Michael Schumacher took the Spanish Grand Prix
win he always appeared capable of - but only after race-long rival Mika Hakkinen broke down on the last of the 65 laps.
Under surprisingly leaden skies, the German made the best of the first traction control start for almost ten years to hold his pole position advantage into the first corner, while behind him the pack sorted itself out with a little bumping and barging.
Principal casualty of the frenetic action was Schumacher's co-leader in the drivers' championship, David Coulthard
- but the Scot should never really have been in a position to hamper his own race. His problems began even before the race, with a stall as the grid moved off on its formation lap. Forced to start the event proper from the rear of the field, Coulthard then made contact with a slower rival on the run down to turn one, and required an early pit-stop to replace a badly damaged front wing.
The McLaren's absence from the second row allowed San Marino winner Ralf Schumacher to take a run at the cars in front of him heading into the tight first corner and, as his brother and fellow front row man Hakkinen made a break, Ralf briefly got ahead of the second Ferrari
of Rubens Barrichello.
Further back - and a possible cause of Coulthard's wing problem - there was much congestion as the field took evasive action to avoid the stalled Heinz-Harald Frentzen. Waiting until almost everyone had passed him before setting off, the German found himself down in 17th place, but with others around him cursing their luck at having been hit or forced to concede ground because of the stricken Jordan.
The question of traction control had been a hot topic all weekend, and no more so than when the teams considered whether or no it would actually be a benefit in the race. The suspicion was that Williams, amongst others, would decline to implement the new electronics and, if this was the case, the ploy worked as both Schumacher Jr and team-mate Juan Montoya made lightning starts. While Ralf was ultimately repassed by Barrichello for third in the first turn, Montoya rocketed from a lowly twelfth on the grid to take sixth at the end of the lap - a position that would serve him well in the light of events to come...
Right at the front, Michael Schumacher was wasting no time in trying to break the resistance of three-time Barcelona winner Hakkinen. Fastest lap followed fastest lap over the opening few tours, although the gap back to the Finn remained constant as Hakkinen upped his pace accordingly to keep the Ferrari
With Barrichello sitting pretty in third, the lead duo gradually pulled away from the rest of the pack, if not from one another, and it was not until the first round of pit-stops that any semblance of a gap opened between first and second.
Schumacher had already ducked into the 1min 21secs bracket before he made his first call for fuel and tyres on lap 23, but Hakkinen was close enough to have a chance of sneaking the lead with a couple of quick laps immediately before his own first stop. Emphasising his ability to match the champion's pace, Hakkinen promptly banged in a new lap record as Schumacher rejoined, but it was not quite enough for him to emerge in front after stopping on lap 27.