) track in one hour, 35 minutes and 54.235 seconds for an average speed of 194.199 kilometers per hour.

After the race Coulthard congratulated Schumacher and apologized to him for having made several negative comments about him this season.

''We've had some differences and I was sometimes saying things too publicly and not going to talk to him face to face,'' Coulthard said. ''He's a great champion and I look forward to competing against him next season.''

Hakkinen finished fourth, while Jacques Villeneuve, after several exciting battles with other drivers -- including with Hakkinen -- finished fifth in a BAR. Eddie Irvine, in a Jaguar, finished sixth.

Irvine's teammate, Johnny Herbert, in the last race of his 12-year Formula One career, spun off the track at high-speed with seven laps left and was taken away on a stretcher. But X-rays revealed only a bruised knee.

''There's nothing like ending your career with a bang,'' Herbert said.

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