Tuesday May 22nd, 2001
By Alan Baldwin
Ferrari's Michael Schumacher can put recent controversy behind him on Sunday by winning Formula One's most glamorous Grand Prix for the fifth time.
The triple world champion needs a decisive victory in Monaco after two sensational races in which the points may have fallen into his lap but others have walked away with the plaudits.
But he must beware McLaren's David Coulthard, four points adrift in the standings after taking the last race in Austria and now clearly the German's main title rival after two impressive wins this season.
Schumacher has won three races in 2001 but his celebrations in Spain were muted by the inescapable fact that he was handed a surprise victory by the McLaren of Mika Hakkinen breaking down on the last lap while comfortably ahead. He was runner-up in Austria but again there were few smiles on the podium afterwards.
Instead, Ferrari endured a barrage of media criticism for ordering Brazilian Rubens Barrichello to slow down and let his teammate go through on the last lap.
That race was also marked by chaos at the start after four cars were left stranded on the grid by faulty electronic 'launch control' systems introduced this season. If such problems happen again at Sunday's start in Monaco's cramped conditions, they could spell disaster.
Schumacher, who has been on pole three times in Monaco before now and can expect to be there again after being fastest in five out of six qualifying sessions so far this season, sounded more optimistic.
"I don't think it will be any riskier than in the past," said the German, who had to make a manual start in Austria after troubles with the Ferrari system. "After what happened at the A1 Ring, many of the drivers will pay even more attention to the way they tackle the start procedure.
"Let's hope first that I get pole and then that nothing happens to me at the start," Schumacher said.
Pole position at Monaco is crucial since overtaking is extremely difficult. Another triumph for Schumacher would put him level with the late Briton Graham Hill, who earned the nickname of "Mr Monaco" with his five wins on the street circuit, and one behind Brazilian Ayrton Senna's six.
"Traditionally, I have always gone well in Monte Carlo," Schumacher said. "On top of that, we have a great car this year and so I think we will be very competitive in our fight with McLaren for pole position and the win."
Coulthard, who won in Monaco last year and also lives in the Mediterranean principality, has other thoughts and sees a great chance to wrest the overall lead from the German. McLaren have won the race eleven times, more than any other constructor.
"Last year's race was very special to me as, along with the majority of drivers, Monaco is one of the tracks where I had always wanted to win," the Scot said. "Naturally I am aiming to do the same this year."
With no team orders in place at McLaren, Coulthard will also have to keep a wary eye on teammate Hakkinen. The two-time world champion won in what amounts to his home town in 1998 and also claimed the lap record there last year as he fought back from a poor grid position.
The Williams drivers could also be a threat on a track that should see faster times due to the introduction of traction control, ideal for Monaco's tight hairpins.
"I think it should be an interesting race for us," said Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya, who raced the circuit in Formula 3000 and was on the front row of the grid with Schumacher in Austria.
It will be even more interesting if that happens again after the two almost collided at the A1 Ring.