Bonus for Coulthard after passing Schumacher to win

2000 French Grand Prix flashback

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The Magny-Cours circuit marked the mid-point of the 2000 season. Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher had won five of the opening eight races of the campaign, building up a lead of 22 and 24 points respectively over the McLaren pairing of David Coulthard (two wins) and Mika Hakkinen (one) the only other drivers to top the podium.

Much like Australia, France’s modern-day reputation for excellent circuits owes much to its past (Bathurst/Phillip Island, Pau/Le Mans) rather than the blander venues that followed (Eastern Creek/Winton plays Paul Ricard/Nogaro). Magny-Cours, in 2000 home to the French Grand Prix since 1991 (thanks to Francois Mitterand) definitely sits in the latter camp, a venue likely to be as fondly remembered by history as Nivelles, or more recently Yeongam.

France’s round of the championship had long been the precursor to Britain’s, typically held one week later. But even that had been disrupted in 2000 by the strange decision to race at Silverstone in April (those thinking this year’s postponement to August is likely to mean better weather are probably in for a rude surprise).

Many of the teams arrived early to conduct pre-race testing. Jos Verstappen suffered a sizeable crash in his Arrows which left him with a strained neck, but fortunately didn’t rule him out of the race.

Hot and dry weather greeted the drivers for the weekend, making a change after recent wet races. Free practice was the usual tussle between McLaren and Ferrari. Coulthard suffered a range of mechanical woes, while Schumacher and Hakkinen exchanged fastest times.

The Jordans also continued their run of good form, with Jarno Trulli and Heinz-Harald Frentzen almost inseparable on times in fifth and sixth. Bu while the yellow cars were often quick, they had seldom proved reliable.

2000 French Grand Prix qualifying

Schumacher planted his Ferrari on pole position
Qualifying followed the usual pattern for the season with the Ferraris and McLarens locking out the first two rows. This time around Schumacher took pole ahead of Coulthard, who was forced into his spare car as a fuel pump was replaced.

On the second row Barrichello pipped Hakkinen by just a mere three thousandths, although both were four-tenths shy of Schumacher’s pole time. Having started the first three races from pole position, Hakkinen had only made one front row appearance in the last six races.

The usual mix of cars compelted the top 10. Ralf Schumacher beat Eddie Irvine to fifth, followed by Villeneuve and the Jordans just behind – both Trulli and Frentzen were disappointed with their performance given the pace of the car in practice.

Jenson Button, who was becoming more consistent in qualifying as his rookie season progressed, put the second Williams in the top 10. Further back Giancarlo Fisichella and Alexander Wurz had a poor weekend, lining up 14th and 17th respectively, hampered by grip issues best described as ‘having to drive the Benetton’. The grid was completed by the brace of Minardis but Marc Gene at least was in striking distance of the midfield.

1Michael SchumacherFerrari1’15.632
2David CoulthardMcLaren1’15.734
3Rubens BarrichelloFerrari1’16.047
4Mika HakkinenMcLaren1’16.050
5Ralf SchumacherWilliams1’16.291
6Eddie IrvineJaguar1’16.399
7Jacques VilleneuveBAR1’16.653
8Heinz-Harald FrentzenJordan1’16.658
9Jarno TrulliJordan1’16.669
10Jenson ButtonWilliams1’16.905
11Johnny HerbertJaguar1’17.176
12Mika SaloSauber1’17.223
13Pedro de la RosaArrows1’17.279
14Giancarlo FisichellaBenetton1’17.317
15Pedro DinizSauber1’17.361
16Nick HeidfeldProst1’17.374
17Alexander WurzBenetton1’17.408
18Jean AlesiProst1’17.569
19Ricardo ZontaBAR1’17.668
20Jos VerstappenArrows1’17.933
21Marc GeneMinardi1’18.130
22Gaston MazzacaneMinardi1’18.302

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2000 French Grand Prix

The previous year’s race had been greatly enlivened by rain showers. But the 2000 event was set to be dry all the way, so F1 fans the world over sighed and hoped that something (a global pandemic, perhaps) might excuse them from having to watch racing at Magny Cours.

But in the event the race proved far livelier than many expected. At the lights Coulthard made the better start of the front row occupants, but a characteristically robust defensive move from Schumacher enabled the Ferrari drive to retain the lead into the opening turn (yes, I have copied and pasted this paragraph from earlier races in this series).

Coulthard’s delay allowed Barrichello to slip and form a red one-two, with Hakkinen holding firm in fourth. The third row got away less well: Irvine slipped four places and the loveable Ralf Schumacher dropped from fifth to seventh.

His brother stretched his legs at the front of the field over the opening laps, whilst by incredible coincidence team mate Barrichello in second dropped back and started holding up the McLarens. Further down the entertainment came from the Prosts colliding as Heidfeld clattered into Alesi, drop-kicking his team mate down to 18th. Brake failure put Ricardo Zonta’s BAR into the barriers from 17th.

At the front of the field, the race quickly turned into a head to head between the Ferraris and McLarens with both on track action and pit strategy coming into play. The first big change came when Coulthard was able to ease past Barrichello on lap 22, just before the first cycle of pit stops. This was a crucial moment as Coulthard, now released into clear air and on fresh tyres, steadily eroded Schumacher’s advantage.

By lap 32 the race leaders had converged. The run down to the hairpin a couple of laps later provided an opportunity for Coulthard, but Schumacher defended well. As Coulthard attempted to squeeze Schumacher he raised a solitary digit in the German’s direction, a gesture eternally misinterpreted by commentator Murray Walker (who, in his penultimate season, sat out this race) as meaning ‘I’m number one’.

Six laps later Coulthard repeated the move, this time successfully, and was through into the lead. Immediately Schumacher was forced back into defence as Hakkinen tried to push his way through, allowing Coulthard to romp off into the distance. Coulthard retained his lead through the second round of pit stops, as a slick service from the Ferrari mechanics kept Schumacher clear of Hakkinen.

Schumacher’s retirement meant a 10-point swing to Coulthard
Elsewhere there were adventures with both Mazzacane and Wurz retiring after trips into the gravel traps (remember those?). Alesi also had his second collision of the day, this time with Gene, but both continued.

Then on the 59th lap came a surprise which had greater consequences for the championship than the race. Schumacher’s engine blew, forcing him into retirement.

This duly promoted Hakkinen into second and set McLaren on course for their third one-two of the year, with Barrichello elevated to third. This was the order through to the line with Villenueve, Ralf Schumacher and Trulli rounding out the points finishes.

After a tough start to the weekend, it was a fine victory for Coulthard. The bonus of Schumacher’s retirement pulled him to just 12 points adrift in the in the standings. A further six points for Hakkinen also kept him in the hunt. In the constructors fight things were equally as close with McLaren just six points back from Ferrari with just over half the season to run.

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2000 French Grand Prix result

PositionDriverTeamLapsTime / laps / reason
1David CoulthardMcLaren721:38’05.538
2Mika HakkinenMcLaren72+14.748
3Rubens BarrichelloFerrari72+32.409
4Jacques VilleneuveBAR72+1.322
5Ralf SchumacherWilliams72+3.981
6Jarno TrulliJordan72+15.605
7Heinz-Harald FrentzenJordan71+1 lap
8Jenson ButtonWilliams71+1 lap
9Giancarlo FisichellaBenetton71+1 lap
10Mika SaloSauber71+1 lap
11Pedro DinizSauber71+1 lap
12Nick HeidfeldProst71+1 lap
13Eddie IrvineJaguar70+2 laps
14Jean AlesiProst70+2 laps
15Marc GeneMinardi70+2 laps
16Michael SchumacherFerrari58Engine
17Pedro de la RosaArrows45Transmission
18Alexander WurzBenetton34Spun off
19Gaston MazzacaneMinardi31Spun off
20Jos VerstappenArrows25Transmission
21Johnny HerbertJaguar20Gearbox
22Ricardo ZontaBAR16Spun off

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2000 French Grand Prix championship standings

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Ben Evans
Motorsport commentator Ben is RaceFans' resident bookworm. Look out for his verdict on the latest motor racing publications on Sundays....

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3 comments on “Bonus for Coulthard after passing Schumacher to win”

  1. Magny-Cours is an odd one. I like it more than Paul Ricard (both watching and to drive in sims), but that’s a low bar.
    I feel like it’s a better track to drive than race. Even this week, Damon Hill passed comment on twitter saying: “loved it. Roller coaster”.

    On the flip side, I immediately remembered this race for Coulthard’s finger and nothing else!

    1. Yes, the infamous middle finger – I do think Murray was being sarcastic when he said that it meant ‘i’m number one’. I think magny-cours would be quite well liked these days with its fast corners and short lap time but it was never particularly inspiring when it was on the calendar with numerous dull races, as described above. 1999 stands apart obviously.

  2. Two things this race is remembered for, DC saying he’s number one to Schumacher and Alex Wurz Doing what must be the worst attempt of an overtake ever in an F1 race

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