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The 2001 F1 Season
The Ferraris were getting strong opposition from the Williams, and they would have to sharpen their strategies against the British side. Ferraris couldn't let their guard down against the McLarens either; after all, at the start of the season the McLarens were the stronger of the lot.
On the personal front, Michael was often competing with younger brother Ralf throughout the last few races. Not only the qualifying runs, but also races were lit up with the Ferrari and Williams cars going head-to-head. Of course, it was working well for the fans, but for the Ferrari team, it was additional work to figure out a way to keep the car ahead of the resurgent Williams team.
Michael was also racing towards several milestones. He would soon be challenging Alain Prost’s all-time record of 51 wins, and if he could keep winning, there was a chance that he could wrap up the championship early. That said, winning would be something which would only get harder with each race.
Could Michael keep winning? Let’s find out.
The 2001 French GP Qualifying
The Williams team owned the qualifying session, as both Ralf Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya put out staggering laps. It was for the Ferraris and other teams to respond. So good were the Williams, especially Ralf Schumacher, that even the McLarens found it challenging to keep up.
Take a look at David Coulthard’s one tidy lap around the French circuit:
See the difference in qualifying times? And we are talking about a McLaren going against a Williams; until recently, it would have been a foregone conclusion that the McLaren would come out trumps. Not any more, though. Interestingly, Michael's first few laps were way off target from the provisional pole time. However, the team worked that out, and Michael was in his element.
But this time "Michael in his element" was not enough, and he had to settle for P2, a mere one-hundredth of a second behind his brother Ralf. And to know that Ralf put up the lap time first meant that Michael couldn't beat it. Now, that's some achievement. But to both drivers' credit, the brothers were the only ones to breach the 1:13-minute mark.
So, did that mean that Ralf and the Williams team were going for victory on Sunday? Yes, for sure. Could Michael still win? For that, we would have to wait and watch.
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Let's jump on to race day and watch the proceedings.
The 2001 French GP – Race Day
The formation lap saw Mika Hakkinen’s car stall, and he eventually retired without even starting the race. The rest of the field started fine, with Ralf Schumacher getting away quickly. Montoya challenged Michael on one side and Coulthard on the other for the second position. Michael prevailed, though, and got ahead. Coulthard remained in the third position followed by Montoya after the first turn.
Take a look at the race summary.
The race seemed to be Ralf’s until the pitstop, where Michael overtook his brother and stayed put in the lead. Montoya and David did not have luck on their side. David was the first one in the top four to fall back due to a stop-go penalty for speeding, while Montoya, who seemed sure to take a podium spot, ended with a blown engine. All these developments worked in favour of Rubens Barrichello, who got up to the third spot.
Rubens, though, was strongly challenged by David Coulthard, who at one point even appeared to overtake him. Rubens prevailed, and that’s how the race ended. So, two Ferraris on the podium welcomed Michael’s fiftieth victory!
It was also the second sibling one-two of the season, as Michael and Ralf made it to the podium ahead of Rubens.
Back to the Pits
Michael’s fiftieth victory put him thirty-one points ahead of David Coulthard in the drivers’ championship. While it was a steep difference for David to overcome, nothing could be written off in Formula 1 until the championship was decided. The Williams team jumping into the championship bid animated the season, and there were still seven races remaining.
In other words, a super-exciting time for the fans!
The Next Win..
Want to know the story of Michael Schumacher's fifty-first win? Click here to find out:
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