David Coulthard was not high on many peoples' list of Brazilian Grand Prix winners, but the Scot came through an unpredictable race to take his eleventh win, in mixed conditions at Interlagos.

Coulthard capitalised on another good start - helped by the inability of McLaren team-mate Mika Hakkinen to get away from the line - and was best placed to inherit the advantage when unexpected leader Juan Montoya was taken out of the race by an errant Jos Verstappen. Only championship leader Michael Schumacher then posed any threat to the Scot but, surprisingly, was unable to deal with him as conditions worsened.

The drama began even before the grid had formed, however, with local hero Rubens Barrichello having to run back to the pits as his Ferrari coasted to a halt on the formation lap. Sweating when he arrived, the Brazilian grew even more tense as his crew readied the spare - set up for team-mate Michael Schumacher - in a race against the clock. Just 30secs remained in his favour as Barrichello blasted out onto the track, joining the grid in time for the mechanics to make final adjustments as the lights began to count down to the start.

Back in sixth place after a frustrating qualifying session, the Brazilian was a prime candidate to collect Hakkinen when the lights finally went out but, remarkably, the entire field avoided the Finn's stricken McLaren as it lurched then died on third spot. The chaos it caused, however, allowed Juan Montoya - who started alongside Hakkinen - to vault into second place behind Schumacher, with Coulthard in third spot.

Ralf Schumacher, who had started alongside his brother on the front row, was bundled back to fifth in the confusion, with Jordan's Jarno Trulli also making the most of the situation to gain places. Barrichello was now seventh, having had to avoid those in front of him at the start.

With Hakkinen's car taking time to be removed, the appearance of the safety car - for the third race in a row - was a necessity, although the field had to find its own way past the stranded McLaren before even reaching the Mercedes as it wended its way out of pit-lane. Again, there was no drama on the startline as the 21 survivors avoided man and machine and, by the end of lap two, the obstacle was gone.

The tension was not, however, and Barrichello's nerve must have been close to bursting point as he appeared to miss his braking point at Descida de Lago and piled into the back of the hapless Ralf Schumacher. For the second race running, Ferrari spun Williams around, although, this time, Barrichello came off worst, losing his left front wheel and all of his nose wing in the contact. Out of the race, the Brazilian could only wave mournfully at the packed grandstands. And there was no sign of his specially-painted crash helmet becoming a souvenir on this occasion.

Schumacher resumed without his rear wing, losing four laps while a replacement was fitted, and turning what should have been his finest hour in a Formula One car into another test session. The German completed 54 laps in total before calling it a day after a spin across the grass.

His misfortune, however, was quite the opposite for team-mate Juan Montoya. As the cars crossed the line at the restart, the Colombian showed that his pre-season boast that he was scared of no-one was not a hollow one by diving down the inside of Michael Schumacher's Ferrari at Senna, literally pushing the German wide through the middle part to claim the advantage on exit, and slowly eking out a gap.

Schumacher stayed in contact, no doubt his ire raised by the audacity and physical nature of the move, but found that he had no answer to the sheer power of the latest BMW V10. Only when Montoya made the slightest of mistakes was the world champion able to take a look past the Williams, but nothing ever presented itself.

The battle at the front gradually favoured Montoya as the race wore on, leading pit-lane pundits to predict that the Colombian was on the lighter fuel load. It was a surprise to may, therefore, when Schumacher became the first of the frontrunners to make a stop for fuel and tyres. In and out in a shade over nine seconds on lap 25, the German dropped to third behind Coulthard, handing a big advantage to Montoya who, it slowly became apparent, was only making one stop to the champion's two.

The advantage grew as the Colombian reeled off a string of fastest laps, punctuated only by the occasional interruption from his recovering team-mate, and Coulthard, in second, appeared to have no answer to the rapid Williams. It was a major shock, therefore, when the Scot's car suddenly appeared in front, with no sign of Montoya in pit-lane.

As the first drops of forecast rain began to fall on track - and flashes of lightning lit the distant Sao Paulo sky - Montoya had begun to carve his way, confidently through the midfield runners. Approaching the battle between Jos Verstappen and Giancarlo Fisichella for a position just outside the top ten, the Colombian would have been grateful to see both cars allow him safe passage on a tricky surface, but completely unprepared for the Dutchman - a hero to many at Sepang - pile into the back of him in much the same way as Barrichello had to Schumacher Jr some 37 laps earlier.

There was to be no way back for either man, as Verstappen's Arrows climbed up and over the spinning Williams before beaching itself in the gravel. Montoya's day was done as the rear end of his car was beyond momentum, let alone repair, and the race - and the season - had lost its first upset. Verstappen, for his part, looked decidedly guilt-ridden as he climbed over the tyre barrier, as if realising the impact of what he had done....

Not long after, Coulthard, who now held a 30+sec led over Schumacher made his one and only scheduled stop of the day, taking on fuel and tyres quickly enough to emerge from the winding Interlagos pit-lane in front of the rapidly advancing German. The Ferrari had the momentum, and the warmer tyres, but Coulthard just hung on over the critical first lap, and retained his lead as the race moved deeper into its second half.

In their wake, the leaders could count Trulli and Frentzen - quietly going about their business for Jordan - Olivier Panis - on a charge for BAR - and Fisichella in the top six, although the Benetton man was something of a wild card, having yet to make his first stop, Just outside the points, both Saubers lurked menacingly, Nick Heidfeld ahead of Kimi Raikkonen despite a slow stop when his fuel hose jammed and almost pulled its handler down pit-lane as the German got the signal to rejoin. Early frontrunner Jacques Villeneuve had dropped away from the reckoning after a fast start when he picked up a puncture on lap twelve, while Eddie Irvine lost a top ten spot when he was handed a stop-go penalty for receiving attention on the grid after the allowed time.

The race appeared now to be in Coulthard's pocket, despite Schumacher's persistent attention, as the German still had to make another stop. For once, it looked as though the Ferrari strategy would not pay off - until the rain decided to arrive in earnest.

Within minutes, the track was awash and, as in Malaysia, cars began to depart the stage at regular intervals. Incredibly, Coulthard's McLaren team declined to call their man in at the earliest opportunity, allowing Schumacher to steal a march on him as the MP4-16 slithered around one more lap. This time, it was no surprise to see Schumacher overhaul the McLaren as it approached the end of pit-lane, despite Coulthard being stationery for just 5.9secs to take on tyres, as opposed to the German's need for fuel as well.

Schumacher took the lead in conditions now ideally suited to Formula One's modern regenmeister, but Coulthard was not done and, contrary to expectation, began to close in on the Ferrari with both cars on intermediates. The Scot's cause was helped by an uncharacteristic spin by the world champion as the F2001 put a wheel on the painted kerbs, but it took a special move to put the McLaren back in front.

Thundering down the main straight in a cloud of spray, it appeared that Coulthard had the speed advantage approaching the Senna 'S', but matters were complicated by the presence of Tarso Marques Minardi, which the leaders were catching at a fair rate of knots. In circumstances reminiscent of Hakkinen's pass of Schumacher at Spa last year, the two frontrunners went either side of the hapless Brazilian, and this time it was Coulthard who came off best, taking the inside route to pass both of his rivals. Schumacher fought to hold the advantage through the second part of the complex, but Coulthard showed the steely will he developed in 2000 to hold on and, eventually, pull away from the Ferrari.

From then on it was relatively plain sailing for the Scot, save for having to find damp patches to preserve his rubber when the sun re-appeared. Others attempting the same tactic fell foul of the occasional puddle - both Schumachers among them - but Coulthard survived to finally end the six-race domination established by Ferrari in recent months.

Michael followed him across the line at a discreet 16secs distance, but there was still incident aplenty ready to alter the make-up of the top six.

The two Jordans appeared to take on full wet rubber at the rain-inspired pit-stop, and struggled to make an impact as the track began to dry. Frentzen, however, was running in third place when his car cried enough, handing a rare podium spot to the proficient Nick Heidfeld. The younger German had lost team-mate and tail-gunner Raikkonen to a late race spin, but soldiered on to take full advantage of others' problems and take a deserved four points.

Behind him, Trulli, in the other Jordan, looked set for fourth, only to be mugged in the closing stages by Panis in the BAR. The Frenchman had been impressive all day, taking seventh in the warm-up and making rapid in-roads through the field once the lights went out for real after lunch. His first climb into the points was negated by the need for an early pit-stop, as was his second when the rain came, but no-one was going to deprive him of at least fourth place, which he secured by carving past Trulli and Jean Alesi in the final few laps.

Trulli held on for fifth, but Alesi's hopes of giving beleaguered team boss Alain Prost his first point for more than a year were dashed when Fisichella's Benetton, on a better tyre choice, appeared alongside him through the infield. Alesi had no defence against the Italian, and it was Fisi who netted the most unexpected score of the day for the equally browbeaten Enstone outfit.

Villeneuve took a disappointed seventh from an afternoon the promised a possible first podium for BAR, finishing ahead of survivors like Alesi, Marques and Jenson Button, who lost a handful of laps while the Benetton boys attempted to get his B201 back on track after a mid-race technical problem.

On April Fools' Day in his homeland, however, perhaps it was fitting that Coulthard turned tricks at the front of the field. The Scot had been a podium regular in the opening two races, and thoroughly deserved to be there again this time. Even his heart, however, will go out to the luckless Montoya...

Race Result:

1. David Coulthard Britain McLaren-Mercedes 71 laps 1hr 39mins 00.384secs 185.387kph
2. Michael Schumacher Germany Ferrari-Ferrari +16.164secs
3. Nick Heidfeld Germany Sauber-Petronas +1 lap
4. Olivier Panis France BAR-Honda +1 lap
5. Jarno Trulli Italy Jordan-Honda +1 lap
6. Giancarlo Fisichella Italy Benetton-Renault +1 lap

7. Jacques Villeneuve Canada BAR-Honda +1 lap
8. Jean Alesi France Prost-Acer +1 lap
9. Tarso Marques Brazil Minardi-European +3 laps
10. Jenson Button Britain Benetton-Renault +7 laps

Rtd Heinz-Harald Frentzen Germany Jordan-Honda 63 laps completed
Rtd Kimi Raikkonen Finland Sauber-Petronas 55 laps completed
Rtd Gaston Mazzacane Argentina Prost-Acer 54 laps completed
Rtd Ralf Schumacher Germany Williams-BMW 54 laps completed
Rtd Eddie Irvine Britain Jaguar-Cosworth 52 laps completed
Rtd Juan Montoya Colombia Williams-BMW 38 laps completed

Rtd Jos Verstappen Holland Arrows-Asiatech 37 laps completed
Rtd Luciano Burti Brazil Jaguar-Cosworth 33 laps completed
Rtd Fernando Alonso Spain Minardi-European 28 laps completed
Rtd Enrique Bernoldi Brazil Arrows-Asiatech 15 laps completed
Rtd Rubens Barrichello Brazil Ferrari-Ferrari 2 laps completed
Rtd Mika Hakkinen Finland McLaren-Mercedes 0 laps completed

Fastest lap: Ralf Schumacher Williams-BMW 1min 15.693secs