Michael Schumacher took the Spanish Grand Prix win he always appeared capable of - but only after race-long rival Mika Hakkinen broke down on the last of the 65 laps.

Under surprisingly leaden skies, the German made the best of the first traction control start for almost ten years to hold his pole position advantage into the first corner, while behind him the pack sorted itself out with a little bumping and barging.

Principal casualty of the frenetic action was Schumacher's co-leader in the drivers' championship, David Coulthard - but the Scot should never really have been in a position to hamper his own race. His problems began even before the race, with a stall as the grid moved off on its formation lap. Forced to start the event proper from the rear of the field, Coulthard then made contact with a slower rival on the run down to turn one, and required an early pit-stop to replace a badly damaged front wing.

The McLaren's absence from the second row allowed San Marino winner Ralf Schumacher to take a run at the cars in front of him heading into the tight first corner and, as his brother and fellow front row man Hakkinen made a break, Ralf briefly got ahead of the second Ferrari of Rubens Barrichello.

Further back - and a possible cause of Coulthard's wing problem - there was much congestion as the field took evasive action to avoid the stalled Heinz-Harald Frentzen. Waiting until almost everyone had passed him before setting off, the German found himself down in 17th place, but with others around him cursing their luck at having been hit or forced to concede ground because of the stricken Jordan.

The question of traction control had been a hot topic all weekend, and no more so than when the teams considered whether or no it would actually be a benefit in the race. The suspicion was that Williams, amongst others, would decline to implement the new electronics and, if this was the case, the ploy worked as both Schumacher Jr and team-mate Juan Montoya made lightning starts. While Ralf was ultimately repassed by Barrichello for third in the first turn, Montoya rocketed from a lowly twelfth on the grid to take sixth at the end of the lap - a position that would serve him well in the light of events to come...

Right at the front, Michael Schumacher was wasting no time in trying to break the resistance of three-time Barcelona winner Hakkinen. Fastest lap followed fastest lap over the opening few tours, although the gap back to the Finn remained constant as Hakkinen upped his pace accordingly to keep the Ferrari in sight.

With Barrichello sitting pretty in third, the lead duo gradually pulled away from the rest of the pack, if not from one another, and it was not until the first round of pit-stops that any semblance of a gap opened between first and second.

Schumacher had already ducked into the 1min 21secs bracket before he made his first call for fuel and tyres on lap 23, but Hakkinen was close enough to have a chance of sneaking the lead with a couple of quick laps immediately before his own first stop. Emphasising his ability to match the champion's pace, Hakkinen promptly banged in a new lap record as Schumacher rejoined, but it was not quite enough for him to emerge in front after stopping on lap 27.

The major factor in the battle was Schumacher's immediate pace on his second set of tyres, the German establishing a new lap record of his own as Hakkinen completed his in-lap. By the time the McLaren re-emerged from pit-lane, Schumacher had a 3.4secs lead - something he more or less held throughout the middle section of the race, backmarkers permitting.

He had three less tailenders to deal with by the time he began lapping, however, as Frentzen and luckless returnee Pedro de la Rosa contrived to tangle on lap six, putting both out of the race on the spot as Jordan rode over Jaguar after slicing up the inside of a corner. Naturally, the two drivers' opinions as to who was to blame varied, although both were largely magnanimous.

''I only saw Heinz at the last moment, and tried to give him room into the corner,'' de la Rosa revealed, ''Unfortunately, we touched rear wheels and went off.''

''I don't know what helmet he is wearing if he didn't see me,'' joked a frustrated Frentzen, ''It was clearly my corner, but his front wheel touched my back one.... It was a racing accident I suppose, but it only happened because I made a bad start.''

The third retirement of the day came as Enrique Bernoldi pulled his Arrows off the road with a mechanical problem, no doubt leaving the recovering Coulthard as frustrated as Frentzen, having taken three laps to find a way around the orange-and-black car. The move left the Scot at the tail of the midfield, having dealt with the various Benettons and Minardis, but it was already looking as if a long day lay ahead.

The first of the favoured runners disappeared on lap 21, as Ralf Schumacher's Williams locked up under breaking and spun gracefully into the gravel. The German had been holding a solid fourth place at the time, and looked good for more points, but his retirement allowed the likes of Jarno Trulli, Montoya, Nick Heidfeld and Jacques Villeneuve to harbour hopes of scoring finishes.

''I don't really know what happened,'' Ralf admitted, ''It is too early for us to have discovered a problem. All I know is that I touched the brakes and the rear stepped out - it is very strange.''

By the time the leader pitted for a second time on lap 43, the battle for victory was firmly between himself and the ever present Hakkinen, with the odds favouring Schumacher by dint of the slightly increased gap he held over the Finn.

Again, Hakkinen pitted a handful of laps later than the Ferrari, and had about enough in hand to take the lead if McLaren managed an efficient stop. This they did but, when the Finn exited pit-lane without Schumacher in sight, it was more to do with a combination of backmarkers and a series of slower than expected laps from the champion.

Two seconds separated the contenders at the end of Hakkinen's out-lap, and the gap began to grow ominously for fans of the Scuderia. The Italian team had already lost its second car, as Barrichello slowed with what appeared to be a suspension failure following an off, and suddenly Schumacher was lapping several seconds off his initial pace.

As the gap to the new leader grew, Schumacher appeared to have settled for second place, technical director Ross Brawn later confirming the suspicion that the German's third set of tyres was not as good as either of his first two and was upsetting the handling of his car.

Schumacher was never in any real danger of losing a place on the podium as third placed Montoya was well over a minute in arrears, but any hope of depriving Hakkinen of a fourth successive Spanish GP win appeared to have gone.

Montoya's appearance in third was the result of some slick pit-work by the Williams team, and Barrichello's unfortunate retirement. Although Ferrari initially rebooted the F2001 after the Brazilian pitted, it last just one more lap before returning to the garage for good, promoting Montoya, Villeneuve and Trulli another place.

Where the Italian had originally held sway of Colombian and Canadian, the battle of the pit crews dropped him to the rear of the trio. Villeneuve looked the fastest of all on the track and was closing on Montoya into the closing stages. His assault on a maiden podium for BAR was halted by Hakkinen, however, as the Finn made a tardy attempt at lapping the 1997 champion, delaying him in the process and preventing any further advance.

The second McLaren was still to far back to bother Villeneuve in the final reckoning, however, although Coulthard had diligently moved himself back into a point scoring position by hunting down Heidfeld's still promising Sauber with just four laps to run. The Scot then closed in on Trulli, preventing the Italian from taking advantage of Villeneuve's delay, without being able to prise another point from the Jordan.

Then the final irony occurred....

Just as it seemed that four-in-a-row was on the cards for Hakkinen, with Schumacher tailing off and being passed by cars he had previously lapped effortlessly, McLaren joined Ferrari in slowing up. Many thought that Hakkinen had backed off in an attempt to bring the car safely to the chequered flag, but tell-tale sparks became smoke and eventually the Finn had to park up by the side of the road.

Less than one lap remained between Hakkinen and his first podium - let alone win - of the season....

Although it was probably an optical illusion, Schumacher's Ferrari suddenly appeared to gain speed, passing the smoking McLaren en route to taking a win that even the German acknowledged was fortunate. There may have been joy in the Italian camp on pit-wall, but Schumacher would have hated to win this way, having been beaten by his car, his rival and Ferrari's biggest opposition in the pits. Trekking back down pit-road, he would surely have said as much as he commiserated with a phlegmatic - and now ninth-placed - Finn.

Joining him on the podium were now Montoya and Villeneuve, the Canadian not having lost out on a top three place after all. Whether it could have been second is moot point, as Villeneuve's demeanour on the rostrum showed. Third was still third after all, and BAR's podium duck had, at last, been broken.

Further back, Trulli held off the impatient Coulthard for fourth and more points for Jordan, while the Scot took two more marks in what is gradually becoming the season in which he leads the McLaren assault on world titles. Last year - and those before that - it would have been his car stopped by the side of the road smoking, now it is his team-mates. Heidfeld took the final point after another solid drive in the Sauber, with Olivier Panis and Kimi Raikkonen next up.

The result did throw up a few interesting thoughts, too. All four of the top cars hit problems, although Coulthard's were, as team boss Ron Dennis admitted, due to ''brain fade'' as much as anything else. Whether these were due to the re-introduction of new electronic systems remains - and is likely to remain - anyone's guess, but it was interesting to see even the best suffering for a change.

The biggest thought of all, however, was that, if Ralf Schumacher had stayed on the road, he would almost certainly have won his second career grand prix - and led home a Williams 1-3 to boot...

Instead, the Schumacher name at the top of the result sheets was his brother's, Michael now opening out a handy eight point advantage over Coulthard in the drivers' championship.

Hakkinen, by contrast, has just four points. Not his lucky number....

Race Result:

1. Michael Schumacher Germany Ferrari-Ferrari 65 laps 1hr 31mins 03.305secs 202.508kph
2. Juan Montoya Colombia Williams-BMW +40.738secs
3. Jacques Villeneuve Canada BAR-Honda +49.626secs
4. Jarno Trulli Italy Jordan-Honda +51.253secs
5. David Coulthard Britain McLaren-Mercedes +51.616secs
6. Nick Heidfeld Germany Sauber-Petronas +1min 01.893secs

7. Olivier Panis France BAR-Honda +1min 04.977secs
8. Kimi Raikkonen Finland Sauber-Petronas +1min 19.808secs
9. Mika Hakkinen Finland McLaren-Mercedes +1 lap
10. Jean Alesi France Prost-Acer +1 lap
11. Luciano Burti Brazil Prost-Acer +1 lap
12. Jos Verstappen Holland Arrows-Asiatech +2 laps
13. Fernando Alonso Spain Minardi-European +2 laps
14. Giancarlo Fisichella Italy Benetton-Renault +2 laps
15. Jenson Button Britain Benetton-Renault +3 laps
16. Tarso Marques Brazil Minardi-European +3 laps

Rtd Rubens Barrichello Brazil Ferrari-Ferrari 49 laps completed
Rtd Eddie Irvine Britain Jaguar-Cosworth 48 laps completed
Rtd Ralf Schumacher Germany Williams-BMW 20 laps completed
Rtd Enrique Bernoldi Brazil Arrows-Asiatech 8 laps competed
Rtd Pedro de la Rosa Spain Jaguar-Cosworth 5 laps completed
Rtd Heinz-Harald Frentzen Germany Jordan-Honda 5 laps completed

Fastest lap: Michael Schumacher Ferrari-Ferrari 1min 21.1secs record