SAKHIR, Bahrain (AP) -- Michael Schumacher won his third straight race of the season Sunday, taking the inaugural Bahrain Grand Prix for his 73rd
Schumacher led from the pole and never faltered, taking command on the new US$150 million desert track. Light rain fell just before the start, but
circuit conditions were nearly perfect despite fears of blowing sand and dust at the new layout.
Schumacher clocked 1 hour, 28 minutes 34.875 seconds for 57 laps on the 5.417- kilometer (3.367-mile) course. The race was nearly incident free
despite the unfamiliar track with temperatures about 30C (86F) at the start.
Second went to Ferrari teammate Rubens Barrichello, who was 1.3 seconds behind, only because Schumacher slowed after leading by 10 seconds entering
the final lap. His winning average speed was 208.976 kph (129.876 mph).
The next finishers were: Jenson Button of BAR-Honda, Jarno Trulli of Renault, Takuma Sato of BAR-Honda, Fernando Alonso of Renault, Ralf Schumacher of
Williams and Mark Webber of Jaguar.
It was the second straight third-place finish for Button.
Asked if he was afraid the season would turn into a rout, Schumacher replied: "I don't have any problem with it, honestly. I'm certain the others will
raise their game."
The 35-year-old German leads the points standings with 30 points followed by Barrichello (21) and Button (15). Ferrari also leads the team standings
with 51 points.
The six-time series champion dominated just as he did in the opener in Australia. His narrower victory two weeks ago in Malaysia indicated he was
beatable, but this lackluster race suggested otherwise.
Formula One officials have openly talked about fears of another Schumacher runaway, which happened two season's ago when he won 11 of 17 races and TV
"It was a superb weekend and we worked our way through, and it was tough at times," Schumacher said. "In the final we had everything spot on."
"The biggest problem was to stay on line because it was so difficult and slippery going just a little bit wide. It was very tricky."
Juan Pablo Montoya of Williams, after being in third place with about 10 to go, dropped from third place and finished in 13th with obvious engine
Kimi Raikkonen of McLaren, who finished second overall last season to Schumacher, had another bad day. The Finn, who started from 19th on the grid,
went out when his engine caught fire on the eighth lap. He has not finished a race this season.
Only three cars failed to finish the race. The others were McLaren's David Coulthard and Zsolt Baumgartner of Minardi.
Schumacher has won five of the last six races over two seasons. It also marks the second time this season Ferrari has finished 1-2. The Italian team
failed to record any 1-2 finishes last year when Schumacher won the season title in the final race.
Despite the familiar winner, some things were different at the first race in an Arab country since the Morocco GP in 1958. The crowd was dressed
mostly in white with men wearing traditional robes. Many of the women were dressed in the traditional black chador. A nonalcoholic fruit juice called
"warrd" was uncorked at the podium victory celebration instead of champagne.
Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved.