Race: Michael makes win record his own

Michael Schumacher became the single most successful driver in the history of Grand Prix racing in a style he has made his own in recent seasons - total domination. The Ferrari ace won a stopped and re-started Belgian Grand Prix, the 52nd of his career, by a margin of 10.0s. But until he eased off in the final stages, it could easily have been a minute or more.

Race: Michael makes win record his own

David Coulthard finished second for McLaren-Mercedes, anchoring his bid for second in the final points, with Giancarlo Fisichella an amazing - and amazed - third for Benetton-Renault.

Schumacher's victory aside, the abiding memory of the race will be the sight of Luciano Burti's Prost spearing into the Blanchimont tyre barriers at close on 180mph. Miraculously, the accident-prone Brazilian is concussed, but otherwise unharmed - another testimony to Formula 1's leaps and bounds in car safety in recent seasons (see separate story).

Burti's accident stopped the race after just four laps, with the restarted event reverting to 36 laps, down from the original distance of 44.

At the first start, Schuey had been beaten away by brother Ralf, but out-dragged him to take the lead through Les Combes. After that it appeared to be plain sailing for the German, and when the safety car and then the red flags came out, the older Schumacher had already stretched out his lead to over five seconds.

At the second start, with the first segment wiped from the records, Schuey Sr leapt into a lead he would only briefly lose in the first pit stop cycle. But the car snicking into second behind was none other than - wait for it, wait for it... - the Benetton-Renault of Giancarlo Fisichella!

Stunning start aside, Fisichella was helped a lot by the misfortunes of Williams-BMW. Before the first start (itself delayed after Heinz-Harald Frentzen stalled his Prost as the red lights came on), Juan Pablo Montoya had stalled before the formation lap and was forced to start from the back.

Then, just before the formation lap for the post-Burti shunt re-started race, Ralf's car was still up on jacks as the field began to move away. Result: both Williams starting from the second half of the grid.

Despite a convoy of cars headed by David Coulthard behind him, Fisichella gamely held onto second through the first round of stops, partly by only taking on fuel and not tyres, which allowed Schumacher to build an easy half-minute lead.

After the second batch of pitstops, Fisichella maintained his runner-up spot (this time by changing just the rears), but DC had a renewed sense of purpose about him as he harried the oil-spewing Benetton. Finally, with 27 laps gone, a backmarker at La Source compromised Fischella's line for the blast to and through Eau Rouge, allowing the McLaren to get past at the top of the hill in Les Combes.

Fisichella hung on for third, ahead of Mika Hakkinen's lonely McLaren and Rubens Barrichello's Ferrari, which had been forced to pit for a new nose after the Brazilian clattered the kerbs at the Bus-stop chicane and lost its front wing.

Behind him, a superb scrap for sixth saw Jean Alesi take his first point for Jordan-Honda, ahead of a charging Ralf Schumacher and the last of the unlapped runners, the BAR-Honda of Jacques Villeneuve. A one-stopping Frentzen and Jos Verstappen's Arrows completed the top 10.

At the chequered flag, Schumacher had eased off a lot, making the final gap an unrepresentative 10 seconds, but as he explained afterwards, he had nearly thrown his record-equalling fifth Spa win away all by himself.

"After the second stop, I eased off," he said. "Before that, I wanted a big margin when I didn't know what the weather would do. My only scare was when I went wide. I was playing with too many buttons at the same time, but it woke me up."

Coulthard was happy to salvage second after an incident-packed weekend, but praised the performance of Fisichella and Benetton.

"Giancarlo did an amazing race," he said. "He was quick in all the right places, but thankfully with the backmarker at La Source, that upset his rhythm a little bit."

Coulthard noted the amount of oil the Benetton was throwing out the back during his stint behind it, and for Fisichella the flag couldn't come soon enough, with the V10 down to its last few litres of lubricant. But the Italian was overjoyed at his change in fortunes and praised the tyre strategy.

"There was a graining problem with the Michelins, plus we got a better balance the longer we were out on them," he explained. "I didn't change any at the first stop, and I just changed the rears at the second stop. It was the right choice to make."

With the record now in the books, Schumacher heads off to Monza and the Italian Grand Prix next. On Ferrari's home turf, however, the German expects a tougher fight from Williams-BMW.

"I want to do well," he said, "but maybe it will be difficult looking at the circuit's characteristics. At Hockenheim, the Williams cars were quick, but we'll certainly try."

If he wins at Monza, he'll equal a record already jointly held by him of nine wins in a season. After that, there'll be two more chances to move the benchmark to 10 race wins in a season. On his current imperious form, don't bet against it.

For full results click here.

For latest championship standings click here.

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