Barrichello wins at Hockenheim

Ferrari's Rubens Barrichello went from 'the worst day' of his career to his best on Sunday at the Hockenheimring in Germany.

Barrichello wins at Hockenheim

The little Brazilian won an astounding German Grand Prix starting from 18th on the grid. But Barrichello was peerless in the early stages as he climbed from his lowly grid position to third before the first pit stops. Later, as the complexion of the race changed through weather conditions and a couple of bizarre safety car incidents, the 28-year-old's ability to drive on a wet track with dry tyres allowed him to hold off the wet-shod Mika Hakkinen to take a deserved victory. The Brazilian national anthem rang out above a Grand Prix meeting for the first time since Ayrton Senna triumphed in Australia at the end of 1993, Barrichello's first season in Formula 1.

"It's fantastic to finally get my first win for Ferrari," he said. "I just feel great. I was told the last lap is such a long lap when you are leading a race and this was the longest lap of my life. I have almost lost the taste it has been so long since I last won a race, but it was really tricky with the rain on those last few laps. With six laps to go I flat-spotted the left front tyre, but in the end I won the prize. I was thinking to myself this win has to be mine. I've had such a bad weekend until now, it must be mine"

Barrichello went on to dedicate his victory to his close friend Ayrton Senna: "He changed my life and this is for him," said the Brazilian, choking back tears. "I have talked to him up there and he has heard me a lot."

It was a race characterised by rapid changes in circumstances and fortunes for the leading runners, not to mention a bizarre episode when a spectator wandered across the track, bringing out the safety car. No sooner had that situation been dealt with when a jostling pack of cars caused a collision, and a shunt that brought out the Mercedes C Class a second time. A similar incident brought the course car to standby a third time, but fortunately, before a classic race was rendered too much of a farce, the wreck was cleared.

The Grand Prix started with disaster for Ferrari, as Michael Schumacher endured yet another race where he was destined to become a spectator by the time the field had reached the first corner. The German was beaten away from the grid by polesitter David Coulthard, who defended his line in a manner almost as aggressive as the World Championship leader. Nevertheless, Schumacher was beaten fair and square, but both were beaten away by third-placed man Mika Hakkinen, who slotted neatly past the battling Ferrari and McLaren. Seeing the McLaren to his left, Schumacher scythed across to the outside line - where Benetton's Giancarlo Fisichella was waiting to take the corner. The Ferrari's left rear wheel connected with the nose of the Benetton, and both cars were pitched hard into the barriers. Another scoreless race for Schumacher. Asked if he resented his harsh treatment by Coulthard at the start of the race, Schumacher refused to be drawn and instead threw the blame squarely at Fisichella. "Listen, I'm not out of the race because of David, I'm out of the race because of Fisichella," said the German.

However, already all was not lost to Ferrari, as the second car of Rubens Barrichello was already making up places hand over fist. The Ferrari driver had gambled to run on a two-stop strategy in the hope of being able to use a lighter car to slice through the traffic. Put simply, it worked. Barrichello had swooped to ninth place at the end of the first lap, and was hunting down the points-places with a determined assurance more often associated with his team-mate Schumacher.

The rain-affected qualifying and first-corner confusion had thrown up some less than likely faces into the top six. Both Jaguars were running uncommonly well in fifth and sixth, with Irvine initially ahead, but Johnny Herbert swapped places with the Ulsterman on the second lap. Pedro de la Rosa was once again proving what a superb package the Arrows team has conjured this season, by running a strong fourth.

These drivers and cars, more normally associated with the midfield, were soon to be hunted down by the flying Barrichello however. Despite clearly prodigious straightline speed, the Jaguar of Irvine was unable to hold off Barrichello's lighter Ferrari for more than a lap. Jos Verstappen in the second Arrows had slipped past Irvine but Barrichello made short work of the Arrows, which was registering good straightline speed but struggling under braking into the chicanes.

At this point, the McLarens, led by Hakkinen, were disappearing into the middle distance. By the time Barrichello had caught and passed Jarno Trulli's Jordan for third on lap 14, he was 16 seconds behind the leader.

It looked to be the day when either of the McLaren drivers could have passed Schumacher in the points standings. However, they had reckoned without the reckless intervention of a fan, ironically clad in a Mercedes-Benz poncho, who found his way onto the trackside area and wandered across the track in front of a group of cars, bearing down on him at speeds approaching 200mph.

The safety car was brought as the spectator was caught by marshals, and by lap 27 the field was ready to restart. Or so it seemed. A gaggle of cars in the midfield found themselves too enthusiastic to make use of the opportunity, and this led to a large shunt, when Sauber's Pedro Diniz cut across the line of Jean Alesi's Prost while the group jostled for position. The Frenchman's car spun to a shattered heap after cannoning off the barriers, and the safety car was called out again.

Within three laps, the field was ready to go again, but astoundingly, on the restart, Alex Wurz capped an appalling day for Benetton by spinning his car on the pit straight. Though the car came to rest at the edge of the track, the marshals were able to clear the car away and racing proceeded, but not before the safety car had been put on standby for a third time.

The safety car had brought a flurry of cars in for their stops, as with the flexibility of strategy these days, that option was open. It was one taken by Barrichello, who needed a second stop, and was close enough to his fuel window to take on enough fuel for the rest of the race, making it a straight fight between himself and the McLarens.

Or rather, McLaren. Mika Hakkinen, leading the race, was brought in first, leaving Coulthard to sit for a lap behind the safety car before getting his fuel and tyres. It dropped the Scot to sixth. If that wasn't enough to deal with, an entirely different dimension was introduced when heavy rain began to fall. And just to make matters interesting, the Ostkurve and forest section of the track remained largely dry while the stadium section was doused in rain.

It was the response to this situation - and Barrichello's expert driving that rendered the strategy possible - that won the race for Ferrari. Hakkinen pitted from the lead for wet tyres, while Barrichello stayed on the track and risked the slippery conditions on dry tyres. Hakkinen's stop was enough to hand Barrichello a 10-second lead that he would not cede until the end. The Brazilian opted, after a discussion with his team, not to stop for wet tyres and to assess the situation after the next lap. Ross Brawn, Ferrari's technical director, informed the Brazilian that his pace was enough to stay ahead of Hakkinen. "We are a team. We are a big family," he said, "lets's stay one lap more. After that lap he said let's stay out, because with this pace you can win the race."

It proved to be the case. Though Hakkinen made up around three seconds a lap to Barrichello in the wet stadium section, he lost most of it in the chicanes that were still dry, and which afforded precious little grip to his treaded Bridgestone tyres. His gains were minute, and Barrichello easily had enough of a cushion to win by seven and a half seconds.

Hakkinen's second, with Coulthard's third place means that the two McLaren drivers tie on points, still two each behind Schumacher. If the German was grateful for one thing today it was surely that his team-mate's brilliant victory allowed him to keep his points lead - and maybe also that it drew attention away from his ignominious exit.

One of the star performers of the race was undoubtedly WilliamsF1's charge Jenson Button. The Englishman took a fine fourth after overtaking the far more experienced Mika Salo during the final laps. It was a rare occasion where Button outperformed his more illustrious team-mate Ralf Schumacher. The German tangled with another car on the first restart and never really figured. Button, on the other hand, climbed steadily through the diminishing field and proved he had a turn of pace and a measure of aggression too with his move on Salo's Sauber.

Pedro de la Rosa rounded out the top six, after a promising performance from the Arrows driver, that ultimately failed to deliver the reward it had promised. Nevertheless, it should be a mark of progress for the Arrows outfit that a points finish becomes a source of disappointment.
Overall, it will be a mark of relief to Michael Schumacher that he goes to Hungary with a slim points lead still intact. However, this will not overshadow Barrichello's fantastic achievement, his first win in 123 Grands Prix. It is long overdue, but no less welcome for that, and Barrichello's unreserved display of emotion on the podium is a sight universally welcomed in the paddock.

For a full list of results click here.

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