Race report: Coulthard win narrows the gap

David Coulthard moved to within four points of world championship leader Michael Schumacher with victory in the Austrian Grand Prix. The McLaren driver was made to fight hard by Rubens Barrichello in the closing laps, but a series of ultra-quick laps before his one and only pit stop provided the slimmest of cushions for the Scot to hang on, post-pit stop, until the chequered flag

Race report: Coulthard win narrows the gap

Ferrari finished second and third, with Schumacher coming home behind Coulthard after being let through by Barrichello on the final corner of the final lap. Before that somewhat artificial helping hand, the German had had to fight back up the order following a clash with early leader Juan Pablo Montoya's Williams.

Coulthard's win, his second of the season, came from seventh on the grid, and although he was helped somewhat by the Montoya/Schumacher incident, it was a flawless performance - and one based on the gamble of starting with a heavier fuel load to maximise the tactical options.

"From where I was, it was important to start with a heavy fuel load and give myself options. The safety car period after the start definitley helped us," said the Scot, who declined spraying the champagne following the tragic death of Mercedes engine-maker Ilmor Engineering's co-founder Paul Morgan in a plane crash on Saturday.

Montoya and his team mate Ralf Schumacher had scorched into a one-two lead at the start, with Schumacher senior slotting into third after a tardy start. But behind them, chaos reigned as Mika Hakkinen's McLaren-Mercedes, both Jordan-Hondas and the Sauber of Nick Heidfeld all failed to get off the line. It seems that there's still work to be done as the teams work to perfect their launch and traction control systems...

"We simply don't know what it was yet," said Hakkinen. "We'll investigate tonight and see if it was a driver problem or a car problem."

Recalling his start, Schumacher said: "We had some sort of problem. It didn't start in the way it should and basically I had to do a manual start. These systems are still very new and I'm sure that others will get surprises too."

All bar Heinz-Harald Frentzen were finally able to get moving again, but Hakkinen managed only a couple of lacklustre tours before driving into his garage for good.

On his title chances, the Finn simply shrugged that, "it doesn't look too promising, does it?"

After a safety car period to move various stranded machines, the Williams pair continued to lead, until Ralf Schumacher pulled into the pits and into retirement with a rear suspension failure.

Just a handful of laps later, Montoya's Michelins began to wilt mid-stint and the chasing pack closed up, leading to the clash between the Colombian and the reigning world champion on lap 16. Schumacher went down the inside on the kink before turn three, but that turned into the outside line for the right-hander itself. But Montoya left it too late on the brakes and pushed both cars wide, dropping them to sixth and seventh.

"I was a little bit upset," recalled Schumacher. "No way was he going to make that corner. It wasn't ideal and you can be sure I'll be having a word with him later."

Schumacher fought back to third, behind Coulthard, but it was Barrichello in the lead and looking reasonably comfortable before the Ferraris pitted on lap 46 (Schumacher) and lap 47 (Barrichello).

Coulthard, however, stayed out until the end of lap 50 and pushed hard in those critical extra laps on his light fuel load. He reappeared ahead of Barrichello and, despite occasional problems with traffic in the closing laps, managed to pull out a gap of over two seconds by the time the cars entered the final lap.

But with Schumacher Ferrari's main hope for the title, the signal was given to Barrichello and the Brazilian somewhat reluctantly (and unsurprisingly) pulled wide on the final corner.

Afterwards, his terse comments made it clear that Rubens was a relatively unhappy participant in the plan.
"The team asked me to do that," he grimaced when questioned, before adding: "But I'm mostly unhappy because I was leading for almost the whole Grand Prix before David went longer on his first stint and won the race."

Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn explained that on this occasion it hadn't been a tactical victory for McLaren - just an ability to go further on a tank of fuel.

"It wasn't a voluntary choice," he said. "We went as far as we could go. Montoya obviously screwed Michael's race."

On the subject of team orders, he was equally unabashed, adding: "We've got a championship to think about. We were hoping Rubens would have a go at David, but it wasn't to be."

With Jordan basically out of the picture and Hakkinen too, that allowed a couple of lesser lights to shine. Jos Verstappen's low-fueled Arrows held second in the early stages, before peeling off for the first of its two stops, while rookie sensation Kimi Raikkonen put in another blinder for Sauber. In the end, the Finn was fourth, with Olivier Panis and Jos Verstappen completing the top six.

In the world championship standings, Schumacher now has 42 points, with Coulthard on 38 and Barrichello third on 18 points. Best of the rest is Schumacher Jr with 12, followed by Nick Heidfeld on 8. Amazingly, Hakkinen sits a lowly equal 10th, still with just those four points to his name.

In the constructors' standings, the gap remains the same as it was, with Ferrari moving on to 60 points and McLaren up to 42. Williams is third with 18.

For full race results, click here.

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