French GP: Schumacher wraps up fifth title

Ferrari's Michael Schumacher wrapped up his record-equalling fifth Formula 1 World Championship with an opportunistic victory in the French Grand Prix at Magny-Cours, snatching the win from McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen with just five laps remaining

French GP: Schumacher wraps up fifth title

Raikkonen looked on course for his first F1 win when he appeared to be caught out by oil from Allan McNish's expiring Toyota which caused him to run wide and allow Schumacher to nip ahead.

Schumacher's 61st win was not one of the most accomplished of his career, but his achievement of equalling Juan Manuel Fangio's five world titles assures him a place in the history of the sport. His cause was helped by team-mate Rubens Barrichello once again bearing the brunt of Ferrari's bad luck and Williams inability to replicate its qualifying form over a race distance.

Barrichello's challenge was over before the race had even started. In an unfortunate repeat of his problems at Silverstone, the F2002 yet again failed to fire up for the parade lap. The car was left on its jacks as the field set off, but the mechanics could not get the V10 to fire up and the Brazilian was pushed back into the pits and retirement.

This meant just 18 cars took the start of the French GP - the fewest since Monaco 1975. Juan Pablo Montoya made a perfect start to led Schumacher and Raikkonen into the first corner. Felipe Massa had a flier and rocketed up to seventh. However, the Sauber had jumped the start by a clear margin and he was duly handed a drive-through penalty.

At the head of the field the race settled into a similar pattern to the British GP with Montoya driving defensively to keep a clearly quicker Ferrari behind. With the power of the BMW preventing Schumacher from making a move into the only real passing point on the track - the Adelaide hairpin.

With the exception of Renault, who opted for an unusual three-stop strategy, all the main players stopped twice. Montoya pitted three laps before Michael during the first round of stops, which gave the German time to up his pace and build up enough of an advantage to rejoin ahead of the Williams after his own scheduled stop.

However, in his desire to get back onto the racing line, Schumacher put his Ferrari's right front tyre over the white line that defines the pit lane exit. Earlier in the race Massa had done the same thing and received a drive-through penalty and sure enough, to the delight of the Williams team, the world champion was handed the same punishment.

In clear air the Ferrari was able to lap almost a second quicker than Montoya, so Schumacher used the three laps allowed before he had to take his penalty to build up as much of a lead as possible. When he eventually pitted, he was able to rejoin the race in third ahead of Ralf Schumacher, who had David Coulthard right behind him.

Montoya continued to lead up until the second round of stops, when again the Williams was the first of the leaders to pit. It was a long stop (11.6s) and the FW24 stuttered as the Colombian accelerated away.

Raikkonen and Schumacher responded by instantly upping their pace, but surprisingly the McLaren was able to match the speed of the Ferrari. With the silver cars the last to pit during the first round of stops, Schumacher had to rely on making up time on new tyres if he was to stand a chance of passing the McLaren without having to make a move on track.

Such was the 22-year-old's pace that he was able to retain his lead over the champion-elect, while at the head of the field Coulthard was lowering the lap record as fought for track position over the Williams. However, with Ralf making a similar mistake to his brother and receiving the same penalty and Montoya mysteriously off the pace, the Scot was actually closing in on the Ferrari for second.

When Coulthard finally emerged from his second scheduled stop he was right on the tail of the sole Ferrari, but unbelievably he too cut across the white line. Fortunately his advantage over the ailing Montoya was sufficient to maintain his podium position, but the battle for the lead was reduced to a straight fight between Raikkonen and Schumacher.

The nearest Schumacher came to passing the Finn came directly after the McLaren's second stop, but Raikkonen kept his cool through the Adelaide hairpin and then positioned his car defensively through the next few turns and by the end of the lap held a comfortable lead.

Raikkonen looked totally in control before he came across the oil left by McNish's Toyota. The McLaren locked a brake and overshot the apex of the Adelaide hairpin. As Raikkonen struggled for grip off line the Ferrari nipped inside, got on the power earlier and accelerated into the lead. Raikkonen valiantly stuck to the Ferrari's tail to the end but could not stop Schumacher taking the win that meant for the first time ever the championship was settled in July.

Coulthard came home third, well ahead of the Williams pair of Montoya and Ralf, who yet again struggled to make their Michelin tyres work as well as the McLaren. Jenson Button kept pace with the leaders until his first stop, but had a lonely race thereafter on his way to sixth.

That place probably would have gone to Eddie Irvine, but a great drive by the Ulsterman in the much improved Jaguar ended when the R3's rear wing failed at high speed as his approached the Adelaide hairpin.

Like Barrichello, Raikkonen et al, Irvine will be hoping for better luck at the German GP in a week's time.

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