Michael Schumacher re-inforced his wet weather credentials by racing to victory at a rain-soaked Nurburgring in the European Grand Prix.

The German trailed Mika Hakkinen in the opening stages - after the Finn had made a lightning start from third on the grid - but thundered through at the Veedol chicane on lap ten, and was not headed thereafter save for during the pit-stops.

Although there were spots of rain in the air, and more than that around the hairpin, Hakkinen made the most of a slow start by both Schumacher and pole sitter David Coulthard to rocket between the two and into the lead by the time the field had reached the Castrol-S. The Finn then found that he could not shake the crowd's favourite from his tail, however, and spent the first half dozen laps attempting to defend his advantage from an eager Schumacher.

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The Ferrari man looked at every opportunity to pass before bullying Hakkinen into staying wide approaching Veedol on lap ten. As the red car eased through, Hakkinen's McLaren showed the first signs of losing traction as the rain became more persistent, allowing Schumacher to open out a four-tenths gap by the time the pair crossed the line.

The advantage grew steadily larger over the ensuing laps, Schumacher pulling out a massive five seconds by lap 13, despite conventional wisdom saying that the conditions were too tricky for pace. Ferrari then confirmed that the weather was getting worse by calling the leader in for wets just one tour further on, and McLaren followed suit by changing both Coulthard and Hakkinen in quick succession.

The stops did not go quite to plan for the Silver Arrows, however, as Hakkinen found himself emerging behind his team-mate, despite Coulthard struggling with a problem that was making the rear of his car very nervous. Schumacher made the most of the Finn's next error, increasing the lead and lapping almost three seconds faster than anyone else on the track as if to emphasise the advantage he holds in such conditions. Only when Hakkinen finally caught and passed Coulthard did the lead begin to come down but, even at this stage, Schumacher was looking good for a fourth win of the year, despite the odd sideways moment.

In the wake of the top three, Schumacher's team-mate Rubens Barrichello found himself having to carve back through the field as the pit-stop schedule played against him. Between the third place he had occupied immediately before calling in for tyres and his new found eighth lay a group including a very impressive Pedro de la Rosa, Giancarlo Fisichella, Ralf Schumacher, Jos Verstappen, and both Jaguars. Rubens began to pick them off one-by-one, and it signalled the start of a recovery that would take him right to the verge of another podium finish.

Fisichella, too, was in the midst of a recovery of his own, having clouted the luckless Jarno Trulli off the line, and punted the Jordan into a first lap retirement. The Silverstone team's misery then doubled as Heinz-Harald Frentzen went no further than lap three before his engine blew, but, surprisingly given the conditions, these were the only retirements in the early going.

Mika Salo signalled the fall of the midfield, spinning off on his own before the battling trio of Verstappen, Schumacher Jr and Eddie Irvine joined him on the sidelines after a coming together at the Castrol-S. Fault for the incident will undoubtedly be someone else's depending on who is asked, but Ralf was the unlucky loser in it all, spinning in anticipation of contact between the over-enthusiastic Jaguar man and the Arrows, and then finding his own rear wing sliced off by the rotating R1.

Irvine continued, but made it only as far as the next corner before rotating into retirement and almost collecting the unsuspecting Jean Alesi, while an apparently unscathed Verstappen came close to completing the lap before crashing out in spectacular fashion on the run to Veedol.

Back at the front Schumacher continued to hold an imposing advantage over the chasing McLarens, with Hakkinen seemingly unable to reduce the gap while the rain lasted. Only a second scheduled stop for the German allowed his Finnish rival back in front, but Hakkinen attempted to make the most of it as McLaren left him to run for as long as possible.

It was another eleven laps before the leader had to make his stop but, in that time, he had begun to catch battling backmarkers, and was forced to watch as the all-important margin was whittled away. Schumacher powered past while McLaren went about its business in the pit-lane, opening out another ten-second gap before Hakkinen emerged.

Coulthard's tenure of third also began to look in doubt at the same point, his handling problem reducing his pace and allowing him to be passed by the scrapping duo of de la Rosa and Barrichello while he, too, called in for fuel and tyres. Only strategy for the Spaniard and an unscheduled stop for the Brazilian allowed their Scottish rival to reclaim the place, but set-up a fantastic battle over the final few laps.

Barrichello's assault on third appeared to have been scuppered by a short second stop, which required the Ferrari to peel off from third to take on a late splash of fuel. A new set of tyres was also fitted and Rubens resumed in a cloud of spray, intent on hunting down the wounded Coulthard. With Hakkinen also closing in on Schumacher at the same time, the crowd was entertained by two red/silver battles, with only Barrichello not holding any allegiance for the partisan Germans.

As it turned out, Schumacher had just enough in hand over the reigning champion to hold him off to the flag, but Barrichello tried everything he knew over the final laps to prise the second McLaren from third, albeit ultimately without success.

Both battles were hampered by catching a similar scrap for seventh, which comprised the four cars of Johnny Herbert, Jenson Button, Alex Wurz and Ricardo Zonta. The Brazilian removed himself from the equation shortly before the leaders arrived, becoming the second BAR on the sidelines following another mechanical problem for team-mate Jacques Villeneuve, but the remaining trio continued to fight right up to the point where Schumacher began looking for a way through.

Button's slightly tardy politeness eventually cost him eighth on the road, as Wurz took the opportunity to nip through in the leader's wake. The Austrian's luck ran out there and then, however, as Herbert proved a more sturdy opponent. The Briton had valiantly held off the trio in his wake for much of the second half of the event, and looked best placed to inherit Jaguar's first point should any of the top six find themselves in trouble, but eventually succumbed to Wurz's impetuosity as the Austrian dived up the inside at Coca-Cola, and punted both himself and the luckless Englishman into retirement. Button also seemed to lose out in the melee, allowing Pedro Diniz, Alesi and Gaston Mazzacane through.

Benetton gained some measure of success, however, as Giancarlo Fisichella eventually deposed the plucky de la Rosa and took fifth for the Enstone outfit, while his Spanish rival finally racked up a point for Tom Walkinshaw's hard working Arrows squad.

In spite of the excitement going on around him, Schumacher sailed serenely on, putting a lap on his team-mate into the bargain, and taking his fourth win of the year. Hakkinen, aware that to push harder in pursuit would probably lead to retirement, settled for a game second, and was joined on the podium by the gutsy Coulthard who succeeded in holding off the red devil in his mirrors.

The rain might have played into the winner's hands and, without it, the result may have been quite different, but from such things are championships fashioned. It will take a lot more than a drop of rain to rock Schumacher's boat this year.

Race Result - European Grand Prix - Nurburgring - Sunday 21 May 2000.

1. Michael Schumacher Germany Ferrari-Ferrari 67 laps 1hr 42mins 00.307secs
2. Mika Hakkinen Finland McLaren-Mercedes +13.821secs
3. David Coulthard Britain McLaren-Mercedes +1 lap
4. Rubens Barrichello Brazil Ferrari-Ferrari +1 lap
5. Giancarlo Fisichella Italy Benetton-Playlife +1 lap
6. Pedro de la Rosa Spain Arrows-Supertec +1 lap

7. Pedro Diniz Brazil Sauber-Petronas +2 laps
8. Gaston Mazzacane Argentina Minardi-Fondmetal +2 laps
9. Jean Alesi France Prost-Peugeot +2 laps
10. Jenson Button Britain Williams-BMW + 5 laps
11. Johnny Herbert Britain Jaguar-Cosworth +6 laps
12. Alex Wurz Austria Benetton-Playlife +6 laps

Ricardo Zonta Brazil BAR-Honda 51 laps completed
Marc Gene Spain Minardi-Fondmetal 47 laps completed
Jacques Villeneuve Canada BAR-Honda 46 laps completed
Eddie Irvine Britain Jaguar-Cosworth 29 laps completed
Jos Verstappen Holland Arrows-Supertec 29 laps completed
Ralf Schumacher Germany Williams-BMW 29 laps completed
Mika Salo Finland Sauber-Petronas 27 laps completed
Heinz-Harald Frentzen Germany Jordan-Mugen 2 laps completed
Jarno Trulli Italy Jordan-Mugen 0 laps completed

Dns Nick Heidfeld Germany Prost-Peugeot excluded after qualifying

Fastest lap: Michael Schumacher Ferrari-Ferrari 1min 22.269secs

F1 World Championship Standings.

World Drivers' Championship (after 6 of 17 events).

1. Michael Schumacher Germany Ferrari-Ferrari 46 points
2. Mika Hakkinen Finland McLaren-Mercedes 28
3. David Coulthard Britain McLaren-Mercedes 24
4. Rubens Barrichello Brazil Ferrari-Ferrari 16
5. Ralf Schumacher Germany Williams-BMW 12
6. Giancarlo Fisichella Italy Benetton-Playlife 10
7. Jacques Villeneuve Canada BAR-Honda 5
Heinz-Harald Frentzen Germany Jordan-Mugen 5
9. Jarno Trulli Italy Jordan-Mugen 4
10. Ricardo Zonta Brazil BAR-Honda 1
Jenson Button Britain Williams-BMW 1
Mika Salo Finland Sauber-Petronas 1
Pedro de la Rosa Spain Arrows-Arrows 1

World Constructors' Championship (after 6 of 17 events).

1. Ferrari-Ferrari 62 points
2. McLaren-Mercedes 52
3. Williams-BMW 15
4. Benetton-Playlife 10
5. Jordan-Mugen 9
6. BAR-Honda 6
7. Sauber-Petronas 1
Arrows-Arrows 1