Ralf Schumacher captures first GP career win

Sunday, April 15th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

IMOLA, Italy (AP) _ Ralf Schumacher captured his first Formula One career victory driving a Williams-BMW car to an almost unchallenged triumph in Sunday's San Marino Grand Prix.

It was the first GP win for the British team Williams since September 1997, ending a 22-race winning streak by either Ferrari or McLaren drivers.

The 25-year-old German driver clinched a prestigious win on his 70th GP start leading every lap of the 62-lap race.

He beat David Coulthard by 4.3 seconds and third-place Rubens Barrichello by 34.7 seconds in the fourth Championship race at the Ferrari home circuit in Imola.

Schumacher, starting from the second row behind the all-McLaren Mercedes front row of Coulthard and Mika Hakkinen, was off to a flashing start, almost driving into the grass whith the left wheels of his car to pass Coulthard.

He led the pole sitter by one second after the first lap and steadily stretched his advantage, holding first place after two pit stops.

Ralf's elder brother, reigning world champion Michael Schumacher, withdrew during his 24th lap to the disappointment of thousands of Ferrari fans who had been hoping of his third season win after Australia and Malaysia.

Ralf smiled broadly as someone suggested that he had learned a lot from watching his brother Michael putting together 46 GP wins and three world titles in 148 GP races.

``I had a great start, I pushed hard throughout the initial laps ... then it was a pretty long race. It was a lucky day. We had some bad luck in the previous races,'' Schumacher said.

``Michael came up after the race to say I did a good job. He congratulated me for the big day ... I think we will have a big party tonight.''

Sunday's runnerup finish lifted Coulthard, winner of the previous race in Brazil, into a first-place tie with Michael Schumacher in the championship points, at 26.

Ralf Schumacher, whose previous best had been a 2nd place behind his brother in the 1999 Italian GP, piled up 12 points, two behind Barrichello.

The podium finish of the Brazilian driver salvaged an otherwise disappointing day for the home team Ferrari.

Both Ferrari drivers were off the a bad start and struggled in the first portion of the race. The world champion withdrew during his 24th lap with apparent suspension problems, after pitting to replace a flat tire.

In absence of Michael on the podium, most Ferrari fans cheered and played horns and trumpets to celebrate the ``other'' Schumacher at the award ceremony.

Other top finishers included two-time world champion Hakkinen, fourth with a gap of 36.3 seconds, and Jordan-Honda's teammates Jarno Trulli and Heinz-Harald Frentzen who placed fifth and sixth respectively.

Frentzen was the first of the lapped finishers.

Coulthard said that when the lights changed at the start ``I was not really ready, I had too much rear spin and at that point Ralf was already passing me.''

``I don't think I would be able to pull away with a good start .... I don't think the result could have been different,'' Coulthard added.

Colombian rookie Juan Pablo Montoya, the winner's teammate, was penalized by a long pit stop as his car engine stalled and withdrew in the 49th lap with clutch problems.

After holding fifth place for several laps at Imola, Montoya failed to finish in his fourth consecutive Grand Prix but still staged some daring overtakings.