The race in Argentina this weekend confounded everyone. Before the race, McLaren's Mika Hakkinen had predicted that no-one would come close to the McLarens in the race. Michael Schumacher, however, was predicting that the Ferraris could split...
The race in Argentina this weekend confounded everyone. Before the race, McLaren's Mika Hakkinen had predicted that no-one would come close to the McLarens in the race. Michael Schumacher, however, was predicting that the Ferraris could split the McLarens. As qualifying drew on it came clear that Ferrari had well and truly made headway with the changes made to the Ferrari, including the new Goodyear front tyres. As a result it was a fired up Coulthard on pole, with Schumacher second. Hakkinen, however, had a torrid time in qualifying and never really seemed to get it together. Irvine looked set at one point to hit pole, until he unexpectedly suddenly hit a 'problem' during a lap which was 0.3 seconds inside Schumachers pole time.
Back from the top two teams the Williams' looked distinctly ordinary, whilst Jordan continued their unpredictable form, with Ralf in the top 6 and Hill inside the top 10. Sauber also hit problems, and Johnny Herbert was not a happy bunny. Several teams ran the rather horrible looking winglets on the side pods, including Sauber, Tyrrell and Jordan.
Come the race and the weather had a chance of rain. Schumacher ran through the pits several times before the start of the race before settling on his race car rather than the t-car for the start. Rumours abounded that the Bridgestones were too hard for the South American track, and that that may cause problems in the race. It looked that the Bridgestone runners wouldn't have any trouble with a one stop strategy, and could probably go a race on them such was the state of the rubber! The Goodyear runners were expected to go for a two stop strategy, and indeed most of them were to do so.
At the start it was the McLaren of Coulthard that lead the way, with a hard charging Schumacher keeping up with him. Only five laps into the race and Coulthard's lead at the front was in trouble. He was not looking good on the track, and suddenly he ran rather wide, allowing a hard charging Michael into the lead. The McLaren suffered damage to the undertray, and whilst Coulthard said that he wasn't happy with the move after the race, it was obvious to all who saw it that really, it was Coulthard's mistake.
From there Schuey started to build up a lead as seen from the McLarens in previous races. This was a massive improvement in form from the Ferrari camp. Whether it is only the slower-twistier tracks that suits the Ferrari remains to be seen. Ralf Schumacher, meanwhile, was in trouble and for the third race in succession he spun off the track.
Behind the top two teams the rest looked distinctly ordinary. Good racing was going on through the whole of the field, and there actually was overtaking! But from the start it was clear that barring bizarre misfortune to the McLaren's and Ferrari's this was to be their race one way or the other, and it really looked good for the Ferraris. The main point of discussion was whether a hard charging Schumacher on a two stop strategy could do enough to make up the difference to McLaren's one stopper. This was soon settled with it rapidly becoming clear that Schuey could easily control the race.
Unusual moments in the race included Jean Alesi tanging with his pit crew and removing one of the daft winglets. It didn't affect his race at all, and out of the two Saubers it was Jeans that was the pace setter, rapidly making progress from his lowley starting point to the top 6. Either the winglets did nothing to the Sauber, or the team have found a major improvement by removing one of them.........
Jean's team mate, Johnny Herbert, meanwhile was not having such a good race. He tangled with Damon Hill and was out of the race. Damon removed his front wing, but managed to keep going, and got to the finish in 8th.
Just outside the top two teams was a hard charging Alexander Wurz, who continues to impress in the Benetton. He made the best of the car over the race, and managed some superb moves on other drivers.
When the champagne was sprayed, Schumacher stood atop the podium flanked by Hakkinen, who finished second, and his team mate Eddie Irvine. Wurz, Alesi and Coulthard rounded out the points paying positions.
For the first time in some time we had real racing going on on the track, rather than everything being decided in the pit lane. Let's hope that this is a sign of things to come!
by Stephen M Baines