Ferrari driver Michael Schumacher romped to an easy victory today at the Belgium Grand Prix to help alleviate his fellow countryman's woes following the thrashing Germany received last night in the international football match against England (they lost 5-1).
Michael Schumacher's win was the 52nd of his career and in achieving it the German beat Alain Prost's record for the most victories by any one individual F1 driver. The day though was largely a muted affair due to the horrific crash involving Luciano Burti's Prost-Acer. Many feared for his life and it took marshals many minutes to get to the Brazilian as his AP04 was embedded in the tyre barrier.
Indeed the scenes were reminiscent of Michael Schumacher's crash at the British Grand Prix in 1999 in that marshals erected screens to field the injured driver from photographers and television cameras. The incident occurred in the opening laps when Burti went to pass Eddie Irvine on the outside at the 180mph Blanchimont section of the track. The two touched as the Irishman didn't realize the Brazilian was on the outside and this set off a chain of events, which saw the Jaguar spin and the AP04 ride across the gravel traps before slamming into the tyre barriers.
The race was immediately red-flagged and declared null and void. Burti himself was not seriously injured in the incident, which looked extremely severe to say the least. The Brazilian is now recovering at the hospital in Liège and initial reports suggest he is stable and has suffered bruising to his head and face. Scans showed no signs of brain swelling but as a precautionary measure, he will spend the night in observation and will undergo another scan tomorrow morning.
The race (or races) saw a bizarre number of events. The Prost team might have thought the day could have got no worse at the first start when Heinz-Harald Frentzen stalled his AP04 but the Burti crash showed how wrong that was. This meant all Frentzen's good work from yesterday's qualifying - which had put him fourth - was destroyed and the German started the first race at the back of the grid.
The second start of the first race also saw drama when the same problem that had afflicted Frentzen struck Juan Pablo Montoya, the Colombian stalling and like the German the Williams-BMW driver immediately saw all hope of points vanish before his eyes. For Ralf Schumacher and Michael this was all good news and initially off the line the Williams-BMW led Michael Schumacher's Ferrari. Schumacher Senior though soon asserted his dominance and swept by Ralf to lead at the end of the first lap.
Meanwhile the Benetton-Renault's seemed to fly off the grid – Giancarlo Fisichella moving from eighth to fourth and his team-mate from 15th to eighth. The order at the end of the first lap was Michael Schumacher 2.1secs ahead of Ralf Schu followed by Rubens Barrichello, Fisichella, Mika Hakkinen, David Coulthard and the rest. Within a few laps Fisichella had been demoted to sixth with Hakkinen taking the Italian first and then followed by DC. At the front Michael Schumacher was storming away and by the end of lap four had a 6.387 second lead.
It was then on lap five that Burti and Irvine had their misunderstanding and the Prost driver crashed off at high speed. After the red flag period the driver's assembled on the grid for the re-start, the initial few laps being declared null and void.
It was then that Williams' woes hit new levels. If it wasn't bad enough losing Montoya when he stalled at the start for the first time, the second incident this time involving Ralf Schumacher was one of the most bizarre ever seen at a grand prix. As the time ticked by until the start of the formation lap the Williams mechanics were so involved in trying to get his car set-up that they forgot about the time. Suddenly they realised they had to be off the grid and in their rush to make it to the side of the track and avoid getting the German a ten second penalty for being late of the grid they forgot to lower the FW23 off the jacks. The net result was that the field swarmed by leaving a stranded Ralf Schumacher to start from the rear along with his team-mate Juan Pablo Montoya.