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Schumacher tolls championship bell.


Michael Schumacher re-ignited the world championship battle with a Monza win that left the German driver in tears at the press conference, and the locals ringing the church bell in Maranello.

Schumacher broke down at the emotion of taking victory in front of the tifosi and equalling the late Ayrton Senna's total of 41 race wins, and was unable to communicate whatever joy he may have been feeling to the waiting world.

Fortunately, the press had much to report in an Italian Grand Prix full of incident from start to finish.

Fears that the race would produce an accident at the re-profiled Rettifilio chicane proved to be unfounded, with only a brush between Eddie Irvine and Mika Salo producing any incident of note. The Irishman retired on the spot having ploughed through the various marker boards to the left of the circuit, but would shortly be joined by half a dozen of his rivals.

With 21 of the starters having made it almost virtually unscathed through the opening combination, the relief that spread down the pit-lane was quickly tempered by a huge accident at the slower Roggia chicane.

Schumacher, having made a good getaway when the red lights went out, was comfortably ahead of the rest of the field as it headed into the tight left-right, and Mika Hakkinen, at the front of the pack, also made it through without any trouble. Behind the Finn, however, all hell broke loose as the next group of cars made contact in the braking zone.

Rubens Barrichello, having made a shocking start from the outside of the front row, appeared to be regaining ground on those ahead of him through Curva Grande but, according to the following Heinz-Harald Frentzen, braked early than usual for the chicane. The German had nowhere to go but between the Ferrari and Jordan team-mate Jarno Trulli, taking all three into the back of David Coulthard's McLaren just ahead of them.

The incident did not end there, however, for, as Jacques Villeneuve and Ralf Schumacher picked their way through the debris, the ensuing dust cloud hid Johnny Herbert's Jaguar from the tail of the field. In the confusion, Pedro de la Rosa ploughed straight into the back of the green car, riding up over its rear wheels on somersaulting into the gravel trap. The Arrows' trajectory took its right onto the top of Coulthard's McLaren, bouncing off the stricken machine and perilously close to Barrichello's as it took flight for the second time.

The rest of the field made it through safely, but the organisers had no option but to deploy the Safety Car whilst the wreckage was cleared away. Coulthard initially tried to run back to the pit-lane, before realising that there were no red flags, and no chance of him rekindling his shattered title hopes.

Of more concern, however, was the fate of de la Rosa, whose car remained inverted for some time, and those involved inadvertently in the incident, and with less protection than the drivers. Frantic scenes behind the barriers, including the administering of CPR, triggered memories of Imola '94, and it slowly emerged that, whilst all five drivers involved had escaped serious harm, a luckless fire marshal remained in a critical condition.



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