Tue, Jul 08, 2003 - Page 20 News List

Ralf fails to give up lead in the French Grand Prix

AP , MAGNY COURS, FRANCE

BMW-Williams driver Ralf Schumacher of Germany on the Magny-Cours racetrack during the Formula One Grand Prix of France on Sunday.

PHOTO: AFP

Ralf Schumacher led from start to finish to capture the French Grand Prix on Sunday, his second victory in a week and another another 1-2 finish for Williams-BMW.

It was the first time this season that a driver led from start to finish without losing the lead, even during pit stops. Juan Pablo Montoya was second, 13.8 seconds behind his teammate.

Michael Schumacher of Ferrari took third after languishing in fifth most of the race. He was helped when both McLaren cars ahead of him had problems. Kimi Raikkonen ended fourth and David Coulthard fifth.

It was the sixth career victory and second this season for Ralf Schumacher. "I still don't believe it -- two wins in a row and finally from the pole," he said.

He knows things can change against the Ferraris.

"In Formula One, you can never be confident. I think we are doing a very good job all together at the moment," he said.

"But you never know. All of a sudden they could make a big step. It is going to be very tough, I'm sure, but we will try and stay where we are and to keep basically going from race-to-race and trying to get the next result out of it."

"If the two of us keep working like this we can keep winning, but there are circuits where it will be quite tough for us," Ralf said.

Since June 1, the Williams team has won three of four races, with two 1-2 finishes to go along with a first and third and a second and third.

"It might look good at the moment but it can all change around. There is still quite a few races to go so I don't want to think about it at the moment," Ralf said.

In the season standings, Michael Schumacher still has the lead over Raikkonen, 64-56. Ralf Schumacher now has 53 points.

Michael Schumacher said he thinks things are not that bad for Ferrari yet.

"We realized earlier in the weekend that we were not going to be as competitive here as we expected,'' he said. "So third place was probably the best I could do. We had phases where we were behind and suddenly minor things make the thing turn," the five-time world champion said. "It is not like we are completely lost. I gained another point in the championship lead to Kimi [Raikkonen] today. So all-in-all, we know we are a bit behind the Williams, but we feel confident that we can change it around."

It was a sharp contrast to last year, when Michael Schumacher clinched the F1 title with the French win and six races to go.

Now with six races left, the point structure has changed to make it closer. The second place is worth eight points compared to six points a year ago with a victory still counting 10 points.

In Sunday's race, Michael Schumacher closed to 19.5 seconds at the end of the 70 laps of the 4.411km Nevers-Magny Cours circuit but it was never a race as the Williams moved away.

Mark Webber in a Jaguar was sixth and Rubens Barrichello in the other Ferrari was seventh with Olivier Panis driving his Toyota in eighth.

Barrichello spun while crossing the line for the first time and dropped to 20th and last. He spent the rest of race picking off cars to move into seventh at the finish.

Ralf Schumacher had the pole position for the third time in four races and held the lead over Montoya with Raikkonen third and Michael Schumacher fourth at the end of the first lap.

The two Williams cars were 1-2 virtually all the way. Ralf was the last of the leaders to have his first pit stop and stayed in first after his at the end of 18 laps.

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