Schumacher wins just hours after mother's death

Michael Schumacher kept his composure to win the San Marino Grand Prix just hours after his mother died.

Michael Schumacher kept his composure to win the San Marino Grand Prix just hours after his mother died.

Michael Schumacher on the podium after steering his Ferrari to victory at the Imola racetrack. — Pic. AP-

After starting in the pole position, the defending world champion was overtaken by brother Ralf Schumacher on the race's first turn. When Ralf went in for a pit stop after 16 laps, Michael took the lead again and led most of the way thereafter, driving his Ferrari over the 62 lap, in one hour, 28 minutes and 12.058 seconds for his first victory of the season.

Ralf Schumacher, who started in second position, finished fourth in a Williams.

After dominating the qualifying race, the Schumacher brothers flew to Cologne, Germany for a brief, final visit with their 55-year-old mother. They returned to Italy late Saturday night and the team officials said they never considered pulling out of the race after learning of their mother's death on Sunday morning.

Finland's Kimi Raikkonen was the runner-up, crossing the line 1.8 seconds behind Schumacher in a McLaren BMW. Schumacher's Ferrari teammate Rubens Barrichello rounded out the podium, coming in 8.8 seconds back.

Schumacher's post-race actions were markedly more subdued than normal. His only gesture was a raised fist to acknowledge his team's red-clad fans lining the Enzo and Dino Ferrari circuit. He accepted the race trophy and stood for the German and Italian national anthems. No champagne was used during the podium ceremony, however, and while he did not cry, Schumacher seemed on the verge of tears.

Schumacher was excused by Formula One officials from all post-race press conferences, although he did issue a statement through his spokeswoman Sabine Kehm.

"My mother loved to be at the track,'' Schumacher was quoted as saying. ``She loved it when we drove go-carts on the old track at home. She would have wanted to see us race today.''

Ferrari team director Jean Todt, who answered questions at the press conference in place of Schumacher, said the team did not force Schumacher to race.

"He had the choice,'' Todt said. "It was his decision to race. Ferrari would never push him to drive the car here.''

Todt said the performance was a demonstration of Schumacher's attributes "as a driver and as a man.''

"To win here in Imola in front of our fans and the company employees was especially important because of the difficult situation,'' Todt said. "The embrace by Rubens and Michael at the end of the race showed the spirit of the team.''

Elizabeth Schumacher had been in a hospital in her hometown of Cologne since April 10. Media reports said she fell in her house and suffered internal injuries. She was operated on, then put into an induced coma, the reports said.

In a sign of mourning for his mother, Schumacher wore a black armband over his red Ferrari racing suit.

Under different circumstances, Schumacher's 65th victory on his team's home track would have been cause for a raucous celebration.

After winning 15 out of 17 races last season, Ferrari was off to its worst start in years in the first three races this season. Schumacher's best previous result in 2003 was a fourth-place finish in the season-opening Australian GP. Both Ferrari drivers failed to finish the Brazilian GP.

"I don't know if I would have been able to take part in a race under the same conditions,'' Barrichello said. "He's a great person and absolutely deserved to win.

"I'm very sorry for Michael. I don't want to speak for him. Only Michael can know if he made the right choice. But since he felt he could race, I supported him.''

This was Schumacher's fourth win in five years at Imola and his fifth overall. It followed a familiar formula from last season, when Schumacher made a habit of establishing a lead early on and coasting toward the finish line.

Schumacher led Raikkonen by 19.6 seconds with 11 laps remaining, but slowed down gradually to win by the slim 1.8-second margin. Raikkonen also influenced the final time gap by pressing hard in the final laps with Barrichello bearing down on him in an attempt at another "doppietta'' — 1-2 finish — by the Ferrari cars, as was the case here last year.

"I tried all I could to catch up with Raikkonen,'' Barrichello said. "But I was not close enough to pass him.''

This win moved Schumacher up from eighth to third in the driver standings, 14 points off the lead.

Raikkonen leads the classification with 32 points. This was the Finn's fourth straight podium finish, including his victory in the Malaysian GP on March 23.

"It looks good to be first in the championship,'' Raikkonen said, adding that he "will have to push harder in coming races.''

Raikkonen's teammate David Coulthard is in second place with 19 points, one point in front of Schumacher. The Australian GP winner from Scotland crossed the line fifth. Italian Giancarlo Fisichella, who won a delayed victory in the rain-shortened Brazilian GP, came in 15th after failing to finish the race due to an apparent engine failure.

Renault's rising Spanish driver Fernando Alonso was sixth, 43.6 seconds back, followed by established Williams driver Juan Pablo Montoya in seventh position. Montoya made four pit stops, including at least one, which was unscheduled.

Jaguar's talented Australian driver, Mark Webber, stopped with eight laps to go for apparent mechanical problems after qualifying in fifth position.

The results (San Marino Grand Prix, over 4.933-kilometre (3.065-mile) Enzo and Dino Ferrari circuit): 1. Michael Schumacher, Germany, Ferrari, one hour, 28 minutes, 12.058 seconds, 62 laps, average speed 207.894 kph (129.18 mph); 2. Kimi Raikkonen, Finland, McLaren Mercedes, 1:28:13.940, 62 laps, 1.8 seconds behind; 3. Rubens Barrichello, Brazil, Ferrari, 1:28:14.349, 62 laps, 2.2; 4. Ralf Schumacher, Germany, Williams BMW, 1:28:20.861, 62 laps, 8.8; 5. David Coulthard, Britain, McLaren Mercedes, 1:28:21.469, 62 laps, 9.4; 6. Fernando Alonso, Spain, Renault, 1:28:55.747, 62 laps, 43.6; 7. Juan Pablo Montoya, Colombia, Williams BMW, 1:28:57.329, 62 laps, 45.2; 8. Jenson Button, Britain, BAR Honda, 1:28:13.071, 61 laps; 9. Olivier Panis, France, Toyota, 1:28:31.807, 61 laps; 10. Nick Heidfeld, Germany, Sauber Petronas, 1:28:33.715, 61 laps; 11. Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Germany, Sauber Petronas, 1:28:34.809, 61 laps; 12. Cristiano Da Matta, Brazil, Toyota, 1:29:01.343, 61 laps; 13. Jarno Trulli, Italy, Renault, 1:29:13.272, 61 laps; 14. Antonio Pizzonia, Brazil, Jaguar, 1:29:23.841, 60 laps; 15. Giancarlo Fisichella, Italy, Jordan Ford, 1:23:03.822, 57 laps.

Drivers' standings (after four races): 1. Kimi Raikkonen, Finland, McLaren, 32 points; 2. David Coulthard, Britain, McLaren, 19; 3. Michael Schumacher, Germany, Ferrari, 18; 4. Fernando Alonso, Spain, Renault, 17; 5. Rubens Barrichello, Brazil, Ferrari, 14; 6. Ralf Schumacher, Germany, Williams, 13; 7. Giancarlo Fisichella, Italy, Jordan Ford, 10; (tie) Juan Pablo Montoya, Colombia, Williams, 10; 9. Jarno Trulli, Italy, Renault, 9; 10. Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Germany, Sauber Petronas, 7; 11. Jacques Villeneuve, Canada, BAR, 3; (tie) Jenson Button, Britain, BAR, 3; 13. Nick Heidfeld, Germany, Sauber Petronas, 1.

Constructors' standings: 1. McLaren Mercedes, 51 points; 2. Ferrari, 32; 3. Renault, 26; 4. Williams BMW, 23; 5. Jordan Ford, 10; 6. Sauber Petronas, 8; 7. BAR Honda, 6.

Jean Todt all praise for Michael Schumacher

Michael Schumacher had the choice not to compete in the San Marino Grand Prix but he showed his real humanity by racing despite his mother's death, Ferrari boss Jean Todt said.

"Today again Michael has shown the dimension of what he is as a driver and as a man," he said, taking Schumacher's place at a post-race news conference after the German handed Ferrari their first win of the season.

"It's a shame sometimes that people may want not to understand what he is. Today I think he has done a big demonstration and we are very proud of him."

Schumacher's mother Elizabeth, 55, died in a Cologne hospital. Both Michael and Ralf lined up on the front row and completed the race, Michael winning and Ralf finishing fourth.

"He had the choice," said Todt. "I think it was very important. He decided together with his brother yesterday to go to Germany and definitely he felt in a way more comfortable having been there," said Todt.

"Then it was his decision. We at Ferrari will never push a driver to drive the car if he is not intending to drive the car. So it was his choice.

"I must say, it was a very respectful choice."