Formula one, 2001 season European Grand Prix at the Nurburgring: Race Report by jpoc

As the teams prepared for the European Grand Prix, many people's hopes centred around the reliability of the Williams cars. It was almost a case of wondering what could go wrong this time. Both drivers had an uneventful warm up and seemed to be set for the race. Indeed, the warm up was a fairly uneventful time for all and everyone looked set for the race.

One man to have problems as race time approached was Michael Schumacher. He left the pits to make his way around to the dummy grid and his Ferrari ground to a halt part way round the lap. He pulled off the track and hopped onto a nearby machine to ride back to the pits. Amusingly, it was one of the new BMW semi enclosed scooters and so it was that both Schumacher brothers needed BMW power to get them onto the grid for the race. Presumably Ferrari will in future line the circuits with stretegically placed Lambrettas.

Once everyone was on the dummy grid and the start time arrived, the cars set off on the formation lap. Tarso Marques had a lot of trouble getting away but he was at the back of the grid so he didn't inconvenience anyone else as he set off to catch up.

Then, the start proper came around and everyone got away cleanly. Up at the front, the two Schumachers got away well with Ralf, starting slightly better attempting to pass Michael on the right. The Ferrari chopped ruthlessly over to the right forcing his brother to either back off or hit the pit lane wall. Was that legal? It was certainly dangerous and unsporting but he got away with it. I was reminded of Alain Prost's comment when Senna pulled a similar stunt. Alain said that if Ayrton needed the win so much that he would rather die than come second, then he could have it.

In the end, nobody made contact and all of the cars got through the first turn OK though one Minardi was well onto the grass.

Barrichello and Frentzen both made poor starts and dropped down the order. Rubens was back behind Trulli and Frentzen lost out to both Saubers and Heidfeld managed to pass his team mate in the melee. Once things had settled down, the order was Michael, Ralf, Montoya, Coulthard, Hakkinen, Trulli, Barrichello, Heidfeld, Raikkonen, Frentzen, Irvine, Villeneuve, Fisichella, Verstappen, de la Rosa, Bernoldi, Panis, Button, Alesi, Burti, Alonso and Marques. Tarso Marques soon dropped out and some gaps began to appear at the front of the field and it looked as though little would happen until the pit stops. A perfect arrangement indeed for the TV companies who needed a predictable quiet period for a nice long advertising break.

Michael Schumacher really had the hammer down. Perhaps afraid of superior pit strategy on the part of brother Ralf, he needed a good cushion before it was time to pit. Further back, little was happening. Irvine managed to close on Frentzen for a while but the German was later able to pull clear. Panis, some way further back than he would have expected was looking for a way past Bernoldi

After Michael set a string of fastest laps, Ralf's Michelins began to come back into shape and he was able to start to close the gap a little and then by a significant amount as he set fastest lap and finally he was in a position to start showing his nose to Michael on the inside of turn four.

The arrival of Michelin's second wind allowed Montoya to start to close up as well and he set a lap even faster than his team mate as he set about chasing down the leaders. Irvine also made good use of his tyres and closed back up on Frentzen, Burti pitted and Raikkonen was suddeny all over the back of his team mate and now was clearly no time for an advertising break.

While Montoya, running in clean air continued to set fastest laps, Ralf was stuck to the back of his brother's Ferrari but he could not find a way past. Like the Schumachers, Frentzen and Irvine were going through the chicane seemingly glued nose to tail but for whatever reason, neither of the two chasers could turn this into an overtaking opportunity. They had dropped backl a little as the exited the last corner onto the straight and then could not get enough of a tow to pass before the Esses. The chicane was turning out to be an interesting place to spectate as both Hakkinen and Fisichella straighlined it on the same lap.

The slower drivers started to make their pit stops, Panis put it into the gravel and was out and Montoya kept on setting fastest laps as he closed the gap to the duelling brothers down to four seconds but the real interest was on the pit stops up front. It was clear that Ralf could go faster than his brother and so, to neutralise any advantage, it was vital that the Ferrari stopped at the same time as the Williams but how could they do that?

Michael had the answer and it was the kind of move that he seems to be able to invent out of nowhere. On lap 28 the two were almost nose to tail as they approached the pit entry. Michael went past it and Ralf dived in but his brother was clearly watching his mirrors. He jinked over to the right, crossed over the red and white divider between the track and the pit entry and there he was, ahead of his brother in the pit lane! Ralf must have been feeling sick indeed. Michael made it out first and was lucky indeed that Coulthard was between him and Ralf. A lap later, Montoya stopped and Michael was leading again and pulling out a gap on Coulthard who was thus slowing Ralf. By the time that Ralf found a way past the McLaren, his brother was already four seconds up the road.

By the time that the race had reached half distance and the drivers making a single stop had also all pitted, we had another seemingly random variable in the equation. Ralf had exited the pitlane and crossed onto the track too soon and had passed the unbroken white line which separates the last part of the pit lane from the track. He was given the customary ten seconds stop go penalty and all hope that he could challenge his brother during the second stops had gone. Irvine, who had made his single stop had managed to pass Frentzen while the latter was making his first stop. The Jaguar driver was by then up into 11th place and he had the advantage that most of the cars ahead of him had still to make another pit stop.

That was about it as far as interest up at the front was concerned. The leaders pitted with no incident and no changes in position. Ralf's second stop dropped him back behind Coulthard though. In the run to the finish, we lost both Jordans. Trulli expired in a cloud of smoke and Frentzen spun and stopped exiting the hairpin. It looked as though his traction control had failed. Barricheallo was luckier: spinning and resuming without losing a place. That just about put the cap on a poor race for the Brazillian for whom a single pitstop strategy did not work out as well as it did for Coulthard.

Heidfeld and Verstappen both stopped and then, right at the death, Alesi lost it trying to pass Raikkonen and that was it. Another decisive win for Schumacher who really looked as though nobody was going to be able to challenge him over the full season. Finally, we saw another finish for Montoya and the top six was packed with the cars from the top three teams. That left seventh placed Eddie Irvine in seventh place. It's tough for drivers not in one of the top three teams. If none of their six cars has a problem, it is almost impossible to see how the rest can score even one point.

After the race, the two Schumacher brothers exchanged heated words over Michael's manouvre at the start. Really though there was little to be done. The rules allow such moves and it was clear that Michael would be swayed by nobody. Not even his brother.


The whole 2001 season All the races and the behind the scenes games
GP of Europe at the Nurburgring June 24th Setting the scene
GP of Europe at the Nurburgring June 24th Off track developments
GP of Europe at the Nurburgring June 24th Practice and qualifying
GP of Europe at the Nurburgring June 24th The starting grid
GP of Europe at the Nurburgring June 24th Results
GP of Europe at the Nurburgring June 24th Championship standings after the race
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