MELBOURNE, Australia -- Michael Schumacher won the Australian Grand Prix in his 10th attempt on Sunday when he led his new Ferrari teammate Rubens Barrichello home in a convincing one-two triumph after both McLaren cars dropped out.
Schumacher, the two-time Formula One champion who missed seven
races last year after breaking his leg in the British Grand Prix,
completed 58 laps on the 3.295-mile Albert Park circuit in 1 hour,
34 minutes, 1.987 seconds.
The German star took the lead when Finland's Mika Hakkinen, the
two-time defending Formula One champion, retired on the 18th lap
with smoke billowing from the rear of his McLaren.
Scotland's David Coulthard dropped out earlier when the engine
in his McLaren caught fire while a safety car was on the circuit.
"I wanted the race to go to the end just to prove how good we
are," Schumacher said of the McLarens' early exits. "I think this
is a faster car than ever and it's reliable. I'm really delighted
to drive this car."
Schumacher, who won the Australian GP for the first time after
finishing second in 1992 and 1997, started from the second row of
the grid behind the McLarens.
"This was the fifth time we (Ferrari) have tried to win here in Australia," said Schumacher, referring to Melbourne's Albert Park circuit where in previous years he has struggled. "I wanted to be competitive at the start of the season and
the first time I sat in this car, I knew I could be.
Italy's Rubens Barrichello, making his first start for the
defending champion Ferrari team, finished second -- 11.4 seconds
behind. Ralf Schumacher, the winner's younger brother, was third in
a Williams BMW.
Canada's Jacques Villeneuve was fourth, giving the second-year
British American Racing team its first ever championship points.
Barrichello, who had the fastest time in the warmup, overtook
Michael Schumacher on the 45th lap, but pulled into the pits on the
next lap and allowed the German to regain the lead.
"I am delighted. I knew I could fight for the championship right from the start with this car, the F1-2000, and even though we did not qualify so well yesterday, I was not worried," Schumacher said. "I thought Mika could celebrate a pole -- and I would celebrate a win. And that is how it has worked out."
Schumacher's win was his 36th victory in his 129th Grand Prix and helped deliver Ferrari's first 1-2 finish since last year's controversial and spectacular triumph in Malaysia.
That result was cancelled on technical grounds but reinstated after appeal in Paris. This win increased Ferrari's total to a new record of 126 victories and it was their 47th 1-2 finish in world championship history.
"Toward the end I had no need to push," said Schumacher who came home comfortably with his one-stop strategy after Barrichello, on a two-stop race, had briefly led him in the closing laps before he made his second stop.
"I let Rubens pass as he had to make a second stop and he was fighting for second place. I am looking forward to the rest of the season as I am
sure we have a very competitive and reliable car and we know
what we want to do to develop it.
"It would have been interesting if those two other guys (the McLaren men) had not retired because I was looking forward to seeing how we raced against them in the final laps."
Barrichello was impressive all the way.
He recovered from a mediocre start -- Schumacher also started poorly and had to block fellow-German Heinz-Harald Frentzen in a Jordan -- to stay on the pace in the first outing by a Brazilian for Ferrari.
"I was stuck behind Frentzen," he said. "It is difficult to overtake here and he held me up, so the team decided to switch me from a one-stop strategy to two stops to get me ahead. It was a brilliant idea and it worked, even if Frentzen
For the second straight year, both McLarens retired after qualifying in the first row of the starting grid.
Hakkinen had a 2.6-second lead when he was forced to drop out.
"I was very happy with the car until I was forced to retire,"
said Hakkinen, who managed only six laps in practice Saturday due
to a mechanical problem. "Obviously, I'm disappointed to leave
Australia without any points."
Mercedes Motorsports boss Norbert Haug said the McLaren-Mercedes
problems were caused by a pneumatic valve problem that also
occurred during practice Saturday.
"It's a shame after all this testing that it's happened here,
but that's Formula One," Haug said. "Last year the season started
like this but we recovered."
Jaguar's long-awaited Formula One debut lasted six laps.
British driver Johnny Herbert's disastrous run in practice extended into the race, with his Jaguar failing to complete the first lap. Northern Ireland's Eddie Irvine, the 1999 Australian GP winner, was forced to retire when he pulled off the track as Arrows driver Pedro De La Rossa of Spain crashed in front of him.
Frentzen, and his teammate Italian Jarno Trulli, were also among 12 non-finishers out of 22 starters in a race of attrition which saw McLaren, Jaguar and Jordan teams -- all expected to do well -- fail to have a car finish.
Williams new boy Briton Jenson Button, 20, was also among the non-finishers, but after a stirring and sensible performance which saw him run as high as sixth before his car's BMW engine failed 11 laps from the end.
"It would have been nice to get a point," he said. "I wanted to do my best for myself and the team and I think I achieved that at least."
|The Ferrari crew celebrates Michael Schumacher's season-opening triumph.|| |
Button passes his first Formula One test