Schumacher wins crash-shortened race; takes points lead
MONTREAL (AP) _ The Canadian Grand Prix was not the race most of the record crowd came to see.
More than 100,000 turned out Sunday, hoping to watch local hero Jacques Villeneuve win on the race track named after his late father, Gilles.
Instead, they saw Villeneuve sidelined by an uncharacteristic mistake after only two laps. That helped Michael Schumacher _ his closest rival for the Formula One championship _ win a race cut short by 15 laps because of a nasty looking accident.
Frenchman Olivier Panis hurtled off a concrete barrier into a tire wall, breaking his broken lower right leg. Officials said Panis, who drives for Prost-Mugen Honda, was conscious and in stable condition at a Montreal hospital.
``I hate to win a race like that, and I feel badly for Olivier,″ said Schumacher, who also took the series points lead from Villeneuve with his second win of the season and the 24th of his career.
The German driver took the lead moments before Panis crashed when David Coulthard’s strategy _ that only moments before appeared to all but assure him of a victory _ failed because of a stalled engine.
As Coulthard’s crew tried desperately to restart his McLaren-Mercedes, Schumacher drove into the lead and Panis crashed.
He was carried by safety workers to the side of the track, where medical personnel worked over him for several minutes while a safety car led the rest of the field slowly around the 2.747-mile, 15-turn Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on Montreal’s Notre Dame Island.
Two laps later, at the completion of lap 54, a red flag ended the event. The last time a Formula One event was cut short by accident was at Estoril, Portugal, on Sept. 23, 1990, when Alex Caffi crashed 10 laps from the scheduled finish.
The last time an F1 race was stopped short was at Adelaide, Australia on Nov. 3, 1991 when rain halted the action after only 14 of 81 laps. Only half points were awarded.
The big crowd, hoping to see hometown hero Villeneuve get his first Canadian Grand Prix win, was as disappointed as the 26-year-old racer himself.
The frustrated Villeneuve, who finished second last year as a rookie, locked his brakes and slid into a concrete barrier in the last turn before the main straight. He clapped his hands in frustration, scrambled out of the car and slapped his hands on his helmet twice as he walked toward his team’s garage.
``I went into the corner a little bit fast and lost it,″ Villeneuve said. ``It was a beginner’s mistake, I guess, so it’s very annoying. ... It was amazing how slippery it was.
``It surprised me. When the car went, that surprised me, too, because I didn’t think I was going into the corner too fast. This is going to be a hard one to swallow.
Schumacher understood Villeneuve’s frustration.
``It can happen,″ Schumacher said. ``We push hard. Sometimes you do a bit too much. But I was a little surprised. Top drivers don’t spin off too often.″
The race turned into a strategic battle between the Ferrari of pole-winner Schumacher and Coulthard, who started fifth. Both wound up having problems with blisters and wear on their Goodyear tires.
``We did everything to keep the tires alive for the distance but, obviously, it wasn’t enough,″ Schumacher said.
Schumacher, who previously won the Canadian race in 1994, led until he made his first pit stop on lap 28, giving up the top spot to Coulthard. The Scottish driver had moved to second place on lap 25, when Giancarlo Fisichella made his first pit stop.
Coulthard, who has two previous Formula One victories, stayed on the track until lap 40, and appeared ready to go to the end without another stop. But tire wear became a problem as the race went on.
Schumacher, losing ground because of blistered tires, was forced to make an unscheduled third pit stop on lap 51. He fell nearly 32 seconds behind Coulthard, who then decided he had a big enough margin to stop for fresh tires and retain the lead.
But problems with his clutch led to the stalled engine, and Schumacher drove by to take the lead. Coulthard wound up just outside the points in seventh, the last car on the lead lap.
``We were running a one-stop strategy, but my second set of tires were blistering badly, so I came in for a precautionary stop,″ Coulthard said. ``Unfortunately, even though the team had checked that we had no problems with the transmission or the gearbox on the telemetry, the clutch did not disengage, which led to me stalling the engine.
``I ultimately managed to restart, but by this time the safety car was out and the race was effectively over.″
Jean Alesi, another former Canada winner, finished second in a Benetton-Renault, followed by Villeneuve’s Williams-Renault teammate Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Johnny Herbert in a Sauber Petronas and Panis’ teammate Shinji Nakano, in the other Prost-Mugen Honda.
Schumacher, who came into the race three points behind Villeneuve in the standings, now leads 37-30 over the Canadian. Panis, expected to be out of action for up to three months, remained third with 15 points.