Thanks in part to the continuing misfortunes of Team McLaren, Michael Schumacher claimed a fifth career victory at the Monaco Grand Prix, staking claim to the second most career wins at the premier Formula One event. Only the legendary Ayrton ...
Thanks in part to the continuing misfortunes of Team McLaren, Michael Schumacher claimed a fifth career victory at the Monaco Grand Prix, staking claim to the second most career wins at the premier Formula One event.
Only the legendary Ayrton Senna has more races at the principality, having claimed six victories for Lotus and McLaren between 1987 and 1993. Schumacher is now tied with Graham Hill (five wins for BRM and Lotus, 1963-1969), and ahead of such greats as Alain Prost (4), Jackie Stewart (3) and Stirling Moss (3).
In every one of his Monaco victories to date, Schumacher won by over 30 seconds over the opposition, and he was well on his way to doing that again. After the 15th lap, when Mika Hakkinen retired, he was never threatened, until he slowed down on the final lap to allow his teammate, Rubens Barrichello, to cross the finish line just behind him. But, even so, the first non-Ferrari, Eddie Irvine, was some 30.7 seconds adrift at the checkered flag.
"In some ways it was an easy and straightforward race, because I was out in front on my own," said Schumacher. "I just had to think about reliability and make sure I didn't make a mistake."
While David Coulthard managed to score two World Championship points in fifth, this was a day to forget for Team McLaren- in fact, the Scot was unable to make an impression in his "Silver Arrow" McLaren-Mercedes on the backmarker Orange Arrows of Enrique Bernoldi, failing to pass the young Brazilian for laps on end, even while the two were lapped by the leaders.
But having to pass the Arrows in the first place … hadn't Coulthard qualified on the pole? Indeed, that was the case, but the McLaren gremlins attacked again at the start. The silver car was stalled on the grid as the field left for the formation lap, forcing him to start at the back of the grid, on the Formula One track with the least passing opportunities of all.
His teammate, Hakkinen, had a successful start, and was pursuing Schumacher for the lead, when he suffered a suspension problem causing his car to steer strongly to the left. He lost seconds per lap, losing several places quickly, and retired after a visit to the pits failed to cure his handling problem.
"I went into the pits but the crew couldn't find anything wrong," said Hakkinen. "However, the car was still behaving in a strange manner, and I decided that it would be impossible to go flat out, and there was no other option than to retire."
With seven of 17 races completed, the two-time World Champion has a mere four points to his credit, his McLaren having failed in five of the seven races to date. The season is clearly a write-off for him, with Schumacher all but mathematically out of reach at 52 points. Worse yet, the Constructors' Championship is slipping out of McLaren's reach now, too, with the Woking team 32 points adrift of its archrival, Ferrari.
The only other potential threat to the Ferrari hegemony, Williams-BMW fell by the wayside, too: Juan Montoya spun into the barriers, candidly admitting his mistake, while Ralf Schumacher has the hydraulic systems fail on his car some 15 laps before the end of the race: "The hydraulic warning light came on suddenly and I lost my power steering, then the ability to change gear, and finally my engine quit."
So it was left for Schumacher and Barrichello to cruise to the end, taking the checkered lap in a formation finish. Irvine's third place was the best-ever finish for Jaguar (although the Johnny Herbert had claimed a victory for the team in the 1999 European Grand Prix), and Jacques Villeneuve (fourth) and Jean Alesi (sixth) were happy to score points as the front-runners fell by the wayside.
There were only ten finishers, and the last of those, Kimi Raikkonen, was four laps adrift, having spent three laps in the pits. Williams, Jordan and Minardi were all able to get an early start on packing up their equipment, and Ferrari and Arrows were the only teams able to bring both cars to the finish line.
Schumacher is now 12 points ahead of Coulthard-certainly not an insurmountable lead, but if the McLaren reliability woes continue, the Scot will need some luck to present a serious challenge for the Championship this year.