Ferrari's Michael Schumacher took his 50th career win at Sunday's French Grand Prix as his rivals failed to keep up with his impressive pace at the sunny Magny Cours track.
Victory was never really in question after his first stop moved him clear of brother Ralf's Williams, and he cruised home to claim the top step on the podium for the sixth time of the season and moved to within one race win of equalling Formula One's all-time winning record.
Ralf Schumacher followed his brother home, but David Coulthard's Championship hopes were further dimmed when a stop-go penalty cost him the chance of a second place, and Schumacher's Ferrari teammate Rubens Barrichello held him off for third. Jarno Trulli put in a quiet but successful performance to claim his first points-scoring finish in five races for Jordan, while Sauber's Nick Heidfeld claimed the final point in sixth.
Coulthard's teammate Mika Hakkinen continued his terrible season as he sat on the grid, stalled, while the rest of the field set off on the formation lap, and he was left wandering around the pit lane as the cars set off. Pedro de la Rosa also had trouble on the formation lap and stopped half way around, but was able to make it back to the pits to make a late start.
And when the lights went out it was Ralf Schumacher who made a clean start to claim an easy lead into the first corner as his second-placed brother Michael was slow to get away and went into the first corner side by side with title rival David Coulthard.
Michael Schumacher claimed the corner and beat Coulthard to second, then headed off to fight Ralf in the Williams ahead as the pair pulled slowly away from Coulthard. Jacques Villeneuve's race was ended by electrical problems which forced him off into the gravel at the Estoril corner on lap six.
The Schumacher pair and McLaren's Coulthard grouped together in a lead trio but Juan Pablo Montoya was able to keep in touch in fourth with Rubens Barrichello also close in fifth. Further down the pack, the Jaguar of Eddie Irvine and BAR's Olivier Panis had a superb nose-to-tail scrap as the faster green machine raggedly pushed to get past and finally made it into the Lycee corner.
Arrows' Enrique Bernoldi pulled off to the side of the track on lap 18 to post his eighth retirement in ten races. Rubens Barrichello was the first of the Ferraris to go for a fresh set of tyres as the pit stop time arrived, and he soon used his fresh rubber to set a very fast flying lap.
On lap 25 race leader Ralf Schumacher came into the pits but made a slow stop which left him standing for more than 10 seconds. That left the elder Schumacher in the lead, and when he came in one lap later, after one of his superb in-laps, the team made a 7.7 second stop to allow him to move out clearly ahead of his brother.
One lap later and new leader Coulthard was in, but his team could not perform such an impressive performance and came out behind Michael Schumacher once again.
That left Juan Pablo Montoya out in front, almost eight seconds ahead of the red Ferrari of Michael Schumacher, but after losing time in traffic he came into the pit lane on lap 30 and returned to the track in fourth place behind Coulthard.
But McLaren man Coulthard's was hit by an enforced stop-go penalty for pit-lane speeding, and he re-joined in fifth place, more than half a minute behind his title rival and race leader Michael Schumacher. Rubens Barrichello came in very early for his second pit stop and came out in front of David Coulthard, hoping to capitalise on a clear track and jump the Williams cars in front of him.
Fernando Alonso came in for an unscheduled stop to change a nosecone while up front Ralf Schumacher's second-placed Williams was not working well on its second set of tyres and allowing teammate Montoya to close on him.
Eddie Irvine was now embroiled in a fight with Heinz-Harald Frentzen's Jordan but the German braked too late and shot across the chicane to gain a place. That, however, is not within the rules, and Frentzen sensibly backed off to allow the Jaguar back past and take up the battle once again.
Ralf Schumacher then came in for a second stop with 28 laps remaining, and Michael came in one lap later to sacrifice the lead to Juan Pablo Montoya, who used the clear race track to put in some fast laps in preparation for his second visit to the pits.
Heinz-Harald Frentzen spun his Jordan without any assistance as he came onto the pit straight one lap before race leader Juan Pablo Montoya entered the pits for his second stop. Montoya's tactics allowed him to make up a place and get past his teammate Ralf Schumacher without a fight, but after looking set for a podium finish Montoya pulled off the track on lap 52 to retire his smoking Williams.
Ferrari had been running one-two for some time after Barrichello's tactics moved him up to second, but the team called their Brazilian driver in to the pits for a third stop and he lost the place to Ralf Schumacher. Michael was still clear in the lead, some 17 seconds ahead of his brother and able to keep a comfortable cushion between the family battle, but behind them Coulthard had closed on Barrichello to create a battle for third.
Eddie Irvine's impressive race was ended by a smoking Cosworth engine on lap 56 when he moved across onto the grass and climbed out with smoke piling out of the airbox above his head. Coulthard made it alongside Barrichello, but he could not pass the Ferrari, which was clearly holding him up and allowed the fifth-placed Jordan of Jarno Trulli to make it a three-way battle.
Minardi's Fernando Alonso pulled into the pits to retire a few laps from the end, and Jenson Button, who had hoped a new engine would boost him into the midfield running, was forced to park a smoking Benetton on the final lap.
PROVISIONAL RACE RESULTS The French Grand Prix Magny Cours, Nevers; 72 laps; 305.886km; Weather: Dry, sunny. Classified: Pos Driver Team-Engine Time 1. M.Schumacher Ferrari (B) 1h33:35.636 2. R.Schumacher Williams BMW (M) + 0:10.399 3. Barrichello Ferrari (B) + 0:16.381 4. Coulthard McLaren Mercedes (B) + 0:17.106 5. Trulli Jordan Honda (B) + 1:08.285 6. Heidfeld Sauber Petronas (B) 1 Lap 7. Raikkonen Sauber Petronas (B) 1 Lap 8. Frentzen Jordan Honda (B) 1 Lap 9. Panis BAR Honda (B) 1 Lap 10. Burti Prost Acer (M) 1 Lap 11. Fisichella Benetton Renault (M) 1 Lap 12. Alesi Prost Acer (M) 2 Laps 13. Verstappen Arrows Asiatech (B) 2 Laps 14. de la Rosa Jaguar Cosworth (M) 2 Laps 15. Marques Minardi European (M) 3 Laps 16. Button Benetton Renault (M) 4 Laps 17. Alonso Minardi European (M) 7 Laps Fastest Lap: D.Coulthard, 1:16.088, lap 53 Not Classified/Retirements: Driver Team On Lap Irvine Jaguar Cosworth (M) 54 Montoya Williams BMW (M) 52 Bernoldi Arrows Asiatech (B) 17 Villeneuve BAR Honda (B) 7 Hakkinen McLaren Mercedes (B) - World Championship Standing, Round 10: Drivers: Constructors: 1. M.Schumacher 78 1. Ferrari 108 2. Coulthard 47 2. McLaren 56 3. R.Schumacher 31 3. Williams 43 4. Barrichello 30 4. Sauber 16 5. Montoya 12 5. Jordan 15 6. Hakkinen 9 6. BAR 12 = Heidfeld 9 7. Jaguar 5 = Trulli 9 8. Prost 3 9. Raikkonen 7 9. Benetton 1 = Villeneuve 7 = Arrows 1 11. Frentzen 6 12. Panis 5 13. Irvine 4 14. Alesi 3 15. Fisichella 1 = Verstappen 1 = de la Rosa 1 All timing unofficial
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