TACH SPECIAL: Ferrari Scores 1-2 Finish In Wild Malaysia Grand Prix
By David Treffer
March 19, 2001
Contributing Editor, The Auto Channel
"Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good!" That saying which golf analyst Ken Venturi is often quoted, could well sum up Michael Schumacher's weekend in Malaysia. The three-time and current F1 world champion had more good luck in this race than he could have ever wished for. Considering that St. Patrick's Day celebrations were still underway in some parts of the world when Schumacher took the checkered flag, perhaps on this day Schumacher had some leprechaun working in his pit crew or at the very least a shamrock in his pocket.
Consider these quick lucky facts:
On the reconnaissance lap Schumacher decides to switch to his back-up car over concern that oil is leaking from his primary car. Rather than be relegated to pit row for a start, Schumacher benefits from a miscue by Benetton driver Giancarlo Fisichella when he misses his grid box. The miscue meant that the start would be aborted. Under the rulebook, the field is allowed to recycle to where they were upon initiation of the reconnaissance lap.
The race finally gets underway!
Schumacher making the most of a second chance immediately jumped out to an incredible start. Behind him, Rubens Barichello and Ralf Schumacher had a tussle for second place going into the first turn. The two drivers tried to share the same space. Fortunately both drivers recovered from the incident and were able to continue. Schumacher was fortunate that all of the ensuing cars missed as he regained control of his spinning car
On lap three, the two Ferrari drivers arrive to turn six only to find the track coated with oil from the soon to be retired car of Olivier Panis. Both cars survive this scare. Then the foreboding cloudy skies open up. To describe the conditions as raining would be an insult. It was a downpour. The rain flooded the track which left cars spinning, weaving and for the lucky ones, dodging their way back to the pits. Thankfully no one was hurt during the bedlam but five drivers were done for the day. Even Schumacher "The Rain Meister" spun off the track. Finding his way back to the pits the decision of the day was made. Ferrari elected to send their cars back onto the track with intermediate tires. Every other team went to full wets. That one decision made the difference in the race in spite of the fact that Ferrari's pit stop for both Schumacher and Barrichello was dreadful. Despite the fact that the interminable pit stop cost both drivers valuable positions in the field, the two Ferrari drivers resumed the race in 10th and 11th place.
The race went back to green on lap 10. Immediately, the other competitors realized that Ferrari had, at least in the short term, made a very wise decision. Schumacher and Barrichello were turning laps that were three to four seconds faster than anyone else. By lap 20, Schumacher and Barrichello had overtaken both Jos Verstappen and race leader David Coulthard to assume command of the race.
The anticipated next weather front never materialized. The race weather conditions went from deluge to dry to damp and finally to dry conditions all in the span of 1 hour and forty-five minutes.
Schumacher basically made a mockery of the rest of the race. The only battle in the top six positions that was noteworthy was the dice between Ralf Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen. The BMW driver was able to hold off the challenges from the two-time world champion McLaren driver.
The final results had Schumacher scoring an impressive victory. The triumph in Malaysia was his sixth in a row and started the press buzzing about the fact that Schumacher was only three more victories away from tying Alberto Ascari's record of nine straight victories. Rubens Barrichello giving Ferrari a 1-2 took second place. McLaren driver David Coulthard took third while Jordan driver Heinz-Harald Frentzen brought home some more points for Jordan and Honda. The top six were rounded out by Ralf Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen.
The hard luck drive of the day award went to Arrows driver Jos Verstappen who had worked his way from 18th to 3rd. When the day was finally over, Verstappen finished in seventh. Forced to break off his race with Frentzen for fourth position, Verstappen was passed by Schumacher and Hakkinen while pitting for fuel.
Michael Schumacher Ferrari 20
David Coulthard McLaren 10
Rubens Barrichello Ferrari 10
Heinz Harald-Frentzen Jordan 5
Nick Heidfeld Sauber 3
Ralf Schumacher Williams 2