World champion Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) got his FIA Formula One title defence off to a flying start in Melbourne, Australia. The German led from the st art and was only headed briefly when the running order was shuffled by mid -race ...
World champion Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) got his FIA Formula One title defence off to a flying start in Melbourne, Australia. The German led from the st art and was only headed briefly when the running order was shuffled by mid -race refuelling stops. He fought off a close challenge from McLaren driver Mika Hakkinen, but was able to control the pace from the moment the Finn crashed out on lap 26. Michelin m ade a promising return to grand prix racing after a 16 -year absence, but the French firm's leading runners Ralf Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya were denied probable points finishes when their BMW Williams FW23s were thwarted by an accident and an engine problem respectively. The accident very sadly cost the life of an Australian Grand Prix marshal. Jaguar Racing rookie Luciano Burti was best Michelin finisher, in eighth place.
The winner backed off in the final laps and allowed Scot David Coulthard (McL aren) to close to within 1.7 seconds. Schumacher's team -mate Rubens Barrichello was third. Olivier Panis (BAR), Nick Heidfeld (Sauber) and Heinz -Harald Frentzen (Jordan) completed the top six.
In the early stages of the race Ralf Schumacher was Michelin's leading runner. The BMW WilliamsF1 Team driver made a good start to hold fourth place, but he ran onto the grass on the second lap and lost two places. He held sixth place until lap five, when BAR -Honda driver Jacques Villeneuve ran into him and forced bo th cars out of the race. Villeneuve's car took off, slammed into the safety fence and flipped over, with the Canadian driver escaping unhurt. Unfortunately, the incident resulted in the death of a marshal. Michelin would like to take this opportunity of extending its deepest condolences to the family and friends. The race was neutralised for 10 laps.
Montoya made a great start from 11th place on the grid, but ran wide at the first corner and was involved in another first -lap incident before his race sett led down. He had worked his way up to sixth place before the scheduled pit stops and was actually holding third when an engine problem forced him out shortly before he was due to refuel.
Five of Michelin's seven other racers were classified as finishers. Jean Alesi (Prost -Acer) was 10th, Eddie Irvine (Jaguar Racing) 11th after a first -lap spin, Fernando Alonso (European Minardi) 12th and Giancarlo Fisichella (Benetton Renault Sport) 13th. Fisichella's team -mate Jenson Button stopped six laps from the end, but he was classified 14th.
Tarso Marques (European Minardi) and Gaston Mazzacane (Prost -Acer) both retired from the race within the first three laps.
Pierre Dupasquier (Motorsport Director):
"Our return has been about as good as we could have expected. Obviously, I'm not talking about the final result. We leave with not as many of our cars at the finish as we would have liked, but we have gathered enough data on this Melbourne track to help us for next year's event."
"We are very satisfied with the qualifying performance. We work on the principle that if one of our cars can put in a good time, this must prove that our tyres are capable of doing it. Ralf Schumacher's (BMW WilliamsF1) time at less than 0.5 of a second from Barriche llo shows that he is capable of fighting for a front row start."
"And Juan Pablo Montoya lapped in 1'29"6, the fourth fastest lap time and that on his 40 th lap on those tyres, so we seem to be quite constant as well! Now we'll see what happens in Malaysi a."