Another stylish drive from world champion Michael Schumacher handed Ferrari the coveted constructors' crown for 2000, despite heavy pressure from David Coulthard and McLaren.

Schumacher was only third at the first corner of the 56-lap race, having been boxed up by Mika Hakkinen, allowing Coulthard to run around the outside of the 180 and into second. From there, the two silver cars eked a small advantage, and made it look as thought Ferrari would have to fight for the points it needed to land the championship double, before things turned sour.

With the Safety Car out to clear up the remains of a second corner crash which claimed Pedro Diniz, namesake de la Rosa and Nick Heidfeld, Hakkinen was adjudged to have jumped the start, immediately relegating him to the back of the field with an impending stop-go penalty.

Coulthard was allowed through by the Finn as soon as the news was relayed, but Hakkinen was caught unawares by the presence of both Ferraris, and also succumbed to Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello by the time he peeled off into the pit-lane to serve his punishment. The stop dropped him to 19th and last of all, prompting the incensed Hakkinen to begin an inspired recovery drive.

The Safety Car period had been triggered by a first lap incident involving both Arrows, Heidfeld's Prost and Pedro Diniz of 'home' favourite Sauber. Jos Verstappen was able to continue for the former but, with wheels from the other victims littering the circuit, the organisers had no hesitation in releasing Bernd Maylander and the Mercedes. Jarno Trulli was also caught up in the melee and had to pit for a new nose, starting another bad afternoon for the frustrated Italian.

Although the field bunched up in the two laps that Maylander led it around, Coulthard was soon able to pull away from the two scarlet cars in his wake. Starting on a two-stop strategy, the Scot knew that he had to lap at least half a second per lap faster than Schumacher if he was to make the tactic work, and successive fastest laps looked to have set him on his way.

Schumacher, however, was playing his own cards very close to his chest and, by the time Coulthard stopped - earlier than expected - on lap 17, the German had pegged the gap at just under six seconds. This allowed him to sweep into the lead while the McLaren sat motionless on pit-lane, and set up a classic confrontation between strategists.

A series of new lap records followed almost immediately for the newly crowned champion, as he sought to extend his advantage with Bridgestone's new soft compound tyres. By the time of his own pit-stop eight laps later, Schumacher had enough in hand to get out ahead of Coulthard, and re-assume control of the race when team-mate Barrichello pulled in next time around.

In truth, Schumacher's ability to resume in second behind the Brazilian was largely down to a tactical change from master of strategy Ross Brawn, who pulled the German onto a two-stop race by short-filling the Ferrari, and sending him on his way in just over seven seconds. From that point on, Coulthard and McLaren both knew that they were in a straight fight with the Italian camp if the constructors' crown - and race win - were to be viable.

Hakkinen, by this point, had climbed back to the edge of the points, taking advantage of pit-stops further down the field as well as overtaking moves in order to build a big enough cushion to account for his own, single, stop. With Schumacher and Coulthard now back on heavier fuel loads, the Finn became the fastest man on the track, and quickly began to set records of his own in pursuit of a podium finish.

Only when he broke into the top six did Hakkinen encounter much resistance - other than that put up by Marc Gene's Minardi which, like that of stable-mate Gaston Mazzacane at Indianapolis, managed to frustrate the Finn for longer than expected. Johnny Herbert and Jos Verstappen peeled off to promote Hakkinen into the points on lap 29, but Jacques Villeneuve proved to be a worthy opponent for the man who succeeded him as world champion.

For several laps, Hakkinen trailed the slippery BAR, before taking advantage of a slip by Villeneuve to run parallel with the Canadian along the length of the Penang straight in a manner reminiscent of Mansell and Senna at Barcelona in the early nineties. Villeneuve, on the inside for the final corner, refused to yield but, having marginally lost out to Mercedes horsepower, was forced to brake late, and sailed wide into the turn, allowing Hakkinen safe passage down his inside.

This moved the Finn into fourth and, another couple of lap records later, he was far enough ahead to be able to make his pit-stop and still have enough in hand to retake the position while the two-stoppers around him called in for the second time.

The gap to Barrichello, himself on a two-stop strategy, was now almost beyond reproach, but few expected Hakkinen not to make ground. Instead, however, the Finn appeared to have burnt himself out during the first stint, and lack the momentum to reel the Ferrari in, restricting to fourth at the flag.

Air temperatures approaching 35 degrees, and humidity levels well above 50 per cent, combined to make the race a tough one for cars and drivers alike. Already missing from action by the time Hakkinen stopped were Heinz-Harald Frentzen (power steering) and Jenson Button (engine), while more would depart in the closing stage with similar complaints, including both Minardis, Ricardo Zonta's BAR and the second Williams of Ralf Schumacher.

The most frightening exit was reserved for the man making his farewell appearance in a Formula One car - Johnny Herbert. Opting for a similar one-stop strategy that took him to the verge of the podium with Stewart last season, the Briton was up to fourth by the time he pitted, and looked good for perhaps his first points of the year had the fuel nozzle not jammed on the Jaguar.

Running in eleventh when he resumed, Herbert was embroiled in a meaningless scrap with the lacklustre Giancarlo Fisichella when R1's the rear suspension broke. Shedding rear wheels, and pitching the car onto its undertray, the incident also propelled Herbert across the gravel trap and into the tyre barrier with some force.

Able initially to remove the steering wheel and extract himself from the wreck, the three-time race winner had to be carried from the arena, and onto a waiting stretcher, after complaining of pain in his already damaged legs. Taken to the circuit medical centre for X-rays, Herbert elicited sympathy from almost every corner of the paddock.

Back at the front, things were getting tight, with Coulthard not losing any ground to Schumacher through the second round of stops, and visibly homing in on the Ferrari with every closing lap.

With just six tours to run, the McLaren was just half a second adrift, as Coulthard tried to take advantage of backmarkers in his quest for a consolation victory. It was not to be, however, as Schumacher drove the race of an accustomed winner to maintain the slimmest of gaps to the flag.

It was the German's ninth win of the year, and his fourth in a row since his luck changed at Monza. Ferrari, needing just three points to clinch the championship double, took 14, as Barrichello came home third, comfortably ahead of Hakkinen, who never got on terms with the top three in the later stages of the race.

Villeneuve, having survived his brush with the Finn, was a further half-minute behind, and just two seconds ahead of the steady Eddie Irvine, who delivered his - and jaguar's - second points finish of the season as some recompense for Herbert's demise. Alex Wurz, who had qualified so well for Benetton on Saturday, suffered in the pit-stop shuffle, and could only manage seventh for the Enstone team, leaving it and Brackley rival BAR tied on twenty points apiece at the end of a tough campaign in the midfield. Ironically, Fisichella - so disappointing in recent races - secured fourth overall for Flavio Briatore's men, courtesy of his second place in Brazil back in March.

There was no denying Ferrari its celebrations, however, and the whole team rejoiced in pit-lane for the second time in as many races. If former state leaders back in the Scuderia's homeland were dismayed with Schumacher's conducting of the anthem, they would not have been with the way he conducted himself in the final race of the year.

There was singing in the pits of Sepang today.