David Coulthard played the numbers game to win his second grand prix of the season, coming from seventh on the A1-Ring grid to beat both Ferraris in a close-fought one-stop race.
The short Austrian circuit caused some debate over whether one or two stops was the best route to take, given the anticipated levels of traffic the leaders could be expected to face, and, at the start, it was difficult to tell which strategy Coulthard had opted for.
As the lights went out, the Scot propelled his McLaren
off the line with such speed that he almost snatched third from Michael Schumacher at the first corner, before being pushed back down to fifth thanks to his approach.
The fact that Coulthard was even able to challenge Schumacher - and that the move was for third - highlighted the good getaways made by both Williams
cars, with Juan Montoya and Ralf Schumacher going side-by-side into turn one. Fortunately, there was to be no repeat of last year's pile-up - or even that which marred the start of Saturday's F3000 encounter - as Ralf backed off and allowed his junior partner the line.
Despite the clean passage for all through the corner, the safety car still made an appearance at the end of the lap and, counting the number of cars through turn one, it was apparent why. For the second race since its re-introduction, launch control accounted for several casualties right at the start. The two Jordans, Nick Heidfeld's Sauber and Mika Hakkinen's McLaren
were all stranded on the line and, with the McLaren
in particular not wanting to move an inch, prudence dictated that the advancing field be brought under control.
The problems were especially galling for Trulli and Heidfeld, both of whom had taken advantage of McLaren's qualifying woes to secure a place on row three. The two stationary cars did make for spectacular viewing, though, as, first, Coulthard, and then Eddie Irvine and Jacques Villeneuve, threaded the eye of the needle after fast getaways. For Hakkinen, the start was merely the continuation of a season he will already want to forget, while Frentzen has now posted the first retirement of the past two events.
Back at the front, the Williams
drivers began to pull away from the Ferraris at the restart, suggesting that BMW
had opted for two stops rather than one in an effort to combat the rapid ageing effect that was expected to befall the Michelin tyres. Coulthard, in turn, was becoming distant from the back of Rubens Barrichello, allowing the mercurial Jos Verstappen to make the most of his own quick start by passing the McLaren
for fifth and setting the first fast lap of the race.
Williams' joy was not to last long, however, as Ralf's FW23 twitched under breaking for turn three and bounced over the rumble strips, something clearly amiss with its rear end. The German retired forlornly to the pits, leaving his team-mate at the mercy of his brother.
Without the barrier of a second blue-and-white car between him and the leader, Michael Schumacher quickly began to close the gap on Montoya, as the Colombian coincidentally began to struggle with his tyres. The problem was such that, within a handful of laps, the front four were together as one and, within a few more, Coulthard and Raikkonen had latched on to the train to make it six.