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Schumacher, Ferrari Have Good Start

March 27, 2000

SAO PAULO, Brazil (AP) _ When Michael Schumacher joined Ferrari in 1996, he promised to win the Formula One championship within two years and become the first driver to do so since 1979.

However, Schumacher was unable to deliver on his promise to repeat the performance of Jody Scheckter, the last Ferrari driver to win a world championship.

But judging from Schumacher’s victories in this season’s first two races _ Australia and Brazil _ he might be on his way to giving the Italian team its first driver’s championship in 21 years.

For the past two years, Schumacher’s and Ferrari’s dreams were thwarted by the superior McLaren cars driven by defending champion Mika Hakkinen and teammate David Coulthard.

Coulthard finished second in Sunday’s Brazilian Grand Prix, but was disqualified because of a technical irregularity in his car’s front wing. Today, McLaren said it would appeal the disqualification.

``We are looking very competitive and the season could not have started better,″ Schumacher said after winning Sunday’s race at Jose Carlos Pace track. ``Our development program means we will have an improved car.″

Schumacher completed the 71-lap race at an average speed of 124.524 mph.

While Ferrari seems to have solved the problems that have dogged it for years, McLaren now appears to be losing the superiority it enjoyed the past two years.

The McLaren cars broke down in Melbourne after leading the race for several laps. In Brazil, Coulthard was DQ’d and Hakkinen dropped out with oil pressure problems.

``We were quick throughout the weekend, so I’m not happy to leave Brazil without any points,″ Hakkinen said. ``We have some work to do before the start of the European season.″

Coulthard lost his third gear and communications system, but wound up only 4.302 seconds behind Schumacher. Then came the disqualification.

Jo Bauer, the Formula One technical delegate of FIA, the governing body of auto racing, said the front wing was ``only 43 millimeters instead of 50 millimeters above the reference plane ... exceeding the permitted tolerance of 5 millimeters.″

With Coulthard’s disqualification, Italy’s Giancarlo Fisichella of the Benetton team moved from third to second, followed by Germany’s Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Jordan teammate Jano Trulli of Italy.

Pole-sitter Hakkinen took the early lead, closely followed by Schumacher. But the defending champion’s lead only lasted until the start of the second lap, when Schumacher overtook him.

At about the same time, Schumacher’s teammate, Rubens Barrichello, sped into contention.

Encouraged by close to 70,000 cheering, flag-waving fans, the hometown hero finally overtook him on the 15th lap.

When Schumacher went in for his first pit stop, after completing his 20th lap, the crowd went wild as Barrichello shot into the lead followed by Hakkinen.

Barrichello pitted in the 22nd lap, and Hakkinen assumed the lead. The Brazilian returned to the track about 11 seconds later in fourth place behind Coulthard, who by then had lost his third gear.

Any hopes of seeing Barrichello become the first Brazilian to win the race since Ayrton Senna in 1993 ended on the 27th lap when the Ferrari driver dropped out with problems in his car’s hydraulic system.

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