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Austrian GP 2001 - Coulthard's seventh heaven

14 May 2001

David Coulthard played the numbers game to win his second grand prix of the season, coming from seventh on the A1-Ring grid to beat both Ferraris in a close-fought one-stop race.

The short Austrian circuit caused some debate over whether one or two stops was the best route to take, given the anticipated levels of traffic the leaders could be expected to face, and, at the start, it was difficult to tell which strategy Coulthard had opted for.

As the lights went out, the Scot propelled his McLaren off the line with such speed that he almost snatched third from Michael Schumacher at the first corner, before being pushed back down to fifth thanks to his approach.

The fact that Coulthard was even able to challenge Schumacher - and that the move was for third - highlighted the good getaways made by both Williams cars, with Juan Montoya and Ralf Schumacher going side-by-side into turn one. Fortunately, there was to be no repeat of last year's pile-up - or even that which marred the start of Saturday's F3000 encounter - as Ralf backed off and allowed his junior partner the line.

Despite the clean passage for all through the corner, the safety car still made an appearance at the end of the lap and, counting the number of cars through turn one, it was apparent why. For the second race since its re-introduction, launch control accounted for several casualties right at the start. The two Jordans, Nick Heidfeld's Sauber and Mika Hakkinen's McLaren were all stranded on the line and, with the McLaren in particular not wanting to move an inch, prudence dictated that the advancing field be brought under control.

The problems were especially galling for Trulli and Heidfeld, both of whom had taken advantage of McLaren's qualifying woes to secure a place on row three. The two stationary cars did make for spectacular viewing, though, as, first, Coulthard, and then Eddie Irvine and Jacques Villeneuve, threaded the eye of the needle after fast getaways. For Hakkinen, the start was merely the continuation of a season he will already want to forget, while Frentzen has now posted the first retirement of the past two events.

Back at the front, the Williams drivers began to pull away from the Ferraris at the restart, suggesting that BMW had opted for two stops rather than one in an effort to combat the rapid ageing effect that was expected to befall the Michelin tyres. Coulthard, in turn, was becoming distant from the back of Rubens Barrichello, allowing the mercurial Jos Verstappen to make the most of his own quick start by passing the McLaren for fifth and setting the first fast lap of the race.

Williams' joy was not to last long, however, as Ralf's FW23 twitched under breaking for turn three and bounced over the rumble strips, something clearly amiss with its rear end. The German retired forlornly to the pits, leaving his team-mate at the mercy of his brother.

Without the barrier of a second blue-and-white car between him and the leader, Michael Schumacher quickly began to close the gap on Montoya, as the Colombian coincidentally began to struggle with his tyres. The problem was such that, within a handful of laps, the front four were together as one and, within a few more, Coulthard and Raikkonen had latched on to the train to make it six.

Sadly for those enthralled by the sight of a close-fought battle, it could not last for long. Schumacher, knowing that Barrichello in particular, was becoming impatient behind him, began to look at every opportunity of passing Montoya. Several attempts were forcibly rebuffed by the Colombian before the Ferrari got a run down the outside into the tight second corner. Although Schumacher appeared to have eased his nose ahead of the leaders, Montoya responded with a late braking defence but, with tyres smoking, the Williams' tail stepped out of line, causing both combatants to run wide and lose valuable time.

While Montoya had to extricate himself from the verges of the gravel, Schumacher merely had to gun the Ferrari back into the fray, but the delay was such that the pair were now sixth and seventh rather than second and first.

There was still a red car at the front, however, as Barrichello gratefully accepted the chance to lead from Verstappen, Coulthard and Raikkonen. Gradually, the Ferrari eased away from his pursuers, as paddock experts tried to determine the best policy for the Scuderia given that Schumacher's only realistic title rival was now ahead of the German.

Verstappen's tenure of second lasted only as far as his first pit-stop, the Arrows team reasoning that a light fuel load was probably the best way of moving both the Dutchman and team-mate Enrique Bernoldi towards the front. Such had been the pace of the early leaders that Verstappen was able to rejoin in seventh position, comfortably ahead of Irvine and Villeneuve, who remained in close contact throughout the afternoon.

Those who had been stranded at the start gradually filtered back into the race, leaving just Frentzen as a non-participant. The various recoveries never really materialised, however, with Hakkinen rejoining three laps down, completing just one tour and calling it a day. Heidfeld had a more fruitful afternoon, finishing the race two laps down in ninth, while Trulli, no doubt frustrated at seeing fifth on the grid go to waste, rejoined the field as it motored past the pits in crocodile fashion behind the safety car, earning himself a black flag and early bath.

Schumacher's pursuit of the leaders quickly reeled in those at the tail of a now strung out top six. Fastest lap to that point on lap 17 brought the German onto the tail of Olivier Panis and, despite being bottled up for some minutes, Ferrari gave BAR little chance of a reply as it eventually moved past and pulled away. Raikkonen was the next in line and, provided less resistance to Schumacher, Ferrari slicing inside Sauber at turn three and setting off after Coulthard.

The chase was now on for second, as Verstappen had made his stop in the midst of Schumacher's passing moves, and all eyes switched to the timing screens to see by how much the gaps between first and second and second and third were fluctuating.

Schumacher, in particular, was motoring, reeling in Coulthard as the Scot wrestled with traffic. A succession of fastest laps all but brought the German on to the tail of the McLaren, prompting speculation that Barrichello may also be asked to play a part in the result by setting Coulthard up for the pass.

The question was not answered quickly, however, for, following Montoya's demise with hydraulic problems, Schumacher peeled off to make his one and only pit-stop. The Ferrari crew turned the champion around in a shade under nine seconds, returning him to the track ahead of Raikkonen - who had a poor stop when the left rear refused to engage cleanly - Panis and Verstappen.

One lap later and Barrichello was in. There was no obvious attempt to influence the result by holding the Brazilian a fraction too long, however, and he was able to rejoin ahead of Schumacher with 24 laps to run.

The reason for Coulthard's initial sluggishness soon became apparent, however, as the Scot plugged away for two further laps, pushing the envelope to its maximum in search of vital seconds.

The plan worked for, when he rejoined on lap 50, the McLaren enjoyed a couple of seconds advantage over its red rivals. Barrichello rounded the first turn just as DC exited pit-lane, but could do nothing to overhaul the Scot as the new leader quickly brought his tyres up to temperature.

For a few laps, it appeared that the race was now between these two, for Schumacher seemed strangely off the pace. Coulthard has set new fastest laps on the tours between his pit-stop and the Ferraris', and now seemed to have the legs over the man he was chasing in the point stakes.

Whether Schumacher had a problem or not may never be known, but he was soon back on track after a couple of wild moments over the kerbs - and closing on the front two. With lapped traffic again something of a problem, the German was able to hack into the small gap that had grown between himself and his team-mate and, with ten laps to go, the race was back to being a three-way battle.

The path through traffic was admittedly easier than it had been early on, for Pedro de la Rosa, Montoya, and both Minardis had joined Bernoldi, Trulli and the early retirees on the sidelines. One could still have had a part to play, as the luckless Jenson Button's Renault let go at the final corner, spreading a little oil on the road, but thankfully not enough to disturb those fighting at the opposite end of the field.

The scrap lasted until the final lap, with Coulthard manfully resisting the pressure mounted on him by the two Ferraris in his wake. Both Scuderia drivers recorded fastest split times in their pursuit, but Coulthard was having none of it, his steely determination keeping eyes focused firmly on the road ahead and nowhere else. Rounding the final turn, he knew he had it, raising an arm in triumph as, behind him, Schumacher moved smartly passed the slowing Barrichello to carry out vital damage limitation in terms of the championship.

Raikkonen survived his tardy pit-stop to hold on to fourth ahead of Panis, despite the suspicion that he may have passed Luciano Burti under the yellows shown for Button's stricken Benetton, while Verstappen held off the advancing Irvine to give Arrows its first dose of points in 2001.

Coulthard has made something of a habit of scoring podium finishes from lower than expected on the grid, put in that position early in the year by problems in qualifying. Those same troubles raised their head again in Austria but, in the same way, the Scot raised his game to snatch some glory from the jaws of misfortune.

Seventh on the grid does not often provide race winners in Formula One, but Coulthard will accept anything that comes his way. He knows that he has done his time in the role adopted for 2001 by team-mate Hakkinen and, on the 13th of the month, used lucky seven to keep his championship charge on target.


Race Result

1. David Coulthard Britain McLaren-Mercedes 71 laps 1hr 27mins 45.927secs 209.977kph
2. Michael Schumacher Germany Ferrari-Ferrari +02.191secs
3. Rubens Barrichello Brazil Ferrari-Ferrari +02.528secs
4. Kimi Raikkonen Finland Sauber-Petronas +41.594secs
5. Olivier Panis France BAR-Honda +53.776secs
6. Jos Verstappen Holland Arrows-Asiatech +1 lap

7. Eddie Irvine Britain Jaguar-Cosworth +1 lap
8. Jacques Villeneuve Canada BAR-Honda +1 lap
9. Nick Heidfeld Germany Sauber-Petronas +2 laps

10. Jean Alesi France Prost-Acer +2 laps
11. Luciano Burti Brazil Prost-Acer +2 laps

Rtd Jenson Button Britain Benetton-Renault 60 laps completed
Rtd Pedro de la Rosa Spain Jaguar-Cosworth 48 laps completed
Rtd Juan Montoya Colombia Williams-BMW 41 laps completed
Rtd Fernando Alonso Spain Minardi-European 38 laps completed
Rtd Tarso Marques Brazil Minardi-European 25 laps completed
Rtd Enrique Bernoldi Brazil Arrows-Asiatech 17 laps competed
Rtd Ralf Schumacher Germany Williams-BMW 10 laps completed
Rtd Giancarlo Fisichella Italy Benetton-Renault 3 laps completed
Rtd Mika Hakkinen Finland McLaren-Mercedes 1 lap completed
Rtd Heinz-Harald Frentzen Germany Jordan-Honda 0 laps completed
Dsq Jarno Trulli Italy Jordan-Honda pit-lane infringement

Fastest lap: David Coulthard McLaren-Mercedes 1min 10.843secs


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