Michael Schumacher had a message for his fans at the European Grand Prix as he won for the first time in a Ferrari in his native Germany at the famed Nurburgring on Sunday.
"I have seen my fans standing here for three days in the bad weather and I hope this win has warmed their hearts a bit," Schumacher said.
He also had a message for his McLaren opponents, Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard. Don't expect to beat Schumacher in the rain.
Schumacher played a patient waiting game in the rain and captured his fourth race of the season and 39th of his career.
"I knew all weekend we will be strong and strong enough for victory," Schumacher said. "Everything went perfect."
When it started raining about 10 laps into the race, it was just a matter of time for Schumacher to exert his superiority.
It was the first race of the season that was competed under rainy conditions although the practices and qualifying were done in clear weather.
Two-time world champion Hakkinen was second in his McLaren-Mercedes, more than 13 seconds behind. He was leading at the start and in the middle of the 67-lap race but lost the lead for good when he had to come in for a second pit stop at the end of 45 laps.
Coulthard was third, more than a lap back.
Rubens Barrichello was fourth in the other Ferrari with Giancarlo Fisichella fifth in a Benneton-Playlife and Pedro de la Rosa sixth in an Arrows-Supertec.
Schumacher still leads the drivers’ standings after six races with 46 points. Hakkinen is second with 28 and Coulthard third with 24.
Schumacher had won the first three races of the season before Coulthard and Hakkinen paced McLaren to 1-2 finishes over the previous two races.
Hakkinen made a brilliant start from the second row and split Schumacher and Coulthard ahead of him to grab the lead.
"It was very close to perfect. It was great," Hakkinen said. "It was a good feeling."
"He obviously had a very good start," Schumacher said. "We touched wheels. His rear wheel to my front but he did not cause any damage."
However the race was essentially decided about 15 minutes into the race when it started raining.
Schumacher had an easy time passing Hakkinen who said he was hesitant in going flat out.
"When it started raining and we were heading towards the back straight, I was very cautious in going in the corners and not losing back end," Hakkinen said.
"Once in front, I just took off," Schumacher said.
Schumacher took over the lead on the 11th lap from Hakkinen as the rain became a little harder. In four laps Schumacher gained almost eight seconds over Hakkinen.
At the end of the 15th lap both Schumacher and Hakkinen pitted to change into rain tires.
Hakkinen was now about 14 seconds behind and tried to keep up with Schumacher.
On the 35th lap Schumacher's lead was up to 17.8 seconds when Schumacher went in for new rain tires.
Hakkinen led over the next ten laps and built a lead up to more than 21 seconds. However he had to pit for new tires at the end of the 45th.
Schumacher saw the opportunity to gain the lead.
"I knew it was a critical period. I needed to stay within the gap," Schumacher said. "I knew the first couple of laps for him would be difficult with his new tires, I was keen to stay in front of him."
Schumacher took over the lead by 12.5 seconds on the next lap with 21 laps to go in the race and held most of that the rest of the way.
Although Hakkinen cut it down to under five seconds with four laps to go, Schumacher held on for the victory and stretched it up to more than 13 seconds at the end of the 305.235 kilometers.
Schumacher was not concerned with Hakkinen closing the gap.
"I think if you look at the times, when I needed to respond, I did," Schumacher said. He said he was being careful in lapping cars.
"It was a little difficult at this stage of the race with the traffic, you can't see the gap." Schumacher said. "I really made sure I kept the distance."
Hakkinen said he had trouble with lapping cars.
"Obviously there are improvements to be made in (signaling) the backmarkers," Hakkinen said, "And today that situation didn't help me too much."
But he admits he could not make a real run at Schumacher.
"I would have gotten very close but naturally I also understand that Michael could have pushed harder too," Hakkinen said.
Coulthard was pleased with his third place. Although he started from the pole position he said he had problems with the rear of the car.
"I am delighted with these four points. Right from end of first lap I was in trouble," Coulthard said. "I was just struggling to keep the car on the track. That was the probably the hardest I had to concentrate to keep the car straight on."
The rain took its toll on the race. There were only nine cars running at the end and Schumacher and Hakkinen were on the same lap at the finish.
Pedro Diniz in a Sauber-Petronas was seventh and Gaston Mazzacane in a Minardi-Fondmetal eighth as both benefited from the others dropping out.
Both Jordans were out of the race by the second lap. Jarno Trulli skidded out on the first lap and Heinz-Harald Frentzen blew an engine.
Within seconds just before 30 laps, Eddie Irvine in a Jaguar and Ralf Schumacher in a Williams-BMW bumped each other out of the race and Jos Verstappen skidded all by himself into a wall.
The next race is the Monaco Grand Prix on the famed street circuit in the principality June 4.
"We have a strong car, a good team and some points in advance. I look forward to how the season develops," Schumacher said. "Monaco has been good for me so far and I look forward to another one this year" – NURBURG (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)