The 2001 Austrian Grand Prix: Round 6 of 17 in the 2001 Formula One World Championship. Heading into the race, Ferrari driver Michael Schumacher led the Drivers’ Championship with 36 points, ahead of McLaren driver David Coulthard eight points behind in second place with 28 points and Rubens Barrichello in third on 14 points.
A staggering performance in the final sector of the A1-Ring allowed Michael Schumacher to clinch his fifth pole position out of six races in what looks set to be a record-breaking season for the German when it comes to starting from the top spot of the grid. The German’s cause was also aided by the changing winds at the Austrian circuit, where they can have such a big influence on the drivers’ speed.
By setting his second consecutive pole after the Spanish Grand Prix, the Ferrari driver also ended a disappointing series of performances at the Austrian track, where he has qualified no better than fourth in his previous appearances. However, his top position was not the best news for Schumacher, as his McLaren rivals “screwed up” – in the words of their own team boss Ron Dennis – and had to settle with the fourth row of the grid.
The perfect weather conditions at the very slippery Austrian circuit saw the crowd having to wait a massive 21 minutes before the hills were brought alive with the sound of a Formula One engine. Once Enrique Bernoldi with the Arrows decided to open the proceedings, the rest of the drivers crowded the circuit.
A committed Jacques Villeneuve was the first one to fall victim of the slippery surface, spinning his BAR while he was starting his first attempt. It wasn’t to be the only incident for the Canadian, who was clearly trying too hard, even for himself.
Twenty six minutes into the session, Montoya would set the ball rolling in the first of the four three-lap attempts that the Michelin-shod teams went for lapping only two tenths slower than last year’s pole position time. David Coulthard was the next big hitter to come out, but the Scot lost his first run and returned to the pits without having set a time. It was the beginning of a very tough session for the McLaren team.
Ralf Schumacher, Jarno Trulli and Rubens Barrichello would top the timesheets before Michael Schumacher came out to make his first of three four-lap attempts, breaking into the 1:09s bracket on his second lap, after running wide at the end of the straight on the first one.
The German’s time was already a second quicker than Mika Hakkinen’s pole from last year, and more than six tenths faster than anybody else. The order remained unchanged until the two Michelin-shod Williamses returned to the track. Ralf made it an all-Schumacher front row in his second run, only some two tenths slower than his brother, but Montoya would immediately break the German dominance as he completed his second attempt being slightly faster than his teammate.
While Mika Hakkinen set the fifth fastest time in his first run, Coulthard was unable to post a competitive time on his second and was only eighth quickest 40 minutes into the session, the Scot looking more affected by the headwind problem than other drivers.
Schumacher, whose Ferrari was running with new rear and old front tyres, jumped onto the track for the second time with some 20 minutes remaining, but it was starting to become evident that the wind conditions would make it very difficult from drivers to improve, and he, as well as Hakkinen, Barrichello, Montoya and Ralf stayed where they were after their second run.
Though most of the top contenders were close to Schumacher’s time in the first and second sectors, they were unable to equal the Ferrari driver’s pace in the third, all of them losing more than two tenths. Not even Hakkinen and Coulthard could improve over their poor positions, though the Scot was able to jump in front of the Finn to place himself in seventh position.
The final minutes of the session saw the field completing their final attempts in vain, as most of them were unable to improve. Schumacher wasn’t even able to completed his final lap after Jos Verstappen spun right in front of him, forcing him to go off track. Nevertheless, the German was happy with the 37th pole of his career, but more so to see the McLarens on the fourth row. However, he refused to write them off for the race and as it turned out, rightly so.
Montoya, who finally was able to endure a trouble-free first practice on Friday, took full advantage of his past experience at the A1-Ring and clinched second place alongside Schumacher. Teammate Ralf Schumacher was third, while Barrichello was fourth, in front of Jarno Trulli and a brilliant Nick Heidfeld in the first of the Saubers.
On race day, launch control was a concern as four cars were left on the grid as they stalled as the race started. There were no incidents or accidents as a result of the cars stalled on the grid. The two Williams drivers were in first and second position after the start: Juan Pablo Montoya was leading and Ralf Schumacher was second. Michael Schumacher in his Ferrari was in third position.
The safety car was deployed on the first lap as two of the cars which stalled could not be removed from the grid before the race completed the first lap. Jarno Trulli was one of the drivers that stalled their car but who had been recovered to the pit lane, was then disqualified for leaving the pit lane while the red light was on as the safety car and the cars behind it passed the pit lane exit.
At the restart, Montoya was in lead again while Ralf Schumacher retired soon after with brake problems. Soon afterwards, Montoya began to experience tyre graining, which allowed Michael Schumacher to close on him. Furthermore, Rubens Barrichello got closer to his team mate and was followed by Jos Verstappen, David Coulthard and Kimi Räikkönen causing a line of cars behind Montoya.
Montoya tried to hold them all off but then Michael Schumacher made his move on the outside of the tight second corner. Montoya outbraked himself and this resulted in both drivers running off the track, leaving Barrichello in the lead. Both Montoya and Schumacher went back on the track but were down the field now. Verstappen meanwhile pitted soon after with a much lighter fuel load.
Schumacher fought his way back up to third, while Montoya was able to get up to fourth before retiring with hydraulic fauliure. At the sole round of pit stops, Coulthard jumped Rubens Barrichello to lead the race, but appeared to be struggling during the closing stages, allowing both Ferraris to close right up to the McLaren.
On Lap 54, Schumacher made a mistake and went out on the grass, as he had done already immediately after his pit stop, managed to recover and stayed in the race, but lost precious time and the hope to win the GP. While his team mate Barrichello, meanwhile was making life difficult for Coulthard who seemed not to be as fast as before on his new set of tyres.
With a few laps to go, Button finished his very non-descript race by spinning out to the side with flames gashing out of the back of his Benetton. Button had been almost constantly at the back of the pack throughout the weekend and his poor performance reflected that of the Benetton team as a whole, which appears not to be anywhere near finding a way out of the crisis that hit them.
Fisichella performed slightly better than the young Briton, but he was noticeable mainly by his absence from any action that took place. But during the last lap, Barrichello was ordered by the Ferrari team to cede second position to Schumacher, so that he could gain points to defend the driver’s title. Barrichello did not comply until the final corner of the last lap.
But it was David Coulthard finished first, just ahead of both Ferraris of Schumacher and Barrichello, with a fourth place for Kimi Räikkönen in his Sauber and Olivier Panis who finished fifth in his BAR-Honda 003.
The 2001 Austrian Grand Prix will be remembered as Coulthard’s second win of the 2001 season after winning the Brazilian Grand Prix. This race will also be remembered with the incident between Michael Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya that is still about and debated by many fans and pundits today.
But Coulthard’s victory lifted spirits a bit at McLaren, who were grieving for the death of Paul Morgan who passed away at the weekend of the race itself. As a mark of respect to Morgan, the race winner did not open his champagne to spray it around which was a pleasant gesture from Coulthard. This race also saw Coulthard close the gap down to Schumacher to four points and keeping himself in contention for the title.
In regards to the incident between Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello, an identical situation happened at the race the following year and the ensuing podium procedure in which Schumacher ushered Barrichello to the top step resulted in a heavy fine for the Ferrari team, Schumacher and Barrichello, as well as the FIA later banning “team orders” altogether.
And as the 2001 World Championship continued to the next around in Monaco, Schumacher lead the championship still by 42 points ahead of Coulthard four points behind with 38 points and Rubens Barrichello in third with 18 points.