David Coulthard returned the world championship to its previous 12-point status quo
after a thrilling drive to victory at Magny-Cours.
The start, however, did not hold much promise for the Scot for, as Michael Schumacher made his now customary swerve across the road, the McLaren also found itself passed by Rubens Barrichello's Ferrari, and just held on to fourth spot from team-mate Mika Hakkinen.
Barrichello's role was clear from the off, holding Coulthard and Hakkinen at bay as Schumacher made good his escape at the front. Three laps in and the German had almost as many seconds to his advantage, as his Brazilian team-mate thwarted Coulthard's every attempt to get past.
The battle raged until lap 17, when Coulthard found enough momentum to pull alongside the Ferrari on the outside heading into the Adelaide chicane, before powering out on the tighter line at the exit. Barrichello was powerless to resist, and later admitted that his car was already in handling difficulties as its tyres went off on the smooth surface. Hakkinen, at this point, was not close enough to challenge the Brazilian, but grew inexorably closer as the first round of pit-stops approached.
Despite the possibilities and rumour surrounding race strategy, almost everyone of note opted for two stops to combat the stifling heat and tyre degradation that came from running the extra-soft Bridgestone compound. Schumacher, in particular, appeared to be in good shape, having maintained his advantage over Coulthard, despite the Scot closing in marginally once past Barrichello, and kept three sets of brand new tyres for the race.
It was ironic, therefore, that his rubber was the first thing to let the German down. Having retained his lead through the first round of stops, Schumacher was powerless to prevent Coulthard from closing in rapidly, and within seven laps the two cars were nose-to-tail. The Ferrari was clearly unable to transfer its prodigious power to the tarmac through this particular set of tyres, but Schumacher tried everything he knew to keep his rival at bay.
Time after time, Coulthard would get better traction on the run from Estoril to Adelaide, only to find the inside line blocked by the scarlet car. Then, on lap 33, the Scot appeared to be through - only for Schumacher to resist his early turn in and earn himself one finger and sundry other gestures for his defence!
He knew he was fighting a losing battle, however, and six laps later Coulthard finally found room on the inside. Reprising Schumacher's own tactics of running a little beyond the apex, the Scot was content to exchange rubber and paint with the Ferrari before easing away into the distance.
Only a short delay behind backmarkers prevented the McLaren from making an immediate escape but, by the time the second round of stops loomed on the horizon, he was a comfortable couple of seconds clear.