Byline: Alan Henry in Montreal
David Coulthard's hopes of closing the world championship points gap on Michael Schumacher were dashed in the Canadian grand prix when he received a 10sec stop-go penalty after his McLaren-Mercedes team mechanics remained working on his car on the starting grid beyond the permitted time.
The Scot eventually trailed home a dejected and sodden seventh as Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello surfed to a commanding one-two Ferrari victory in torrential rain and deteriorating visibility, tightening the German's hold on the title with eight of the season's 17 races completed.Schumacher's fifth win of the season boosts his total to 56 points, 22 ahead of Coulthard and 24 clear of Mika Hakkinen, who brought his McLaren-Mercedes home a close third behind the Benetton B200 of Giancarlo Fisichella.
After a qualifying session which saw Coulthard swapping fastest times with Schumacher in a close-fought battle for pole position - a contest won by the German - the Scot encountered problems firing up his car before the start. This forced his mechanics to continue working on the machine within the 15sec period prior to the cars accelerating away on their final parade lap, in contravention of Article 139 of the sport's regulations.
"I guessed that there was something going on because his mechanics were on the grid later than the limit," said Schumacher, "but David was not close enough to attack me. After he had gone, I eased up to avoid any mistakes."
Schumacher also revealed that he had suffered a technical problem during the race which the team initially suspected was a sensor malfunction. To rectify it he wound the brake balance towards the front wheels, causing him to slide across the gravel trap at the first corner when the rain was at its heaviest. "It was no problem," he said. "I just steered across the run-off and regained the circuit." To cure the fault he made his routine refuelling stop slightly earlier than scheduled.
He paid tribute to Barrichello for the way in which his team-mate shadowed him protectively in the closing stages. "He is a good man and one day I will pay him back."
The way the race unfolded was a bitter disappointment not only to Coulthard, whose precision braking from high speed has traditionally given him an edge on this demanding circuit, but also to the McLaren team as a whole.
They had come to Montreal determined to celebrate their 500th grand prix with a victory, but were left trying to put a stoic face on their acute disappointment. At least Hakkinen salvaged fourth place in an action-packed race given additional spice by the dismal conditions that prevailed from half-distance onwards and left cars skating in all directions.
Schumacher made a copybook start to lead Coulthard into the first corner, but the sensation of those first few yards was Jacques Villeneuve, the hero of the Canadian crowd, who blasted his BAR-Honda through into third place from sixth on the grid, squeezing out Hakkinen's McLaren on the way.
Unlike previous years, when the field has invariably been embroiled in a multiple shunt at the first corner, everybody squeezed through intact, with Schumacher already piling on the pressure to make an early break from the pack.
By the end of the opening lap the Ferrari team leader was a full second ahead of Coulthard with a gap already opening to Villeneuve, Barrichello, Hakkinen and the impressive Pedro de la Rosa in the Arrows A21.
Coulthard soon settled down to shadow Schumacher, confident in the knowledge that Villeneuve was keeping Barrichello, Hakkinen and the other challengers boxed in behind his BAR, which was losing a second a lap to the leading pair.
It was only on lap 10 that the timing screens flashed up Coulthard's penalty, which he eventually came in to take at the end of lap 14. The rules forbid refuelling or tyre changes when taking such penalties so Coulthard was effectively out of the winning equation when he resumed in 10th place.
This left Villeneuve in second ahead of Barrichello. The Canadian fended off the Ferrari challenge until Barrichello squeezed ahead on lap 25, and Villeneuve's prospects of a deserved place on the podium evaporated on lap 44 when he came in for his routine refuelling stop only to find that his crew had fitted another set of dry-weather tyres. He subsequently had to return for wet-weather replacements and went out four laps from the end after a collision with Ralf Schumacher's Williams.
That poor tyre selection was emulated by McLaren with both Coulthard and Hakkinen, further compounding their disadvantage, with the former slithering home seventh behind Jos Verstappen's Arrows and Jarno Trulli's Jordan.