Schumacher's roaring forty
18 June 2000
Michael Schumacher racked up the fortieth race win of his ten year Formula One career, after a typically efficient performance in mixed conditions at the Canadian Grand Prix.
The German led almost from start to finish, save for a period mid-race when his pit-stop strategy allowed Ferrari team-mate Rubens Barrichello a spell at the head of the field. Even when a rainstorm hit the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve twenty-five laps from the end of the race, Schumacher remained in control, monitoring the gap back to the flying Barrichello and holding on to win by the smallest of margins.
Barrichello, in truth, should have had no hope of getting that close to his team leader, as Schumacher and David Coulthard took off at the green light and left the Brazilian floundering in the wake of another fast start from home hero Jacques Villeneuve. Within ten laps, the leader were as many seconds to the good, and pulling away at a prodigious rate.
It was unfortunate, therefore, that the only likely battle for the lead was ruined by officialdom. Quite rightly, Coulthard was penalised with a stop-go pit call for the actions of three mechanics who continued to work on his car as the formation lap began. Determined that the Scot should have every chance of taking off at the head of the field, rather than having to forfeit his front row slot, the crew tried frantically to cure a temporary clutch problem, but saw their efforts come to nought as Schumacher and the rulebook contrived to scupper his race.
Coulthard's penalty dropped him to the tail of the top ten, a misfortune the Scot contrived to worsen with a trip through the gravel while challenging Jos Verstappen's Arrows. At the front, meanwhile, Schumacher now enjoyed a 20-second - and growing - advantage as Barrichello continued to be bottled up behind the BAR.
The battle for second was eventually resolved on lap 25, and denied the home crowd the chance of seeing Villeneuve lead a grand prix for the first time with his latest team. When Schumacher called in for tyres, Barrichello was sufficiently advanced to beat the German to the end of the pit-lane, and then pull away on a lighter fuel load.
Schumacher's pursuit was hampered for a time by the attention of Mika Hakkinen, who had followed Barrichello's route past the BAR and closed on the Ferrari at a rapid rate. Only when the rest of the field began to file in for their own stops did Schumacher get any respite.
The end of the single round of stops coincided with the first real sign of the rain forecast before the race. Almost everybody had opted to take on another set of slicks - Villeneuve being the worst affected as he faced the dilemma of taking wets when the road was hardly damp - precipitating a rash of sudden arrivals on pit-road over the next couple of laps.
When the order had shaken itself out, Schumacher continued to lead, with a handsome advantage over team-mate Barrichello as the conditions got steadily worse. In third, despite several off-track excursions, was Montreal expert Giancarlo Fisichella, with Hakkinen the best of the championship chasers in fourth. The point scoring positions were completed, initially at least, by Jarno Trulli's Jordan and the second Benetton of Alex Wurz while, immediately behind them, a battle raged for the chance to sneak a scoring finish.
The man now on the move was Verstappen. Despite suspicions that his A21 had been leaking fluid early on - hence Coulthard's spin - the Dutchman, complete with patriotic orange helmet, passed first Ralf Schumacher, and then Wurz and Trulli to assume fifth spot - and pull away from his pursuers with some ease.
Both Arrows had made rapid starts, with Verstappen's team-mate Pedro de la Rosa vaulting onto the tail of Hakkinen's McLaren, courtesy of a light fuel load. The Spaniard's tactic proved to be his downfall, however, as he was forced to make an early pit call which dropped him into the midfield - and the ambitious clutches of Pedro Diniz. The two collided as the rain grew heavier, with Diniz appearing to be the instigator rather than the conditions, and de la Rosa was out, his suspension deranged by contact with the wall.
Also out by this stage, Heinz-Harald Frentzen opted to stop before brake problems could cause a repeat of his 1999 accident, the Prost twins succumbed to Peugeot's finest and Salo to an, as yet, unidentified mechanical problem. Jenson Button had also had to make an unscheduled stop for a new front wing, while Johnny Herbert's wretched season continued with a gearbox that randomly chose not to select the right cog.
Perhaps inspired by the daring of Verstappen, much of the race's final action took place in the group pursuing sixth. Although Barrichello was inexorably closing on Schumacher, the five cars in contention for the final point kept the sodden crowd transfixed. This was especially true while the quintet contained Villeneuve, determined to make up for his earlier mistake.
The spectacle contained its fair share of near misses, as the Canadian coming close to removing Coulthard from contention with just five laps remaining. He made a better job of the task next time around, however, although his victim this time was the luckless Ralf Schumacher. Coulthard had a ringside seat as the BAR slithered down his inside, before finding a lack of stopping power when confronted by the Williams already turning into the hairpin.
Convinced he could have made a better job of an outbraking move, Coulthard then tried a similar trick on Wurz going into Turn One - with similar results, as the pair bounced across the gravel trap before rejoining. The pair would eventually take seventh and ninth, with the McLaren ahead.
Whether Barrichello could have made a better fist of overtaking was a moot point well before he latched onto the tail of Schumacher's F1-2000. Knowing that he would be prevented from taking his first GP win while the German was still on the track, Barrichello opted to get as close as possible by the flag, crossing the line alongside his team leader for a well-deserved second place.
The race could not have gone better for Schumacher or Ferrari. With neither McLaren driver making it to the podium, the German increases his championship lead to 22 points, while a 1-2 for the Scuderia further dents the Silver Arrows' constructors' series ambitions.
It wasn't only rain that swept the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.