US Grand Prix: Schumacher claims title initiative with dominant victory

At times, the US GP wasn't so much of a race - it was a full-blown war zone. Michael Schumacher, already a veteran of five successful world championship campaigns, did the best job of dodging the bullets and steered his Ferrari home in one piece. From seventh on the grid, the German made a great start to rocket up the order into fourth by the first corner, squeezing past team-mate Rubens Barrichello at Turn 1. Main title rival Juan Pablo Montoya (Williams) took his first direct hit of the afternoon when he made a dreadful start and plunged to seventh

US Grand Prix: Schumacher claims title initiative with dominant victory

Out front, pole man Kimi Raikkonen (McLaren) made a blistering getaway to lead, with Olivier Panis (Toyota) jumping ahead of the slow-starting Barrichello, while Ralf Schumacher did likewise to take third for Williams. By the end of lap one, Raikkonen had extended a 1.6sec lead, while team-mate David Coulthard pulled off a smart round-the-outside pass on Barrichello for fifth.

R Schumacher bombed past Panis on the start/finish straight on the following tour, but it was the second Williams, that of Montoya, that caught the attention. He lunged alongside Barrichello on the outside under braking, much like DC had a lap earlier. This time, however, Rubens stuck to his cause and they turned into the left-hander side-by-side. Montoya went for the inside of the following right-hander, so did Barrichello.

End result? Montoya's right-front wheel clipped Barrichello's left-rear, contact that sent Rubens spinning off into the gravel. Although he lost positions to both Renaults, Montoya escaped - or so it seemed.

Rubens was indignant: "I know we've always said that we race each other quite close and that one day we might touch, but it shouldn't have been today. It was very close, but I didn't turn into him. I thought I had given him space. I hadn't even reached the apex of the corner, and then I felt a bang."

Six laps later, the world was informed that Montoya was 'under investigation'. It was at least another 10 minutes before his drive-through pit penalty, for causing an 'avoidable incident', was confirmed. To most observers, the only crime he seemed guilty of was attempting to overtake.

Montoya's day got better before it got worse, though. As rain began to fall, the Michelin dry weather tyres coped with the slightly greasy surface much better than the Bridgestone runners. M Schumacher fell back, although not before he appeared to pass Panis for third under the yellow flags required to tow his stranded team-mate out of the gravel trap. Behind him, Montoya pulled a similar move on Jarno Trulli for seventh.

Montoya passed Alonso and then title nemesis M Schumacher in quick succession, before storming his way up to Coulthard, who he passed at Turn 1 on lap 14 with a stunning manoeuvre. Michael had fallen back to sixth as the first pitstops approached, but things were about to go in his favour.

Just as his Ferrari trundled down the pit lane, the heavens opened. Ironically, the call had already been made to put a new set of dry tyres on the car, so he was back in on the next lap for wets, but this was when the race turned. Montoya suffered a fuel rig failure, which caused a 15sec pitstop, and then he had to serve his drive-through. He stayed out on dry tyres for far too long, slithering briefly off the track at Turn 9, before pitting for wets. He was now a lap down...

If that wasn't bad enough for Williams, confusion on the radio meant R Schumacher stayed out on dry tyres in the rain, only to slither off into the tyrewall as the team were shouting at him to pit. Talk about a double whammy, one that also sideswiped its constructors' championship hopes.

"We made some mistakes today," admitted chief operations engineer Sam Michael. "The rain was very difficult to forecast, but we should have done a better job." On the subject of Montoya's penalty, he said: "We abide by the stewards' decision."

Cars to benefit most in the rain were Jenson Button (BAR) and Heinz-Harald Frentzen (Sauber), not only because they were on the superior Bridgestone wet tyres, but because they had switched to them at their first pitstops. Button led for 10 laps, before the storming M Schumacher gobbled both he and Frentzen up. Michael had already demoted Raikkonen, sailing past him at Turn 9 and effortlessly pulling away.

"We were very unlucky with the weather, but what can you do?" asked Raikkonen rhetorically. "I was fighting as much as I could, and we got second place, which is not the best because Michael won."

Raikkonen had trouble making inroads into third placed Frentzen (thanks to his less grippy Michelin wets) until the track dried, and he was back on Michelin dry tyres as soon as possible. By then Button's car had expired with what was termed a hydraulic failure (well, the hydraulics would fail if the engine grenaded, wouldn't they?) and Kimi finally relieved second place off Frentzen on lap 54.

Button said: "It was probably the worst feeling I've had in racing. Four years and I still haven't had a podium."

After that, hostilities subsided. Schumacher cruised to victory by 18secs over a rueful Raikkonen. Frentzen held third, while Trulli overcame the second Sauber of Nick Heidfeld in the latter stages to finish fourth. The much-delayed Montoya grabbed sixth from Giancarlo Fisichella's Jordan, but the points he scored weren't enough to keep him in the title fight and he left the track while the champagne on the podium was still flowing.

Ferrari's technical director Ross Brawn was ecstatic with the outcome: "The key to victory today was the weather. We're pretty overwhelmed about this victory, even though we called it wrong on the first pitstop. It would have been nice to finish the title here, so we've still got a lot of work to do."

Justin Wilson grabbed the final point for Jaguar after a gritty drive. His team-mate Mark Webber actually led during the rain chaos, but the Aussie stuffed his car heavily into the tyrewall soon after. Cristiano da Matta probably would have scored a point had he not pitted six times in his Toyota, while early frontrunner Panis had a dreadful first pitstop from which he didn't recover and he too stacked his car into a tyrewall.

The Minardis of Jos Verstappen and Nicolas Kiesa rounded out the 11 finishers. Everyone else was chalked up as the casualties of combat.

It was a battle that looks to have won the war for Schuey.

shares
comments
Team Tactics Inevitable, Says Dennis

Previous article

Team Tactics Inevitable, Says Dennis

Next article

Schumacher Wins; Montoya Out of WC Race - US GP

Schumacher Wins; Montoya Out of WC Race - US GP
Load comments
The F1 champion who became an Indy king in his second career Plus

The F1 champion who became an Indy king in his second career

Emerson Fittipaldi’s decision to go racing with his brother led to him falling out of F1, but he bloomed again on the IndyCar scene. NIGEL ROEBUCK considers a career of two halves

Formula 1
Jul 31, 2021
Why Mercedes is pleased to be in the Hungary hunt at a 'Red Bull track' Plus

Why Mercedes is pleased to be in the Hungary hunt at a 'Red Bull track'

Mercedes ended Friday practice at the Hungaroring with a clear gap to Red Bull thanks to Valtteri Bottas’s pace in topping FP2. But there are other reasons why the Black Arrows squad feels satisfied with its progress so far at a track many Formula 1 observers reckon favours Red Bull overall

Formula 1
Jul 30, 2021
How Red Bull endured its second car crash in two weeks Plus

How Red Bull endured its second car crash in two weeks

OPINION: Red Bull was justified to be upset that Lewis Hamilton survived his British GP clash with Max Verstappen and went on to win. But its attempts to lobby the FIA to reconsider the severity of Hamilton's in-race penalty were always likely to backfire, and have only succeeded in creating a PR disaster that will distract from its on-track efforts

Formula 1
Jul 30, 2021
The ‘screaming’ F1 engine future that may not be out of reach Plus

The ‘screaming’ F1 engine future that may not be out of reach

OPINION: It wasn't just the Verstappen/Hamilton clash that had the Red Bull and Mercedes bosses at loggerheads at Silverstone, with the nature of Formula 1's 2025 engines also subject for disagreement. But hopes to have loud, emotive engines that are also environmentally friendly don't have to be opposed

Formula 1
Jul 29, 2021
The drivers that need to strike gold before F1's summer break Plus

The drivers that need to strike gold before F1's summer break

OPINION: Formula 1 is about to break up for summer 2021, with the title battles finely poised. But it’s not just the latest round of Max Verstappen vs Lewis Hamilton that will be worth watching this weekend in Hungary, as plenty of drivers are eying big results to change the stories of their seasons so far

Formula 1
Jul 28, 2021
How Lotus F1 uncovered, then squandered its last ‘unfair advantage’ Plus

How Lotus F1 uncovered, then squandered its last ‘unfair advantage’

Cast in the mould of its founder Colin Chapman, Lotus was powerful and daring but 
flawed – as it proved through further soaring peaks and painful troughs into the 1980s. DAMIEN SMITH examines a game-changing era

Formula 1
Jul 27, 2021
The core problems Yas Marina’s long-awaited tweaks won't address Plus

The core problems Yas Marina’s long-awaited tweaks won't address

OPINION: Changes to the layout of Abu Dhabi’s circuit aim to reverse the trend of insipid Formula 1 races there - the promoter has even described one of the new corners as “iconic”. And that, argues STUART CODLING, is one of this venue’s abiding failings

Formula 1
Jul 26, 2021
How Ferrari offered Britain's next F1 prospect what Red Bull couldn't Plus

How Ferrari offered Britain's next F1 prospect what Red Bull couldn't

Last year's Formula 2 runner-up Callum Ilott could be on his way to becoming the first Briton to contest a grand prix in an Alfa Romeo since Reg Parnell in 1950. But, says OLEG KARPOV, the Ferrari Driver Academy protege is having to temper his ambition at the moment – outwardly at least…

Formula 1
Jul 25, 2021