It was triumph for Michael Schumacher at his home race, as he led teammate Rubens Barrichello to Ferrari's fourth one-two finish of the season in the European Grand Prix. Schumacher gave the rest of the field a reality check after the troubles of...
It was triumph for Michael Schumacher at his home race, as he led teammate Rubens Barrichello to Ferrari's fourth one-two finish of the season in the European Grand Prix. Schumacher gave the rest of the field a reality check after the troubles of Monaco, finishing 17 seconds ahead of Barrichello. Jenson Button took third place, his fifth podium of the season, after BAR teammate Takuma Sato suffered an engine failure.
The N?rburgring didn't provide the same level of interest as Monaco but there were a few minor dramas through the race. Williams had problems right from the start when Juan Pablo Montoya clipped Ralf Schumacher at the first corner and sent him out, along with Toyota's Cristiano da Matta.
McLaren had to bear the ignominy of both drivers retiring with engine failures -- and when Kimi Raikkonen was looking like heading for a podium finish too.
There was a bit of confusion at the first corner; Michael got cleanly away in the lead but Montoya had a lock up and swerved -- he claimed that Olivier Panis' Toyota hit him initially -- and had contact with Ralf's car. Ralf collected the Toyota of da Matta as he went off, leaving them both out of the race.
"That was the worst thing that can happen," said a clearly annoyed da Matta. "I don't understand what was in Ralf's mind when he turned into me. He sharply turned left, he could have stayed straight."
Ralf felt he was an innocent party: "I was just a passenger," he exclaimed. "Juan ran into the back of me, I didn't even see Cristiano. Sorry, but what could I do?"
Gainers from the early confusion were Raikkonen, who moved up to second when Sato got out of shape through turns three and four, and Renault's Fernando Alonso shot up to third. David Coulthard made a huge gain on the first lap, going from the back of the grid to 9th.
Montoya dived into the pits for a new nose cone and everyone straightened themselves out a bit. The race was dictated by pit stop strategy -- some were on a three stopper and some on only two, which gave a reasonable bit of interest as the running order often changed.
The order may have changed but the protagonists did not. Michael had an advantage of 16 seconds over Raikkonen -- who was collecting quite a queue behind his McLaren -- within six laps, so it was a fairly safe bet he would win right from the opening stages. On a three stopper, Michael's first trip to the pits came on lap eight. He was followed on consecutive laps by Raikkonen and the Renaults.
Raikkonen had only just got back out on track after his first stop when his engine blew. His disbelief and frustration was clear to see -- never mind Montoya supposedly doubting his choice of moving to McLaren next year, it would be no surprise if Kimi is wondering if he can escape.
Alonso, who had been running third until after his first stop, had a problem with his steering and went very wide at turn four and dropped to 11th. Coulthard was on a long first stint and was up to fourth and Sauber's Giancarlo Fisichella was in the top eight. Button overtook Coulthard and the Scot headed in for his first stop.
The next two stoppers started coming in around lap 18, the Jaguars in quick succession first. After that shakeout, the order was Michael from Sato and Barrichello at the front. Alonso was recovering places rapidly, up to seventh behind teammate Jarno Trulli.
Michael's lead wasn't threatened by close rivals but he did have a spot of trouble with the pit exit and other drivers. Toyota's Olivier Panis came out of his first stop and forced the Ferrari to go wide at turn one. A similar thing was to happen later on.
Montoya didn't pit until lap 22 and Fisichella finally went in on lap 24. Montoya overtook Panis at turn one and the BARs were almost ready for the second stops. Coulthard's engine let go shortly afterwards -- three failures in one weekend, along with all the other ones this season, is seriously damaging Mercedes' credibility.
"I had a good first lap, I ended up in a similar position to where I have started from in previous races!" said the Scot. "This weekend the performance was a lot stronger than we've seen previously, so we're optimistic that we can be challenging again." He diplomatically avoided mentioning his untimely exit from the race.
After the BARs had pitted again, Barrichello was up to second. Michael came in for his second stop and rejoined in the lead. Meanwhile, Montoya and Jaguar's Christian Klien were having a big scrap. Montoya was all over the Jaguar through four or five corners, and Klien bravely held the Williams off for a short while. But Juan Pablo wasn't having it and harassed him down the straight, then muscled his way past at the first corner.
Klien appeared disconcerted and Felipe Massa was quick to move, the Sauber rocketing past at the next corner. Klein then had Panis on his rear wing but Nick Heidfeld used the pit exit to his advantage and beat Panis to 12th a couple of laps later. At that point Michael was coming up to lap the Toyota and got caught in the middle, but managed to escape unscathed.
The order was then Michael, Barrichello and Sato, with Button in fourth and Trulli and Alonso in fifth and sixth. Fisichella had a strong race, his two stop strategy putting him seventh and Montoya had worked his way to the final points position. Barrichello then took his second stop, leaving Sato back behind Michael.
Any hope BAR may have had of Button interfering with Barrichello's strategy was dashed when the Brazilian rejoined the track ahead of Jenson after his second stop. Michael again got hampered by another driver exiting the pits, Webber this time, and the German indulged in a little frustrated hand waving.
The final pit for the three stoppers started with Alonso, with Michael and Sato coming in together on the next lap. They held formation but Barrichello was heading down the straight as Sato made for the exit. He was too late and Barrichello slipped by into second.
Undeterred, Sato stuck with the Ferrari round the lap and fancied his chances as they headed to the first corner again. It was a rather rash move on Sato's behalf, as he dived up the inside from some way back. There was contact and Takuma came out the worst of it, having to pit for a new nose cone. So that was his chance for second scuppered and to add insult to injury his engine blew when he rejoined the track, forcing him to retire.
"I am sorry to say it was a bit amateurish for Sato to do that because he was not in a position to try and overtake," said Barrichello about the incident. "I took avoiding action."
That allowed Button into third but with only a dozen laps remaining, there was no time to catch Barrichello. Button gave it a go, closing the gap lap by lap, but it was to no avail. He was hampered slightly by the Minardi backmarkers but it was surely too late in the day to mount a challenge anyway.
It was a slightly subdued podium celebration for Michael and Barrichello as Ferrari is mourning the death of Fiat chairman Umberto Agnelli last week. "We started a little bit lighter but if you see how much lighter we were it doesn't justify the gap we had in qualifying," said Michael after his 76th career win. "Everything worked fantastically for us, I worked hard to get a gap and just drove it home safely."
Button added to his tally of trophies with another strong drive, albeit assisted by Sato's unfortunate exit. "Considering the problem I've had with grip throughout the weekend, 3rd place is a great result for me," he commented. "Obviously this podium was slightly more lucky than the other four, but a podium nonetheless."
The Renaults came home in formation, Trulli ahead of Alonso, in what turned out to be a less than great race for the team. Both drivers did a fairly good job but Renault was a bit on the back foot this weekend.
Fisichella had a rather anonymous time but collected another couple of points for Sauber, as did Webber for Jaguar. Montoya grimly held on to eight for one more point for Williams but it was a poor result for the team. Massa and Heidfeld completed the top ten finishers.
Toyota tinkered with Panis' strategy but it didn't pay off, the Frenchman coming home 11th. Klien had quite an eventful day and at least finished the race, 12th, with the second Jordan of Giorgio Pantano sidling quietly over the line in 13th. The Minardis both made it home to round off the finishers, birthday boy Gianmaria Bruni (23 today) ahead of Zsolt Baumgartner.
It was a quite interesting afternoon with the variable strategies and scattered incidents but once Michael was away at the start, the outcome was inevitable. As usual he made it look like a walk in the park, although he would probably deny it was an easy victory.
Ferrari made Barrichello's strategy work but the Brazilian certainly wasn't up to Michael's performance all weekend -- but nor was anyone else. Final top eight classification: M. Schumacher, Barrichello, Button, Trulli, Alonso, Fisichella, Webber, Montoya.