Schumacher Wins Fifth Grand Prix

Sunday, March 4th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — World champion Michael Schumacher led from start to finish Sunday to win an Australian Grand Prix marred by the death of a track marshal and injuries to seven spectators during a fifth-lap crash.

Schumacher continued the Ferrari dominance established last year by holding off the second-place McLaren of David Coulthard by 1.7 seconds in the opening race of the Formula One season.

The marshal, from Queensland state, was killed during a crash between Jacques Villeneuve and Ralf Schumacher. Last September at the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, 33-year-old Paolo Ghislimberti, a volunteer track official, was killed when hit by flying debris after a five-car crash at the race.

It was the second death at a major race in two weeks. NASCAR great Dale Earnhardt was killed in a final-lap crash at the Daytona 500 on Feb. 18.

A somber Schumacher announced the death of the marshal, identified only as a man in his 50s, at his post-race news conference. Initial reports said the marshal was severely injured when hit by one of the tires that flew off Villeneuve's car, and died later in the hospital.

Race official Peter Hansen said seven other people sustained minor injuries and were treated at a first aid post and discharged. Hansen said the marshal's daughter was at the track.

``Unfortunately, we have just been told of the marshal's death,'' Michael Schumacher. ``We are all shocked about this. We need to look from our side to see what kind of support we can give but certainly everybody is very much down.''

Schumacher's winning time was 1 hour, 38 minutes, 26.533 seconds, an average speed of 115.718 mph.

He got a good start on the 3.29-mile Albert Park temporary road course and held a 1.33-second lead over McLaren rival Mika Hakkinen after two laps.

But Hakkinen, the 1998 winner, went out of the race on lap 26 of the 59-lap race when his McLaren spun out of control after an apparent mechanical failure and hit the wall. Hakkinen was checked for a concussion but was cleared of any other injuries.

With Hakkinen gone, Schumacher's lead increased to more than 10 seconds over Ferrari teammate Rubens Barrichello in second place.

Coulthard passed Barrichello on lap 33, but by that point, Schumacher had increased his lead to more than 15 seconds. He relinquished the lead briefly when he pitted on lap 37 ahead of Coulthard and after both had made pit stops Schumacher held an eight-second lead.

Coulthard chipped away at Schumacher's lead late in the race but the German held on for his second consecutive win in Australia.

Barrichello was third and Villeneuve's teammate Olivier Panis was fourth.

In the accident, Villeneuve's BAR Honda rode up the back of the Williams of Ralf Schumacher. The impact threw Villeneuve's car into the air, hitting the top of the fence and nearly catapulting it over into spectators.

Villeneuve's car lost all four wheels before hurtling down the concrete barrier, spewing parts of his car along the way.

``Ralf was in the center of the track and I didn't know which way he was going to go,'' said Villeneuve. ``By the time I went to the outside, it was too late.''

Ralf Schumacher said he was surprised to have been rammed from behind.

``I just braked into turn 4 and all of a sudden I was KO'd up the back. I don't think Jacques knew which way he was going to go and he just crashed into me.''

``It was a mistake that can happen. I just wanted to make sure that we both got out of there unhurt.''

Ralf Schumacher extended his sympathy to the family of the dead marshal.

``I am awfully sorry that a man who was looking after our safety was killed today,'' said Ralf Schumacher. ``My deepest sympathy goes out to his relatives and friends.''

Formula One rookie Juan Pablo Montoya, making the switch from the IndyCar series, retired from the race with engine failure on lap 40.

Michael Schumacher, in his 10th season, now has 45 career wins and needs just seven more to break the Formula One record of 51 held by Alain Prost.

He's also edging closer to the nine consecutive wins recorded by Italian Alberto Ascari in the 1952-53 seasons. The five wins in a row ties him for second overall with three other drivers — Australian Jack Brabham in 1960, Britain's Jim Clark in 1965 and Nigel Mansell of Britain in 1992.

It is also his 15th career win from the pole position, a mark held by Ayrton Senna with 29. Michael Schumacher won the last four races of 2000, all of them from pole position.

The result also continues the Formula One domination held by Ferrari or McLaren. Since the end of the 1997 season, only four of 50 races have been won by teams from outside the big two — Jordan has three of them (Belgium 1998 and France and Italy in 1999) while Stewart has the other — the 1999 European Grand Prix.