RÃ„IKKÃ–NEN CLOSE TO MAIDEN SUCCESS Finn Kimi RÃ¤ikkÃ¶nen (McLaren-Mercedes/Michelin) came within five laps of becoming one of Formula One's youngest-ever grand prix winners at Magny-Cours -- but then the 22-year-old driver made a small mistake...
RÄIKKÖNEN CLOSE TO MAIDEN SUCCESS
Finn Kimi Räikkönen (McLaren-Mercedes/Michelin) came within five laps of becoming one of Formula One's youngest-ever grand prix winners at Magny-Cours -- but then the 22-year-old driver made a small mistake at the Adelaide hairpin and that was all Ferrari star Michael Schumacher needed. The German pounced and went on to pip Räikkönen by just 1.1 seconds.
His eighth victory of the season was enough to clinch a fifth world title, equalling the legendary Argentine driver Juan Manual Fangio's long-standing record (set in 1957). It is also the earliest point of the season at which a driver has been crowned champion: he beat the record set by Jim Clark, who clinched the 1965 crown by winning the German GP on August 1. It wasn't all plain sailing for Schumacher, however. He had to serve a drive-through penalty on lap 35 as a punishment for crossing the white line that defines the pit lane exit road.
Although Michelin was denied a home victory in the closing moments of the race, its partner teams performed very strongly and occupied the remaining top-six positions. Räikkönen's team-mate David Coulthard was given the same drive-through penalty as Schumacher, but recovered to finish third ahead of Williams-BMW team-mates Juan Pablo Montoya and Ralf Schumacher. Coulthard established a new outright circuit lap record -- 1m 15.045s. Montoya led the early stages of the race but lost his advantage during the scheduled pit stops and was not able to match the pace of the McLarens in the race's later stages. The younger Schumacher was the third of the race's leading runners to be penalised for a pit lane exit infraction.
It has been confirmed that Jenson Button will leave the Renault team at the end of the season and he will cede his place to rising Spanish star Fernando Alonso. The Englishman continues to perform strongly and took sixth place -- his fifth points finish of the season.
All but two of the cars that finished were on Michelin tyres. Mark Webber put in another strong performance for the KL Minardi-Asiatech team to take eighth ahead of Pedro de la Rosa (Jaguar, ninth) and Alex Yoong (KL Minardi-Asiatech, 10th). Allan McNish (Toyota) was classified 11th but did not cross the finishing line after spinning at the Adelaide hairpin with seven laps to go.
Of the other Michelin drivers, Eddie Irvine (Jaguar) spun off at Adelaide after his rear wing failed while Jarno Trulli (Toyota) and Mika Salo (Toyota) were sidelined by engine problems.
Italian Giancarlo Fisichella (Jordan-Honda) did not take part. Doctors ordered him to rest in the wake of his high-speed practice crash on Saturday morning. He should be fit to race in next weekend's German GP at the revised Hockenheim circuit, however.
Michelin's day: Pierre Dupasquier, motorsport director
But for a small mistake towards the end of the race Kimi Räikkönen would have scored Michelin's third victory of the season today. He certainly seemed to have Michael Schumacher tamed... Overall Michelin cars took eight of the top 10 positions -- what did you make of the race?
"Firstly I think it is appropriate to congratulate Michael Schumacher for wrapping up the world championship today. As far as we were concerned, everybody could see that our tyres were extremely competitive throughout the race and the final result does not do justice to the fantastic job that the West McLaren-Mercedes team did today. Kimi Räikkönen drove exceptionally well and David Coulthard set a new outright lap record. Both drivers showed today that they have the ability to take the fight to the newly-crowned champion."
Both your primary (A) and option (B) tyres were used in this race. Did they perform to your expectations?
"I think both proved to be suited to race conditions. McLaren-Mercedes and Williams-BMW opted for different compounds and one proved to be a few tenths quicker than the other, which makes quite a difference after 72 laps. It was pleasing to see that both types of tyre performed consistently and we had no problems with wear."
One week from now it all kicks off again at the much-revised Hockenheim circuit, in Germany. What can you tell us about the tyres you'll be using there?
"There are only a few days to go but we haven't quite finalised which compounds we will be taking. Nobody has driven at the new track yet, but from what our simulations tell us we will be able to use slightly softer rubber than we did last year, because the long, high-speed straights that put such a strain on tyres have been eradicated. We always try to improve our products on a race by race basis and during weekends like the one just gone it is always very gratifying to see how competitive they are."