RALF SCHUMACHER captures a wild German Grand Prix

Sunday, July 29th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

HOCKENHEIM, Germany (AP) _ Ralf Schumacher won a wild German Grand Prix on his home track Sunday in a Formula One race marked by a crash that involved his brother and forced a restart.

Michael Schumacher, the defending series champion and points leader, was not injured. He quit in the 24th lap of a race in which only 10 cars finished.

He is seeking his fourth title and is one victory short of the record of 51 held by the retired Alain Prost, whose last win came in Hockenheim.

This was Ralf Schumacher's third victory of the season. He and his older brother are the only two Germans to win the German Grand Prix.

``I've had a lot of bad luck on this track, not always finishing in a good position, so it's a great feeling to win here in Germany,'' Ralf said. ``German package, German driver, German race _ a perfect scenario.''

After Michael Schumacher dropped out, pole-sitter Juan Montoya followed. Schumacher's only challenger for the title, David Coulthard, was the next to go. Mika Hakkinen also failed to finish.

Schumacher, winner of six races this year, retained his 37-points lead over Coulthard. There are five races left in the season and a maximum of 50 points to be gained. Schumacher could clinch the title at the next race, Aug. 19, in Hungary.

His brother moved into third place with 41 points. Michael has 84, Coulthard 47 and Rubens Barrichello is fourth at 40.

Ralf Schumacher started second and stayed behind his BMW-Williams teammate, Montoya, for the first half of the 45-lap race. He took advantage of the Colombian's botched pit stop and subsequent retirement to cruise to victory.

Barrichello, a Brazilian who won last year, came in second, 46.1 seconds behind. Former champion Jacques Villeneuve of Canada was third, equaling his best showing in three seasons with the BAR-Honda team.

``It feels great but that doesn't make us quicker for the coming races,'' Villeneuve said. ``If we keep our nose clean and we are very competitive we can do well.''

Giancarlo Fisichella of Italy was fourth and Benetton-Renault teammate Jenson Button fifth and Jean Alesi in a Prost-Acer was sixth.

The Grand Prix had to be restarted after a crash at the start involving Michael Schumacher and Luciano Burti.

Schumacher's Ferrari left the starting grid slowly from fourth position. As cars from down the grid passed the crawling Ferrari, Burti rammed it in his Prost.

Burti's car flipped, landed upside down, bounced up and turned over another time before sliding into the gravel and almost disintegrating. Schumacher and Burti talked as they walked away from the crash.

The accident left a lot of debris on the track. After bringing out the safety car, officials restarted the race 26 minutes later, again over 45 laps.

There was trouble even before the cars took their positions on the grid.

Fernando Alonso's Minardi was pushed back into the pits with smoke billowing, and teammate Tarso Marques could not get going. Both cars started from the pit lane, before the race was stopped.

All cars returned for the restart but Nick Heidfeld's Sauber and Pedro de la Rosa's Jaguar collided in the first corner, leaving them out of the race.

Hakkinen's car slowed suddenly in the 14th lap and the two-time former champion, who won here in 1998, had to retire. Hakkinen was coming off his first season victory at the British Grand Prix two weeks ago but this was the eighth time in 12 races he failed to finish.

``It's a real shame I was unable to finish the race,'' said Hakkinen, who was fourth at the time. ``All of a sudden, I felt a vibration behind me, saw smoke and the engine stopped.''

Montoya made his stop in lap 23, and it took mechanics 30 seconds to disengage the fuel nozzle. The Colombian banged his fist in the cockpit.

Michael Schumacher went in on lap 24 but could not complete another full lap, his Ferrari coming to a stop. Montoya was gone one lap later, smoke coming out of the back of his Williams.

His pit stop behind him, Ralf Schumacher then took the lead ahead of Barrichello and Coulthard.

Coulthard was the next to go, coming to a stop in the 28th lap.

``I was aware that a number of cars were retiring but unfortunately I added to that statistic when the engine let go immediately after my pit stop,'' Coulthard said. ``Hockenheim is a tough circuit.''

Ralf Schumacher covered the 45 laps on the 6.825-kilometer (4.241-mile) circuit in one hour, 18 minutes, 17.873 seconds, for an average speed of 235.351 kph (146.370 mph).

With huge leads, he and Barrichello eased off in the last few laps.

``I was almost crying just thinking of last year,'' Barrichello said of his first and only victory.