Coulthard Wins; No Ferrari on Podium in Australia

David Coulthard rolled back the years and dumbfounded his critics with a spectacular, unexpected and highly-exciting victory in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park on Sunday, in the process ending five-times World Champion Michael Schumacher's long reign as a fixture on the podium and at the same time stopping him from being world title leader for the first time in two and a half years.

Coulthard Wins; No Ferrari on Podium in Australia

David Coulthard rolled back the years and dumbfounded his critics with a spectacular, unexpected and highly-exciting victory in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park on Sunday, in the process ending five-times World Champion Michael Schumacher's long reign as a fixture on the podium and at the same time stopping him from being world title leader for the first time in two and a half years.

For those who wished for a dramatic and bizarre start to the new era ushered in by Max Mosley's off-season radical overhaul of the rules and regs, this was it.

It was Scot Coulthard's first victory in Australia since he and Mika Hakkinen dominated at Melbourne 1997 and by taking over as World Championship leader he ended the red baron's long reign at the top of the leader board after 896 days. Not since September, 2000, at Indianapolis, had another named led the Championship and that was long before Hakkinen retired.

The win, and Schumacher's ill-luck in a contest that saw him suffer damage and an enforced pit stop, also ended the German's run of 19 successive podiums at his 20th attempt. It was Coulthard's first win since the Monaco Grand Prix last year and the 13th of his career. It also proved that McLaren know how to handle this strange, thrilling and weird new world.

Coulthard came home steadily at the end after taking full advantage of the chaos around him from his 11th place on the grid to win ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya in his Williams-BMW by 8.6 seconds. The Colombian had only himself to blame, but the Briton, all guts and courage and flawless driving, took his chance to grab McLaren's first win since last May in Monte Carlo.

Kimi Raikkonen, in the second McLaren, grabbed third place by holding off a late surge from Schumacher's Ferrari, leaving the World Champion fourth; almost the perfect, if slightly contrived, scenario for the new rule-book in Max's brave new world.

Italian Jarno Trulli came home fifth in his Renault ahead of German Heinz-Harald Frentzen, sixth for Sauber, with Fernando Alonso of Spain scoring points for Renault on his maiden outing with them and Ralf Schumacher grabbing the final point by finishing eighth for Williams. The two BAR-Hondas of Canadian Jacques Villeneuve and Briton Jenson Button were ninth and 10th.

From the start, it was difficult to know who was doing what, given the changeable conditions and the vagaries of the new system that had forced the cars to be kept in parc ferme overnight. The introduction of an allowance for 'change of climatic conditions' made during the late morning, permitting cars to have their brake ducts, radiator exit ducts and tyres changed, seemed to have thrown a spanner in Paul Stoddart's cunning and clever Minardi strategy. This was particularly so, as the sun tried to break through dark clouds, between the showers and Stoddart stood staring up at the sky.

The formation lap threw up drama with McLaren calling Kimi Raikkonen in to the pits for late adjustments and a start from the pitlane behind Jos Verstappen in his Minardi-Cosworth. It was difficult to know what was happening, for certain, such is the black art now at work among the teams in the new era, but when the lights went out there was no doubt about who was leading: the two red Ferraris.

On that opening lap, as seasoned spectators gasped in wry astonishment, Michael Schumacher led Rubens Barrichello and the pair scorched clear to lead by 10 seconds, from Juan Pablo Montoya's Williams-BMW after two laps. Jenson Button also made a scorching start in his BAR-Honda to leap up to sixth, while Nick Heidfeld, in his Sauber went from seventh to third on the opening lap before falling back. Such dramatic changes of position were to be a common feature of what followed.

Schumacher, however, stayed out in front from the start to the end of lap seven when he made his first pit stop, conceding the lead to Montoya who had moved up a place when Barrichello crashed out after six laps, hitting the barriers hard at Turn Six and almost losing his front left wheel. The Colombian stayed in front from lap eight to lap 16, but was helped by the introduction of the Safety Car from lap nine to 12 for the clearance of debris, following further accidents involving Ralph Firman in his Jordan-Ford and Cristiano Da Matta, who spun off in his Toyota.

The Safety Car helped to equalise the field and the conditions, no rain fell and Stoddart's brave gamble was consigned to failure, but it did not detract from the excitement as Montoya reeled off a series of fastest laps ahead of Fernando Alonso and his Renault teammate Jarno Trulli before pitting himself after 16 laps when coincidentally the Safety Car was called out again.

This time it gifted the leadership to Kimi Raikkonen who did not pit and he led from lap 17 to lap 32 ahead of Schumacher who closed to within half a second of him and applied great pressure during a ding-dong battle at the front. This time the Safety Car was only deployed for three laps and afterwards the field settled down for just about the only time as the sun briefly broke through. It did not last. Nor did the calm on the circuit.

When Raikkonen pitted, at last, after 32 laps, it was Montoya who took over again ahead of fierce charging young Finn once he rejoined the fray. Schumacher, having pitted a second time after 29 laps, was working his way forward and damaged his car when he ran over the kerbs after a wild scrap with the flying Finn on lap 39. It looked fierce, their wheels banged and Raikkonen hung on to second.

Limping a little, trailing under-the-car debris from his damaged barge boards, Schumacher drove on, regained the lead after 43 laps after Montoya pitted and Raikkonen performed a drive-through penalty for having broken the speed limit in the pit lane and then was called in himself by a black and orange flag for a mandatory stop.

After his repairs, the five-times champion was left in the scrap behind Montoya, who spun off and recovered, but lost his lead to Coulthard's McLaren, who stayed ahead until the chequered flag.

PROVISIONAL RACE RESULTS The Australian Grand Prix Albert Park, Melbourne; 58 laps; 307.574km; Weather: Hot and dry. Classified: Pos Driver Team-Engine Tyres Time 1. Coulthard McLaren Mercedes (M) 1h34:42.124 2. Montoya Williams BMW (M) + 8.675 3. Raikkonen McLaren Mercedes (M) + 9.192 4. M.Schumacher Ferrari (B) + 9.482 5. Trulli Renault (M) + 38.801 6. Frentzen Sauber Petronas (B) + 43.928 7. Alonso Renault (M) + 45.074 8. R.Schumacher Williams BMW (M) + 45.745 9. Villeneuve BAR Honda (B) + 1:05.536 10. Button BAR Honda (B) + 1:05.974 11. Verstappen Minardi Cosworth (B) + 1 lap 12. Fisichella Jordan Ford (B) + 6 laps 13. Pizzonia Jaguar Cosworth (M) + 6 laps Not Classified/Retirements: Driver Team On Lap Panis Toyota (M) 31 Heidfeld Sauber-Petronas (B) 20 Wilson Minardi-Cosworth (B) 16 Webber Jaguar-Cosworth (M) 15 da Matta Toyota (M) 7 Firman Jordan-Ford (B) 6 Barrichello Ferrari (B) 5 Fastest lap: Raikkonen, 1:27.724, lap 32 World Championship Standing, Round 1: Drivers: Constructors: 1. Coulthard 10 1. McLaren-Mercedes 16 2. Montoya 8 2. Williams-BMW 9 3. Raikkonen 6 3. Renault 6 4. M.Schumacher 5 4. Ferrari 5 5. Trulli 4 5. Sauber 3 6. Frentzen 3 7. Alonso 2 8. R.Schumacher 1 All timing unofficial

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