SEPANG, Malaysia, Sunday, March 18, 2001-Michael Schumacher's domination of the new Formula One season continued with a win in the rain soaked and chaotic Malaysian Grand Prix on March 18. Schumacher survived a tropical downpour, an ...
SEPANG, Malaysia, Sunday, March 18, 2001-Michael Schumacher's domination of the new Formula One season continued with a win in the rain soaked and chaotic Malaysian Grand Prix on March 18.
Schumacher survived a tropical downpour, an off-track excursion during which he nearly collided with his Ferrari teammate Rubens Barrichello, and an agonizingly long pit stop on his way to claiming the victory.
"You can't call this race boring," Schumacher said. "It was exciting! I thought it was all finished by whatever lap number (3) when the rain started and I went off the circuit. I was seeing the barrier already very close and thinking, that's my part now, and then I saw Rubens coming by next at the same corner. So actually we were lucky that the cars stayed in shape and didn't get heavily damaged, and we were able to do the race we did." Ferrari was the only team that decided to fit intermediate rain tires rather than "heavy rain" tires when the downpour began, and that strategy helped Schumacher lead Barrichello to a 1-2 sweep of the second Grand Prix of the season. David Coulthard finished third, Heinz-Harald Frentzen fourth, Ralf Schumacher fifth and Mika Hakkinen sixth.
The first start of the Malaysian Grand Prix had to be aborted because Giancarlo Fisichella lined up in the wrong spot on the grid. When the race began, Ferrari teammates Schumacher and Barrichello led the field only to both slide off the track on Lap 3 because the track was slick with rain and oil dumped on the track by the blown engine from Olivier Panis' Lucky Strike BAR-Honda. At the same time, a tropical downpour began and flooded the circuit in some areas. The sudden rain sent cars spinning everywhere, including Jarno Trulli, who spun out of the lead on Lap 3, Jacques Villeneuve, Juan Pablo Montoya and David Coulthard. Both Ferraris pitted at the end of Lap 4, and Schumacher had to wait 72 seconds while the Ferrari mechanics first worked on Barrichello's car, digging the stones from the gravel trap out of it and then struggling to find the right set of tires for it. Fortunately for the Ferrari team, because of the heavy rain, the Safety Car came out to pace the field on Lap 4 and stayed out though Lap 10. This meant that the Ferraris were not too far behind, even though they were in 10th and 11th place, when the race resumed. Schumacher and Barrichello were simply awe-inspiring as they charged through the field. Thanks in part to choosing intermediate rain tires rather than "heavy wets," the Ferrari duo was able to lap four or five seconds a lap faster than the rest of the field at some stages in the rain. Schumacher took advantage of a Barrichello mistake to pass him. By Lap 16, Schumacher led overall with Barrichello second. The rain soon eased off, and every driver eventually switched to dry weather tires. Running third for much of the race in his West McLaren-Mercedes, Coulthard was never able to challenge the Ferraris. Heinz-Harald Frentzen came out on top of a long battle with Jos Verstappen and Mika Hakkinen to claim fourth place. After spinning out in the first turn at the start of the race when he collided with Barrichello, Ralf Schumacher ended up fifth. Ralf Schumacher and Hakkinen dueled for fifth in the closing stages and crossed the line just 0.373 seconds apart. Including last season, Michael Schumacher has now scored six consecutive wins from pole position. He averaged 105.651 mph (170.030 km/h) to complete the 55-lap, 189.433-mile (304.865-km) race in one hour, 47 minutes and 34.801 seconds. His margin of victory was 23.66 seconds.
MICHAEL SCHUMACHER (Ferrari, winner, talking of when he had to wait for over a minute in the pits while the mechanics serviced Barrichello's car): "I thought his engine was off, and I saw the guys were not sure should they restart it or not. I was only trying to say, please push the car forward because you can restart it as well in a different position and in the meantime they can change my tires. But what I didn't see, the front-right tire wasn't changed by that time, so that was the reason I said, 'Come on, do something,' but I didn't have the full picture.
"We were lucky, honestly, that we didn't get lapped by the Safety Car. The conditions were really atrocious, undriveable, I'd say, and in this respect we were really lucky that we didn't get lapped and we could join again the back of the Safety Car. But for a while I was thinking the Safety Car would go faster than we could do, actually, because we had to go so slow in certain parts of the circuit, and it was really a struggle."
RUBENS BARRICHELLO (Ferrari, second, talking about when he and teammate Schumacher slid off the track at the same time): "I couldn't slow the car down, and I couldn't afford to spin, otherwise I would have collected him. We were very close at that time, and I was really lucky to stay on. Two laps later I was already really lucky again not to have collected Coulthard and Trulli in front of me, because at that time you have no drive: It's like as if the wheels are not turning, the water comes underneath the car, and you have no way to do anything. The cars were spinning, spinning, spinning. All of a sudden I saw that I could still put the power down, I was maybe in fifth gear, I never changed gear, and I just went through the gravel again, came into the pits. We had a disastrous pit stop and then off we went again."
DAVID COULTHARD (West McLaren-Mercedes, third): "At that time we thought it was the right decision to go for full wets, and clearly with that amount of water it was. But as the Safety Car then came out, you can be sure that you' re not going to start driving again with so much water on the track. So in hindsight, intermediates would have been a better tire because we had to run the wets a long time, and I was losing a lot of time obviously to the Ferraris when I was waiting for the slicks."
HEINZ-HARALD FRENTZEN (Benson & Hedges Jordan-Honda, fourth): "This was one of my most exciting races I've ever had, fighting with Ralf, Jos and Mika. We went all over the place because of the standing water, but this race was totally driven to the limit."
RALF SCHUMACHER (Williams-BMW, fifth): "The collision with Barrichello at the first corner is hard to understand because usually the car that is in front has priority on the corner. It was a good feeling to be able to keep Hakkinen behind me."
MIKA HAKKINEN (West McLaren-Mercedes, sixth): "I got stuck at the first corner when Ralf Schumacher spun in front of me and lost four positions. After the Safety Car phase was over, I didn't seem to be able to make any considerable progress up the field. I was caught behind Verstappen, which lost me valuable time. After my last pit stop, I was able to attack again and set a number of fastest race laps. I caught Ralf Schumacher in fifth during the closing stages, but it's easier to catch than it is to pass."
JOS VERSTAPPEN (Orange Arrows-Asiatech, seventh): "The whole team should be happy with that. After the tough start we had to the weekend, it was great to be so high up in the race. We got the maximum out of the car and the maximum out of me, especially at the start, I think that's one of my best ones yet. The car felt good in the wet, but we know from last year it was good."
JACQUES VILLENEUVE (Lucky Strike BAR-Honda, spun off on Lap 4): "At the back of the track it started to rain really hard and turned into a downpour. We were on dry tires and couldn't see where we were going and suddenly I started to slide into the gravel trap."
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA (Williams-BMW, spun off on Lap 4): "On the grid, the engine died, and when I tried to restart it again it didn't work. I had to jump in the T car and start from the pit lane. When it began to rain I radioed the pits that I needed to switch to wet tires. We decided to stay out one more lap, but I couldn't make it to the pits because there was so much aquaplaning. I let the throttle go but there was so little traction in the rear that the engine stopped and I spun."
NEWS and NOTES:
Schumacher statistics: This was Michael Schumacher's sixth consecutive win and the 46th of his career. It is also the 137th win for Ferrari and the 50th 1-2 finish for the team. Schumacher is second on the all-time win list and second in the record books in the pole positions category.
Schumacher wins 34th pole: Michael Schumacher beat out Rubens Barrichello and his brother Ralf Schumacher to win the pole for the race. It was his sixth consecutive pole and the 34th of his career. He is second in the record books behind Ayrton Senna, who won 65 poles in 161 starts. Alain Prost (199 starts) and Jim Clark (72 starts) are tied for third with 33 poles each.
*** Ferrari class of the field: The Ferrari has a clear advantage at the moment, said David Coulthard, who finished third in his McLaren-Mercedes. "The Williams aside in qualifying," Coulthard said, "the Ferraris were a second quicker than we were in qualifying. And obviously Williams was out of the battle (in the race) from very early on. They (Ferrari) clearly have a car advantage at this time, very similar to the sort of advantage we probably had in '98, and that allows you, if you make the right calls, to really drive at the pace you want to relative to others.
"So it's quite clear to everyone that they're the class of the field at the moment, and we have a lot of work to do to catch up."
*** The next stop: The F1 cars and all the team's equipment will be flown from Malaysia to Sao Paulo for the Brazilian Grand Prix on April 1. Most of the drivers and team personnel will return to Europe to join their test teams for a test at Barcelona next week.
Montoya serene: Last year's Indianapolis 500 winner Juan Montoya didn't get frustrated when mechanical problems kept his Williams-BMW in the pits for most of Friday's practice session.
"I think he was so exasperated that it was beyond cursing and swearing, really," said Williams technical director Patrick Head. "I think he just gave himself a mental beta-blocker, so to speak, and just stood alongside the car and waited for the guys working on it. It certainly comes under the heading, as you say, of character building.
"He's very keen to get in and show what he can do. He's joined Formula One without any baggage of what he's achieved before. I think he has a very straightforward attitude to it, he knows it's a big challenge, and he strikes me as having all the right sort of attitude to be successful.
"There were a few people that said, when they watched him on the track in Australia, they thought at least in practice he was what gets described as over-driving a bit, or maybe being out of line a bit more often than he should have been, but that sort of thing he'll tidy up, I'm sure."
Condolences sent: Jacques Villeneuve sent flowers and a card of condolence to the family of Graham Beveridge, the track worker who lost his life during an accident in the Australian Grand Prix. Villeneuve also plans to contact the family at a suitable time.
Alonso and Renault: Rookie Fernando Alonso, age 19, who drives for Minardi, has confirmed that he is under a long-term contract to Renault.
Panis fined: Olivier Panis broke the 37-mph pit lane speed limit on Friday by 5 mph and earned a $2,250 fine. On Saturday he broke it again, this time by 2.8 mph, and earned a $1,250 fine.