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Schumacher triumphant in France again
Alan Baldwin | July 04, 2004 19:40 IST
Ferrari's Michael Schumacher won the French Grand Prix for the seventh time on Sunday to chalk up his ninth victory in 10 races.
It was the 79th success of the world champion's record-breaking career, and his fourth in a row, but the afternoon was a far cry from the action-packed U.S. Grand Prix of two weeks ago.
Spaniard Fernando Alonso, who started on pole position for Renault in the French carmaker's home race, was second after leading for nearly half the distance.
Brazilian Rubens Barrichello added salt to Renault's wounds by seizing third place from Italian Jarno Trulli two corners from the finish.
Schumacher, irresistible and implacable as ever, leads the championship with 90 points to team mate Barrichello's 68.
Ferrari, their sixth successive constructors' crown looking more inevitable by the day, have 158 points to Renault's 79.
But the race was a drawn-out strategic battle, short on thrills and mainly devoid of overtaking apart from Trulli powering past Coulthard and then squeezing out Button at the start. The Italian was then on the receiving end right at the death when he gave up third to Barrichello.
Briton Jenson Button was fifth for BAR and compatriot David Coulthard sixth in a McLaren ahead of Finnish team mate Kimi Raikkonen.
Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya, disqualified in the previous two races, took a point for a deeply disappointing Williams team who celebrated a one-two finish in France last year but were without injured Ralf Schumacher.
The pitstops were crucial, with Alonso leading until Schumacher took over following his second stop.
The Spaniard briefly returned to the front for four laps after Schumacher's third stop before the German again regained the initiative and carved out a big enough lead to hold on after a fourth stop.
Toyota's Olivier Panis, the sole French driver in the race, struggled to get away as the lights went out and ended up last into the first corner.
Montoya was clearly unhappy in the revamped Williams, losing three places on the 18th lap when he spun in front of the grandstand coming out of the final corner before the pit straight.
Takuma Sato, third for BAR at the last race in Indianapolis to equal the best result by a Japanese driver, was the first retirement with yet another of the engine problems that have dogged his season.
"I struggled a little bit right at the start, and obviously, after the pit stop there was a significant problem and the engine did not last," he said after pulling over on the 17th lap. It was his sixth retirement in 10 races.
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