Schumi holds off fight from Renault team
The six-time Formula One champion won yet again Sunday, capturing the French Grand Prix by making the most of a daring strategy in which he used four pit stops.
"No risk, no fun,'' Schumacher said. "We might have won on a normal three-stop, but that would have involved passing cars on the track.''
Schumacher has won every race but one this season, and this latest win marked his seventh French Grand Prix victory.
Renault, led by Spain's Fernando Alonso, managed to end Ferrari's string of three straight 1-2 finishes. Alonso held the pole position and was runner-up, 8.3 seconds behind.
"When Michael stopped very early, I think the team was surprised,'' Alonso said. "I was surprised. Michael was pushing hard and it was impossible to keep the pace.''
This was Schumacher's ninth victory this season and 79th in his Formula One career. Renault's Jarno Trulli, who finished fourth, is the only other winner this season, taking the Monaco GP in May.
There are eight races left and Schumacher is edging closer to his seventh world title. He has 90 points, with Brazilian teammate Rubens Barrichello second at 68. Jenson Button is the best non-Ferrari driver with 48 points, two ahead of Trulli.
On a clear, sunny day, Schumacher pitted on the 11th, 29th, 42nd and 58th laps. The German took the lead on the 33rd of the 70 laps on the 2.74-mile circuit. Alonso pitted on the 14th, 32nd and 46th and gave up the lead to Schumacher after the second pit stop.
"Before the start I was not so optimistic,'' Schumacher said. "Then, after the second stop, we decided to switch to a four-stop strategy.''
Schumacher said Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn determined to go for four pit stops.
"Ross decided but it was brilliant,'' said Schumacher, who finished in 1 hour, 30 minutes, 18.133 seconds, averaging 128.252 mph.
Barrichello, despite starting from the 10th position, passed Trulli on the final lap to place third.
"It was risky, but I took the risk and I am glad I did,'' Barrichello said.
BAR-Honda's Button finished fifth. David Coulthard and Kimi Raikkonen, in the new-model McLaren Mercedes, were sixth and seventh.
Juan Pablo Montoya of Williams, who was disqualified for the last two races for breaking technical regulations, came in eighth, complaining of neck pain.
Ralf Schumacher won last year's French Grand Prix. He will be sidelined until at least September after cracking two vertebrae in his back in a crash at the U.S. Grand Prix on June 20.
The British Grand Prix is next week as the teams finish a period of six races since May 23.
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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