Michael Schumacher clinched an historic fifth world title with victory at Magny-Cours, but he had to rely on a huge slice of luck to overcome an uncharacteristic mistake.

The German appeared to be heading for at least an extension of his points lead when he pitted for his first change of tyres, but crossing the exit line by the slimmest of margins set up a corking showdown with new kid on the block, Kimi Raikkonen.

Schumacher's path to the championship was eased even before the red lights went out when, behind him on the grid, Ferrari team-mate Rubens Barrichello was left stranded on his jacks as the field moved off on its formation lap. Unfortunately for the Brazilian, who suffered a demotion to the back of the grid after stalling at the start of the last round in Britain, there was to be no way back this time. A change of steering wheel failed to have the desired effect, and a frustrated Barrichello was pushed away, his marginal title hopes over.

His luck holding for another week, despite some frantic work in the garage ahead of him joining the grid, Schumacher could not quite get the jump on his remaining rival, Juan Montoya, at the start. The Colombian cut left off the grid to block any potential move up the inside, then moved back towards his original line for the opening corner, Schumacher successfully rebuffed.

The leaders did not have it all their own way in the early stages of the lap, however, for Raikkonen and Ralf Schumacher, benefiting from the gap left by Barrichello's demise, were right on their tails through Grande Courbe and Estoril. Further back, however, it was a different story and, despite only 18 cars taking the start, Takuma Sato, Olivier Panis and Pedro de la Rosa all managed to be delayed in a midfield skirmish that saw the trio take to the gravel. The Japanese rookie claimed that his French rival turned in on him, but both were to suffer the consequences of their brush later in the race.

Surprisingly, all 18 runners made it around the Adelaide hairpin cleanly, with Felipe Massa showing in seventh place, behind the big three teams and Jenson Button, who moved into the points following Barrichello's non-start. Massa, however, was where he was by default, as he had jumped the start, and the eager Brazilian would thus be required to complete a 'drive-thru' penalty, setting the tone for the afternoon.

Not wanting to be stuck behind Montoya for too long, Schumacher made his intentions clear right from the start, looking to pass the Colombian at Adelaide as early as the third lap. The move was optimistic, however, and almost allowed Raikkonen through into second. The status quo was swiftly restored, but the leading trio would not be much further apart before the opening round of pit-stops intervened.

Massa's drive-thru only served to land the young Sauber driver in more hot water for, in his haste to exit ahead of Sato's recovering Jordan, he put a wheel across the white line separating pit-lane from circuit and earned himself a repeat trip down the slow road. Sato, having ploughed the gravel, was closing on de la Rosa at this point, and seemingly had the legs on the Jaguar, for he was able to home in once more after Massa departed the fray for a second time.

The Japanese driver's progress mirrored that throughout the field, with cars closing on those ahead of them but being largely unable to pass on the tricky Magny-Cours layout. Jacques Villeneuve, running just ahead of the Mark Webber/de la Rosa/Sato battle, was chasing down the two Toyotas, all three having benefited from the first corner scuffle, but succeeded only in locking up under braking with each attempt to pass the Scot.

Running at the back of a train did not seem to be hindering Raikkonen, however, as the Finn traded fastest laps with the two leaders and was the first to create a new lap record as he dipped under McLaren team-mate David Coulthard's 2001 mark. The Scot also joined the exchange, taking the record back as he moved ahead of Ralf Schumacher's Williams when the German pitted.

The pace that the front three were able to run was vital when it came to their slots in the first pit-stop window, with Michael Schumacher banging in a new record time as Montoya stopped for fuel and tyres. A minor delay for the Williams man also helped the German to close the gap, and it was Schumacher who emerged in front after his own stop.

The margin was close, however, and Schumacher made the same mistake as Massa as he tried to beat his rival into Grande Courbe. It may have been by only the smallest of measurements, but the German would be obliged to make a trip down penalty lane, putting his title hopes on hold as he handed the advantage back to Montoya and the McLaren duo.

The reigning champion was not about to let his grip on a fifth crown slip lightly, however, and with a clear track in front of him when the McLarens pitted, quickly opened out a six-second lead as he used the maximum time between the penalty being awarded and being served to good effect. When he rejoined the fray, he was right on Raikkonen's tail, and well placed with one more stop to go.

By this point, both Panis and Sato had succumbed to their opening lap exuberance, the Frenchman, having already stopped for a new front wing, calling it a day in the garage, and his Japanese rival slithering off the road at Lycee when forced offline by de la Rosa's pitting Jaguar. Panis was then joined on the sidelines by BAR team-mate Villeneuve, who succumbed to a less-than-subtle Honda engine failure, the honeymoon after Silverstone well-and-truly over.

At half-distance, the top five were covered by just three seconds, with Montoya again at the front, ahead of Raikkonen, the two Schumachers and Coulthard. Button continued to uphold Renault honour on home ground in sixth, some 15secs ahead of team-mate Jarno Trulli.

The Italian was to number among the next batch of retirements, as three cars dropped out within the space of a lap. Mika Salo was the first to go, his Toyota managing to outdo Villeneuve's Honda in terms of smoke and debris, with the odd flame thrown in for good measure as the Finn quickly pulled aside. Massa was next to go, stopping in the pits after an eventful afternoon, while Trulli stopped his Renault trackside with mechanical gremlins.

By this stage, however, the entire face of the race had changed after the second round of pit-stops.

Montoya, apparently struggling for grip on his second set of tyres, was the first to stop, taking an agonising 10.5secs to rejoin, and dropping to sixth as a result. His team-mate followed him in, and emerged almost level with the Colombian, only - remarkably - to fall foul of the same white line that had seemingly scuppered his brother's bid for victory. The penalty confined Ralf to fifth, such was his lead over Button at the time.

Schumacher Sr's stop was all but matched by Raikkonen, and allowed the Finn to take the lead - his first true advantage since graduating to the big league last season - once team-mate Coulthard made his final stop. The youngster could have been expected to succumb to the world champion's pressure as the Ferrari filled his mirrors on that first lap out of the pits but, true to his Iceman sobriquet, he coolly eked out an advantage as Schumacher's Bridgestone's slowly gave up the fight.

Such was the Ferrari's plight that DC, courtesy of another lap record, was soon all over the back of it but, amazingly, the Scot was then cited for crossing the pit blend line and had to take a 'drive-thru', dropping him away from the leaders, albeit still in third as Montoya struggled with another grip problem and slowly fell into the clutches of his fired-up team-mate.

Button's hold on sixth strengthened following Trulli's demise, and was all but secured, despite having to make a third fuel stop, when Eddie Irvine suffered a scary moment heading into the Adelaide hairpin. The Jaguar driver had run in the top ten all afternoon, but saw his hard work undone when the rear wing peeled off the revised R3B, leaving him with no downforce when he jumped on the brakes. Fortunately, the car had ample run-off room in which to carry out its pirouettes, and Irvine was able to climb out unharmed.

The hairpin was to be the scene of greater drama, however, as, with just five laps to go, the outcome of the race - and the championship - took another twist.

Michael Schumacher had seemingly backed out of a battle for the lead with Raikkonen, content to allow the Finn his maiden F1 win and to take the title fight to his homeland next weekend. However, approaching the hairpin for the 67th time, Raikkonen was caught unawares by what he claimed was fluid on the track - probably deposited by Allan McNish's Toyota, which was stationary in the run-off area - and slithered wide at the corner.

Schumacher, despite the obvious yellow flags for the Toyota, needed no second bidding and drew alongside the McLaren as it scrambled to rejoin the track. Raikkonen was forced to take to the kerbs as the Ferrari swept past and both the race and the title were settled, barring the intervention of the stewards.

Schumacher appeared to think there was nothing wrong with his move as he pummelled his steering wheel under the chequered flag, and Raikkonen, too, was seemingly happy with the result, even if he knew he had thrown away his best chance of victory.

Coulthard took the final podium place, but Montoya's fourth place handed the world crown to Schumacher, who needed both the Colombian and Barrichello to finish the race outside the top three. The celebrations began on the slowing down lap and will continue long into the night....

Race result:

1.Michael SchumacherGermanyFerrari-Ferrari72 laps1hr 32min 09.837secs
2.Kimi RaikkonenFinlandMcLaren-Mercedes+01.105secs
3.David CoulthardBritainMcLaren-Mercedes+31.976secs
4.Juan MontoyaColombiaWilliams-BMW+40.676secs
5.Ralf SchumacherGermanyWilliams-BMW+41.773secs
6.Jenson ButtonBritainRenault-Renault+1 lap

7.Nick HeidfeldGermanySauber-Petronas+1 lap
8.Mark WebberAustraliaMinardi-Asiatech+1 lap
9.Pedro de la RosaSpainJaguar-Cosworth+2 laps
10.Alex YoongMalaysiaMinardi-Asiatech+4 laps

RtdAllan McNishBritainToyota-Toyota65 laps completed
RtdEddie IrvineBritainJaguar-Cosworth52 laps completed
RtdJarno TrulliItalyRenault-Renault49 laps completed
RtdFelipe MassaBrazilSauber-Petronas48 laps completed
RtdMika SaloFinlandToyota-Toyota48 laps completed
RtdJacques VilleneuveCanadaBAR-Honda35 laps completed
RtdOlivier PanisFranceBAR-Honda29 laps completed
RtdTakuma SatoJapanJordan-Honda23 laps completed
RtdRubens BarrichelloBrazilFerrari-Ferrari0 laps completed

DnqEnrique BernoldiBrazilArrows-Cosworth
DnqHeinz-Harald FrentzenGermanyArrows-Cosworth
DnsGiancarlo FisichellaItalyJordan-Honda

Fastest lap:

David CoulthardMcLaren-Mercedes1min 15.045secslap 62new lap record

 

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