Formula one, 2001 season French Grand Prix at Magny-Cours: The Race the jpoc report

Everyone turned out for the warm up without any problems. McLaren and Ferrari were at the top of the timesheets, Williams were some way down and Jaguar were up in the top ten. Not that this means a lot, it just indicates what data different teams are trying to find out as they finalise their race strategy for the afternoon.

When the race time arrived, we were treated to what had become a sad but familiar sight. Another stalled McLaren. This time, it was Hakkinen and he was unable to pull away for the formation lap. The team's mechanics worked in the pit lane to try and start the car but it would not run and, yet again, a McLaren was out not turning a wheel in the race. Another man in trouble on the formation lap was Pedro de la Rosa who struggled even to complete that lap as his electronic throttle decided to do a McLaren on him. With the help of his pit crew over the radio, he did get going in the end albeit a lap down.

At least there were no further problems when the lights went green and racing began. Despite Coulthard's best efforts, the top three were away in grid order. Behing them, Montoya and Barrichello put the Jordan team in its place. It was straightforward for Juan Pablo as the lack of Hakkinen's McLaren gave him a clear road to pass Trulli. Barrichello was directly behind the Colombian and as the Williams moved up into Hakkinen's place, Rubens was able to pass Frentzen and use the momentum to gain position on Trulli as well.

Directly behind all of this, Villeneuve had found a way past Heidfeld and at the back, Button had made it past team mate Fisichella. Heidfeld also lost a place to his team mate but then both Saubers were promoted one spot as Villeneuve slowed, pulled off and retired with an electrical fault.

Unlike his team mate, Ralf Schumacher had opted for the softer Michelin option and he had opened up a small gap to his brother. Indeed, there were gaps between all of the cars behind him until Frentzen who was under a lot of pressure from Raikkonen and then another three places back, Panis was fending off Irvine.

Up front, the two Schumachers were trading fastest laps but there seemed to be little prospect of an overtaking manouvre and in fact after the opening lap or two, there was little to report until the first pit stops arrived.

Raikkonen's early stop made a lot of sense. He was stuck behind Frentzen and looked to have no chance of finding a way past. Irvine had a go at Panis but he did little but validate Raikkonen's decision to pit. Close as he could get, and clearly faster as he was, Irvine could not make a move on Panis stick.

There was now a steady stream of cars heading for their first pit stops. Both Benettons, Barrichello and Heidfeld all stopped and then suddenly, in a manouvre that was truely breathtaking, Irvine found a way past Panis at the last corner. Olivier really didn't see it coming and it was one of those seemingly impossible passes that we see just once or twice a year. Certainly it rivaled Montoya passing Schumacher in Brazil as the best piece of overtaking of the year so far. Irvine immediately pulled out two and a half seconds which is a bit of an indictment of the French circuit if a driver who is so much faster can only pass with such a manouvre.

Alesi, Panis, Ralf and Michael Schumacher then all pitted in succession. That left Coulthard and Montoya at the front but they had yet to stop and behind the real news was that Ferrari had managed to get Michael out ahead of Ralf. The Williams driver had basically just spent too long in the pits. In part, he brought the car to a halt one metre off position which slowed things down but also, the Williams mechanics had a problem with the car's right rear wheel. Those two factors gave the edge to Michael Schumacher and it was an advantage that the elder brother would not relinquish.

Motoya stayed out, in the lead on his hard compound tyres for some while and, when he pitted and resumed in fifth place, it seemed that is would be possible to start to work out how the race was shaping up. Things were changed again though as it was anounced that Coulthard had received a ten second penalty for pit lane speeding. It was all down to his disengaging the limiter too soon as he came out of the pits and it put him back into fifth place ahead of Trulli.

Up at the front, Micahel Schumacher was steadily easing clear of his brother and, short of a mishap, it was clear the the race victor was already decided. Ralf's second set of tyres were substantially below par and there was basically nothing that he could do. By lap 40, the gap was up to fifteen seconds and the order was Micahel Schumacher, Ralf Schumacher, Juan Pablo Montoya, Rubens Barrichello, David Coulthard, Jarno Trulli, Nick Heidfeld, Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Eddie Irvine, Kimi Raikkonen, Olivier Panis, Luciano Burti, Giancarlo Fisichella, Jenson Button, Jean Alesi, Jos Verstappen, Fernando Alonso, Tarso Marques and the delayed Pedro de la Rosa.

As Raikkonen made his second pit stop, Frentzen was really feeling the pressure from Irvine and eventually he straightlined the chicane in an attempt to fend off the Jaguar. Realiseing that this would lead to a penalty, Frentzen then slowed to allow Irvine past and then it was the turn of the front runners to pit.

Micahel and Ralf emerged in that order behind Montoya the new race leader. For a while, Montoya managed to increase the gap to Micahel Schumacher from three and a half to a little over five seconds.

Between laps 46 and 49, Frentzen, Verstappen, Trulli, Irvine, Alsesi, Burti and Montoya all pitted and Frentzen compounded an unimpressive day with a spin at the last turn. He got going again behind Raikkonen.

Montoya resumed in fourth which became third a lap later when Coulthard made his second pit stop. DC resumed in fifth behind Ralf but those two both gained a place a lap later as Montoya slowed and parked a rather smoky Williams. Coulthard put the hammer down and set fastest lap in a bid to be in front of Barrichello when the second Ferrari driver made his last stop but David could not do enough and by the time that the front runners had all made their final stops, the order was Micahel Schumacher, Ralf Schumacher, Rubens Barrichello, David Coulthard, Jarno Trulli and Nick Heidfeld. Essentially the same as at mid point apart from Montoya's retirement.

The closing laps were largely uneventful. Irvine retired, de la Rosa overtook Marques to demote the Minardi man to his customary last place. Coulthard tried to keep the spectators awake by shadowing Barrichello but he never looked like passing him though he got quite close once at the hairpin and that was it.

Jean Todt was biting back the tears at Michael Schumacher's 50th victory and Jean Alsei was doing donuts out on the track. Perhaps, it was a farewell to the French spectators. For Williams, Ralf's second place takes him up into third position in the driver's championship and puts him within striking distance of David Coulthard.

The race was a real disaster for Benetton. The new engine turned out to be little better than its predecessor and Button and Fisichella trailed round outside the top ten all race long. Button finally spun out in the closing stages of the race.


The whole 2001 season All the races and the behind the scenes games
GP of France at Magny-Cours July 1st Off track developments
GP of France at Magny-Cours July 1st Setting the scene
GP of France at Magny-Cours July 1st Practice and qualifying
GP of France at Magny-Cours July 1st The starting grid
GP of France at Magny-Cours July 1st Results
GP of France at Magny-Cours July 1st Championship standings after the race
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