Monday May 28th, 2001
By Alan Baldwin
Ferrari's Michael Schumacher played it cool after winning his fifth Monaco Grand Prix on Sunday but he has every reason to feel satisfied with his weekend's work. Even if he does not score a point in Canada next week, the triple world champion scored a psychological blow in Monte Carlo that means he will still be Formula One leader when the season reaches the halfway stage.
After seven of the 17 races, the German is a comfortable 12 points clear of McLaren rival David Coulthard. And, as superstitious as any racing driver, he will also feel that fate is on his side after his most processional win so far this season on a twisting street circuit that can destroy cars and unsettle the unwary.
"Coulthard is a very strong adversary, this time he was unlucky. And I was a little bit lucky in consequence," said the German, who added that his wife had presented him with a lucky four-leaf clover she had found in the morning. He wore it in his red race suit.
Schumacher has taken 26 points from the last three races, a significant handful of them handed to him on a plate by rivals McLaren as a result of technical failures. In Spain last month, Mika Hakkinen's clutch went when the Finn had only five bends to negotiate for victory.
In Monaco, David Coulthard's McLaren stalled on the formation lap, for the second time in two races, forcing him to move from pole position to the back of the grid.
Schumacher had been on pole in the last race in Austria but suffered starting problems of his own, making a slightly delayed manual getaway. He eventually came second, behind Coulthard, after teammate Rubens Barrichello obeyed team orders and let him through.
"After the half disappointment of Austria, we needed this blow," said Schumacher. "The problems suffered first by Coulthard and then Hakkinen certainly simplified things but I would still have had a chance of winning anyway."
Coulthard was the fastest driver all weekend and harboured a reasonable expectation of winning for the second year running in Monaco to possibly even take the lead in the title race. Instead he gathered only two points for his efforts.
McLaren, a team with a proud reputation for meticulous organisation and attention to detail but whose cars have now stalled four times at the start this season, can ill afford such failures. Ironically, Coulthard has the best record of any driver so far this season as the only one to have scored in every race.
"The championship remains completely open," said McLaren boss Ron Dennis, who confronted Brazilian Arrows driver Enrique Bernoldi and accused him of holding up Coulthard for half the race.
But that incident, with Bernoldi under no obligation to allow the Scot past, only served to hide the fact that Coulthard's tally has been hit by his own car's unreliability above all.
"What can we do? We can't turn back the clock," said Coulthard, suffering from a chest infection and making no real attempt to put a gloss on his situation.
"I'm pretty disappointed because I've worked very hard for the last few days and I haven't been feeling 100 percent and I've had to dig very deep in myself to get the performance and I'm doing everything I can to try and fight for the championship.
"I know I've had very good reliability and I've finished every Grand Prix," said Coulthard. "But equally there's been good points given away through technical issues and as a team we're all very disappointed now."
Dennis insisted before the race that McLaren would not impose team orders, something that would currently be meaningless since the team has only three times got both its cars to the end of a race so far this season. But Ferrari have done so in a move that allows Schumacher to be completely focused on the task in hand.
"After seven races, it could be that Hakkinen with just four points is out of the running," said Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo. "But nothing decisive has happened. We have great respect for our rivals. But we have been the more reliable. And our cars, touch wood, do not break easily."