Schumacher might have thought the same as he left the pits for the first time, but his second set of tyres were not well suited to the Ferrari, and Coulthard was able to close in quickly over the middle stint of the race. The Scot had made a very slow getaway from the dirtier side of the grid, and was lucky not to have swallowed up by both Ralf Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello
at the start, but was now breathing down the neck of second place.
On more than one occasion, the McLaren
looked poised to challenge, only to fall back again as the pair carved their way through traffic. Twice in quick succession, Schumacher managed to find his way past the backmarkers at the easiest part of the circuit, leaving Coulthard bottled up for several more turns before he, too, had a clear road again.
The time loss proved decisive in determining the podium order, as Coulthard emerged from his second stop just yards behind the Ferrari. There he stayed right to the end, the dusty surface off-line preventing any meaningful move as both drivers aimed to cut their losses in the championship.
While pit strategy may not have worked for Coulthard, it certainly did further down the order. Barrichello, unable to match Schumacher Jr's start, despite being on the cleaner side of the road, found himself bottled up behind the German for most of the first stint, and only an early call from his crew managed to vault him ahead. By then, however, the Brazilian was already too far behind the Schumacher/Coulthard battle to do anything about a further improvement, and settled for a healthy dose of points.
It was a similar story in the rest of the top six as, having lost out in the stops, Schumacher maintained both a comfortable pace and fifth place to the end. Jordan's Heinz-Harald Frentzen was his closest challenger but still finished the race a lonely 28secs adrift.
The biggest loser in the opening round of stops was Jaguar's Eddie Irvine and, by the time the field made their second call for fuel and tyres, the gaps were too big for the Irishman to do anything. Irvine had made up one place at the start, despite being disadvantaged by tenth spot, and then gained a couple more when Giancarlo Fisichella
spun off at turn one and caused eighth-placed Jenson Button
to slow in avoidance. A slow stop, however, dropped the jaguar back to the tail of the top ten and only Button's late problems allowed him to make up any ground.
It was another mature performance from the Williams
youngster, who ran comfortably in Fisichella's wake early on, avoided a potential accident when the Italian spun in front of him, and looked set for seventh for much of the race. Indeed, sixth may have been on the cards at mid-distance as he closed on Frentzen, but a sick BMW
in the closing stages dropped him back behind both Irvine and eventual inheritor of seventh, Jarno Trulli. The Italian had gambled on a one-stop strategy lifting him into the points, but it was not to be as he found himself ensnared in the usual midfield train.
The top ten was completed by Mika Salo, who lost a lot of ground on his opening stint, and never recovered thereafter. He did manage to find a way past the remaining Benetton of Alex Wurz before the end, but was disappointed to have wasted a good qualifying performance. Sauber team-mate Pedro Diniz ran ahead of the Finn for much of the race, before retiring with an engine failure.
Salo was never likely to have had his tenth place threatened after the Brazilian's demise, for the rest of the field was well adrift of the Red Bull
car. Twelfth fell to Jacques Villeneuve, as the Canadian demonstrated what might have been had he not hit the back of Pedro de la Rosa's Arrows on lap one and lost his front wing. Both cars stopped immediately for repairs, with Villeneuve finishing two laps down, but still two laps clear of his Spanish adversary.
Such was Hakkinen's pace at the front, however, that only the top six avoided the indignity of being lapped. Even then, Frentzen came close, being a minute and 18 down on the eventual winner. Asked if he was now the favourite for the title, Hakkinen remained non-committal, but there are many who believe that his stealthy pursuit of Schumacher and Coulthard this season will eventually reap its rewards.