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Schumacher tolls championship bell.

As a result of the treatment being given by the safety team, and the feverish work to clear the aftermath of the accident, the Safety Car stayed on track for the next ten tours.

Then, as it finally prepared to pull off, there was further commotion on the run down to the Parabolica, as Jenson Button's Williams speared left into the barriers. It later transpired that, in an effort to give himself a good run out of the final corner, leader Schumacher had backed off to such an extent that the rest of the field quickly bunched up behind the Ferrari. Caught unawares by the rate of deceleration, Giancarlo Fisichella and Button went either side of Jacques Villeneuve's BAR, with the unfortunate Briton taking to the grass, sideswiping the barriers and plunging into immediate retirement.

The first few laps after the restart - which was not affected by Button's demise - contained the rest of the day's retirements. Villeneuve was the first to go, his BAR's engine giving up the ghost whilst in a comfortable third place, before Nick Heidfeld departed the fray, spinning out at the Roggia and threatening a return of the Safety Car as marshals struggled to pull the Prost out of harm's way.

With ten cars already out, and only 15 laps on the board, the race looked likely to finish with the lowest number of runners since the early, reliability-afflicted, races of the year. Remarkably, however, there were no further retirements in the remaining forty tours.

Focus switched to the battles, both at the front and further back through the field. In the lead, Schumacher was gradually stretching away from championship adversary Hakkinen, and had opened up a three-second advantage in the first eight laps of racing. Further back, Jos Verstappen and Ricardo Zonta were the men on the move, the Dutchman powering past Fisichella and Ralf Schumacher to take third on the road, with his Brazilian counterpart close behind in fourth.

Zonta, like both Mika Salo and Jean Alesi, had taken advantage of the Safety Car period to make a pit-stop, but his pace did not suggest that he had taken on too much extra fuel. Passing Verstappen on lap 20 put the BAR into the top three and a good result appeared to be on the cards until Zonta peeled off into pit-lane just three tours later.

A lightning quick stop boded well for another climb through the field, until the white car became ensnared behind Alex Wurz's Benetton. Unable to pass because of his heavier weight, Zonta responded to his crew's call for another pit-call when it also became apparent that he would not reach the window to complete a one-stop race. The extra time lost taking on fuel and tyres dropped Zonta out of the reckoning for a podium finish and, despite not having to stop again, he was unable to make any further inroads, coming home in an eventual sixth place.

Verstappen, however, was able to run on the same strategy - and pace - as the two cars now ahead of him, all but matching the lap times and consumption of both Schumacher and Hakkinen. The German had pulled out a bigger gap over the McLaren as the race went through half-distance, and was still able to turn in fastest laps despite the inevitable wear on his tyres.

It wasn't until lap 32 that Hakkinen finally turned a lap quicker than the leader and, although Schumacher responded with another fastest mark four laps later, the signals were obvious that the most important pit-stops of the race were in the offing.

Schumacher was the first to stop, his lead a fraction under ten seconds at the time that he pulled off, and conceded the advantage to Hakkinen for the first time all weekend as a result. Seven seconds was all it took the Ferrari team to turn the car around, and Schumacher immediately put on a spurt when he rejoined to ensure that the McLaren had no great advantage when it made its stop.



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