Ralf Schumacher was handed the chance to do something his brother has managed just once in his career - winning in front of the Hockenheim faithful - as the rest of the expected frontrunners fell by the wayside in the German Grand Prix.

Schumacher started second on the grid, but had little answer to team-mate Juan Montoya in the opening stages of the race. Only when the Colombian ran into problems could the German seize the advantage and, with Montoya eventually joining Michael Schumacher, Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard on the sidelines, the road was open for a third win of the year for the Williams man.

The race began in high drama, with a red flag being thrown before the first lap had been completed. Just as it had been twelve months ago, the crowd's darling played a central part in the incident, his Ferrari slowing dramatically as the gearbox refused to pull anything above first. Already placing himself in the middle of the road for the first corner, Schumacher became a sitting duck, although most of the field managed to miss him as it swarmed for position.

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It was only as the tailenders began to encounter the stricken Ferrari that an accident became likely and Luciano Burti, unsighted by Ricardo Zonta's late evasion, collected the back of Schumacher's car fair and square. The Prost was launched over its right rear wheel, turning a full circle in the air before crashing back to earth between the fleeing Arrows of Enrique Bernoldi and Jos Verstappen and careering into the Nord Kurve barriers.

Remarkably, neither Schumacher or Burti appeared injured in the incident, both drivers extricating themselves from their respective wrecks and jogging back to the pits in case the race was restarted.

Initially, the stewards decided to deploy the pace car but, as the field approached the opening corner for the second time, the extent of the debris became apparent, and the red flag was thrown, giving all those involved in the incident the chance to restart.

The decision also benefited those not involved, as Minardi could now start both its cars from the grid instead of the pit-lane. Fernando Alonso was the first to run into difficulty, his PS01 breaking into a minor conflagration as it sat on the start-line, and having to be wheeled away as the Spaniard sought out the spare. As it was fettled, however, the pit-lane closed, and the team decided to swap Alonso into team-mate Tarso Marques machine, while the luckless Brazilian waited for the necessary changes to be made to his new mount. The Burti-Schumacher incident then allowed both to resume their places on the grid.

The second start was far less eventful - at least until the pack was out of sight of the biggest crowds. Montoya again got the jump on Schumacher as the lights went out, while Hakkinen and Schumacher Sr battled for third heading into the forest. Their battle was replicated for fifth, as Barrichello challenged the already gripless Coulthard, but it was in the wake of the top six that the next incident happened, Pedro de la Rosa completely missing his braking point and punting the unfortunate Nick Heidfeld out of the race at Clark.

Montoya still led as the field re-entered the Stadium arena, and was already edging away from team-mate Schumacher. The German's brother had got the better of Hakkinen, with Coulthard and Barrichello running side-by-side from Senna to the startline in their battle for fifth. Kimi Raikkonen, Eddie Irvine, Jarno Trulli and Jacques Villeneuve completed the top ten, having avoided the melee at the first chicane.

The next time they passed the pits, Montoya had opened up a two-second gap over the rest, courtesy of a fastest lap that obliterated the existing record. The new mark also disappeared as the Colombian set about stamping his authority on the race, gradually disappearing at the head of the pack.

Further back, the excitement continued, with Barrichello, having disposed of Coulthard, picking off the second McLaren of Hakkinen as the Woking contingent appeared to be struggling. Ricardo Zonta, drafted in to revive Jordan fortunes in the wake of Heinz-Harald Frentzen's sacking, did little to aid the team's cause when he wiped his front wing off on the back of Verstappen's Arrows between Clark and the Ostkurve. Both cars were forced to pit for attention, but it was the Brazilian who was soon back in for good.

Barrichello, now with the bit firmly between his teeth, was soon into third, having been waved past team leader Schumacher, his car working better on a two-stop load than the German's on a one-stopper. Just the two Williams now lay between the Brazilian and the chance of winning another German GP, but the gap was a large one as BMW, Michelin and sultry conditions combined to push the blue-and-white machines out of reach.

In the midfield, the remaining Honda cars engaged in battle, but the skirmish was a short one as Olivier Panis forced his BAR past Jarno Trulli's Jordan at the Clark chicane. The Italian's half-hearted reply at the Ostkurve only resulted in the yellow car swapping ends, almost collecting the following Villeneuve, and dropping out of the points reckoning altogether.

Eddie Irvine began the first round of pit-stops, taking on his first extra load of fuel and dropping to 16th place as a result. What the Irishman didn't realise, however, was that he was about to also start the trend of retiring shortly after rejoining. At the same time, Mika Hakkinen became the first of the big name retirements, his McLaren pouring radiator fluid from the left sidepod before the Finn could coax it into the paddock. Scandinavia's representation in the race was completely removed just two laps later, as Raikkonen joined Irvine in the pits.

All this preceded Barrichello's first stop, the Brazilian being turned around in just 8.3secs and rejoining in fifth, once more behind old adversary Coulthard. Once again, battle was joined between the two and, once again, Barrichello came out on top as he repeated his move around the outside of the Sachskurve entering the Stadium section.

Fourth quickly became third for Barrichello, but the Brazilian did not need to pass anyone to gain places this time. Montoya, about to run into the squabble for tenth involving Trulli and Burti, was called in for his one-and-only stop, only to have the fuel rig fail. A scheduled eleven second pit call thus quickly became one of thirty seconds, dropping the angry Colombian behind both Ferraris as well as his team-mate.

He regained one place almost immediately, as Schumacher Sr made his stop on the very next lap. The move then became permanent as the world champion mimicked former team-mate Irvine's quick exit, coasting to a halt on the run to Clark with what appeared to be a worrying repeat of the problem which caused the startline shunt. Unable to pull the car off the track, it looked as though another safety car period my be imminent, but the marshals responded well to swiftly remove the obstruction.

Incredibly, within the space of four laps, the number of expected frontrunners was reduced, first, to three - as Montoya smoked then slowed coming out of the last corner, parking his Williams in front of the pit-wall and stalking back to his motorhome, a set of civvies and the first motorbike out of Hockenheim - then two, as Coulthard replicated Schumacher's fate of barely making it around the first corner after his pit-stop before pulling off, engine dead.

All this paved the way for Ralf Schumacher to motor on towards a third career win, a third of 2001, and the first for a Schumacher in Germany since brother Michael's sole triumph there in 1995. The Williams man still had a fuel stop to make but, despite butterflies in the Grove camp, all was well with his fuel rig, and victory, barring driver error, was assured.

Barrichello gave vain chase, his charge blunted by his own brand of fuel pump problems, which necessitated a change of hose to get him underway for the final 13 laps. With the likes of his team-mate and both McLarens out of the race, however, the problem was not enough to cost the Brazilian any places, merely preventing him from mounting a challenge for victory.

Third by this point was Villeneuve, who had caught and passed BAR team-mate Panis amid the first round of stops - the Frenchman on course for two to the Canadian's one - and now headed, of all things, Giancarlo Fisichella's Benetton.

A combination of the high retirement rate, Michelin's harder compound and the improved reliability of Renault's latest V10, had propelled the Italian from 17th on the grid to fourth overall, despite making two stops. Even more remarkably, the man in his mirrors after Panis made his second stop, was team-mate Jenson Button, enjoying one of his longest, and most successful, runs of the season.

Jean Alesi completed a very close quartet as they crossed the line, the French veteran again in the right place at the right time to benefit from others' misfortune. Fisichella leading the charge to Villeneuve's rear as the flag neared, with Panis also coming close to latching on the train as he sought to recover from a misguided second stop that would ultimately cost further points for BAR.

With Trulli joining the list of retirements late on, however, Villeneuve's score was enough to lift the Brackley team above its Silverstone rival, as Benetton increased its previous tally six-fold to leapfrog both Prost and Jaguar in the standings.

At the sharp end, Michael Schumacher's retirement had little detrimental effect on either championship, as Coulthard and McLaren both failed to make hay while the German sun shone. Instead, the biggest gainers were Williams and Schumacher Jr, who both seized the opportunity to close in on the two teams above them.

Ralf is now just six points behind Coulthard, who had hardly added to his tally since first retiring in Canada, and looking increasingly capable of achieving his aim of competing a Schumacher one-two at the head of the table. Williams, despite losing Montoya at mid-distance, also closed to within ten of the ailing McLaren machine.

Montoya's retirement aside, things are looking good in Grove right now.

Race Results:

1. Ralf Schumacher Germany Williams-BMW 45 laps 1hr 18mins 17.873secs
2. Rubens Barrichello Brazil Ferrari-Ferrari +46.117secs
3. Jacques Villeneuve Canada BAR-Honda +1min 02.806secs
4. Giancarlo Fisichella Italy Benetton-Renault +1min 03.477secs
5. Jenson Button Britain Benetton-Renault +1min 05.454secs
6. Jean Alesi France Prost-Acer +1min 13.950secs

7. Olivier Panis France BAR-Honda +1min 17.527secs
8. Enrique Bernoldi Brazil Arrows-Asiatech +1 lap
9. Jos Verstappen Holland Arrows-Asiatech +1 lap
10. Fernando Alonso Spain Minardi-European +1 lap

Rtd Jarno Trulli Italy Jordan-Honda 34 laps completed
Rtd David Coulthard Britain McLaren-Mercedes 27 laps completed
Rtd Tarso Marques Brazil Minardi-European 26 laps completed
Rtd Juan Montoya Colombia Williams-BMW 24 laps completed
Rtd Michael Schumacher Germany Ferrari-Ferrari 23 laps completed
Rtd Luciano Burti Brazil Prost-Acer 23 laps completed
Rtd Kimi Raikkonen Finland Sauber-Petronas 16 laps compelted
Rtd Eddie Irvine Britain Jaguar-Cosworth 16 laps completed
Rtd Mika Hakkinen Finland McLaren-Mercedes 13 laps completed
Rtd Ricardo Zonta Brazil Jordan-Honda 7 laps completed
Rtd Nick Heidfeld Germany Sauber-Petronas 0 lap completed
Rtd Pedro de la Rosa Spain Jaguar-Cosworth 0 lap completed

Fastest lap: Juan Montoya Williams-BMW 1min 41.828secs