RACE REPORT: BRAZILIAN GRAND PRIX World Champ Hakkinen gets back on track despite early scare By Dan Knutson indyf1.com Special Contributor SAO PAULO, Brazil, April 12, 1999--When Mika Hakkinen suddenly couldn't select fifth gear he thought the...
RACE REPORT: BRAZILIAN GRAND PRIX World Champ Hakkinen gets back on track despite early scare By Dan Knutson indyf1.com Special Contributor
SAO PAULO, Brazil, April 12, 1999--When Mika Hakkinen suddenly couldn't select fifth gear he thought the game was over as his West McLaren-Mercedes dropped from first to third place in the Brazilian Grand Prix. "At that moment I thought the race was over for me," Hakkinen said. "I was coming round the third corner, selecting the gears as normal and driving flat out. But when I selected a higher gear, instead of it going through, there was no gear at all. "Obviously I thought the game was over, but the team told me to continue -- and suddenly the gears came back. I was able to continue, but by then I had already lost those two places." After the pit stops, however, Hakkinen was back out in front and went on to win his first Grand Prix of the season and the 10th of his career. Michael Schumacher finished second, 4.925 seconds back in his Ferrari. Despite running out of fuel on the last lap, Heinz-Harald Frentzen was far enough ahead to claim third in his Benson & Hedges Jordan-Mugen-Honda. Hakkinen averaged 119.849 mph (192.994 km/h) to complete the 72-lap, 191.885-mile (308.994 km) race in one hour, 36 minutes and 3.785 seconds. Ralf Schumacher wound up fourth, one lap down, in his Winfield Williams-Supertec. Australian Grand Prix winner Eddie Irvine kept his lead in the World Championship with a fifth-place finish in his Ferrari. Olivier Panis rounded out the top six in his Gauloises Prost-Peugeot. Hakkinen had qualified on the pole after edging out his teammate David Coulthard by a mere .147 of a second. Coulthard's car stalled at the start, and he was three laps behind when he got going only to eventually retire with gearbox problems. Hometown hero Rubens Barrichello grabbed second at the start in his Stewart-Ford and then snatched the lead when Hakkinen's car faltered on lap four. Cheered on by the sellout crowd, Barrichello led until he made the first of two scheduled pit stops on lap 27. That put Michael Schumacher's Ferrari out in front, and the German fended off a fierce challenge from Hakkinen and kept the lead until he pitted on lap 38. Like Hakkinen, Michael Schumacher was on a one-stop strategy. Hakkinen took over first place when Schumacher headed in for fuel and tires, and he kept the lead even after he made his stop on lap 42. Much to the disappointment of the crowd, Barrichello coasted to a halt with engine failure after 42 laps. Only nine of the 21 starters were classified as finishers. Both of F1's former CART residents had miserable weekends, missing valuable practice time Friday because of mechanical woes: Alex Zanardi's Winfield Williams-Supertec had an engine sensor failure, and Jacques Villeneuve's British American Racing-Supertec had a fuel leak. Zanardi's engine blew up during qualifying Saturday while Villeneuve was sent to the back of the grid when officials found his fuel did not meet specifications. Neither driver made it to the finish of the race. Villeneuve retired with hydraulic failure, and Zanardi had differential troubles and eventually stopped with a burned-out clutch.
MIKA HAKKINEN (West McLaren-Mercedes, winner): "I pushed when Michael (Schumacher) went into the pits. I went flat-out. Unfortunately, I had a lot of traffic in those laps, so I couldn't maximize those laps at that time. But it still gave me quite an advantage, and when I stopped I came out of the pits (ahead of Michael), and everything looked fantastic."
MICHAEL SCHUMACHER (Ferrari, second): "It was obvious that Mika was faster than me. But overtaking is very difficult in F1, and he never got the chance. We planned our pit stop in what we thought was the best way to keep him behind us, but he was able to put in some fast laps and rejoin the circuit in front of me (after my stop). There was nothing we could do about that. Afterward, I kept up the pressure as much as I could, but he obviously wasn't really flat out."
HEINZ-HARALD FRENTZEN (Benson & Hedges Jordan-Mugen-Honda, third): "I still don't really know what happened on that last lap. All of a sudden I lost fuel pressure. I was really surprised when the engine started cutting out, and the team didn't tell me that I was short of fuel."
RUBENS BARRICHELLO (Stewart-Ford, led laps 4--26): "When I took the lead, I didn't want to look, but there was no way, even looking straight ahead, I could not see people standing up and cheering. It was a very good moment. I had a Brazilian flag with me that I was going to take up on the podium. When my car stopped, it was too sad to believe. It was hard. The people were waving, but it was sad for them, too. But whenever you are knocking on the door it will eventually come good. Twice now I almost had the chance to win the race -- in Australia and here. It will come soon."
ALEX ZANARDI (Winfield Williams-Supertec, retired on lap 44): "At the start, the car was in good balance. Then the differential went, which made the car difficult to drive. The team asked me to stay out, and I drove as fast as I could (until the clutch failed). It's been another difficult weekend, but I have confidence that the Williams team will get it right."
JACQUES VILLENEUVE (British American Racing-Supertec): "The car was going very quickly when the hydraulics failed. I had a bad start, and then had to slow down when they showed the yellow flags (warning of David Coulthard's stalled car ahead), so I stayed at the back. I managed to gain some good positions, and to go from last to seventh was really pleasing. We proved that we can go fast, so from the next race we hope to have a good run from Friday onward."
NEWS and NOTES:
Zonta crashes: Ricardo Zonta crashed his British American Racing car into the barrier Saturday. He injured his left foot and was expected to be released from the hospital Monday following successful surgery.
Everything I asked for: Rubens Barrichello loves his Stewart-Ford SF3. "The car is well balanced," he said. "Grip levels are better than last year, for sure. This is everything I have been asking for a long time. "With this car I feel I can deliver a lot more than I have been giving for the past five years. Now that I have good equipment, I must be ready to take advantage of it; I cannot afford to throw away chances."
Heavy fine: Alex Zanardi of Williams was fined $5,000 for breaking the 50-mph (80 km/h) pit lane speed limit by 6 mph (10 km/h) Friday.
Wing check: The FIA used a special machine to check rear wings for illegal flex. The machine gripped the rear wings and put a load of 220 pounds (100 kg) on them, the equivalent of the load at 100 mph (160 km/h). The wing was not allowed to bend more than one degree. All of the cars passed the test.
F1 boss stays home: Bernie Ecclestone didn't make the trip to Brazil for the race. He also didn't attend the Australian Grand Prix or last year's season-ending Japanese race. Nobody in the paddock could remember the last time Ecclestone missed three consecutive Grands Prix.
Ten-year anniversary: Britain's Johnny Herbert made his Grand Prix debut 10 years ago at Brazil's Rio de Janeiro circuit, where he finished fourth in a Benetton just seven months after a breaking his legs in an accident. Believing that he was not strong enough, Benetton released Herbert after five races. Ironically, after a long stint at Lotus and occasional drives with other teams, Herbert returned to Benetton where he won two Grands Prix in 1995. After spending 1996-98 at Sauber, Herbert signed for Stewart-Ford this year. This year's race in Brazil marked Herbert's 130th Grand Prix start.
Brazilian drivers head for Japan: Normally several Brazilian drivers from the CART series come to Interlagos to watch the F1 action, but that was not possible as this year's Brazilian Grand Prix clashed with the CART race in Japan. But three-time world champ Nelson Piquet of Brazil and double world champ and Indy 500 winner Emerson Fittipaldi were on hand for their home Grand Prix.
Most experienced: Jean Alesi is the most experienced driver in the current F1 lineup with 152 Grand Prix starts. Herbert has 130 starts, Michael Schumacher 120, Mika Hakkinen 113 and Damon Hill 101. Ricardo Patrese holds the record with 256 Grand Prix starts.
Bigger zippers: The British-American Racing cars featured a revised paint scheme with the "zipper" that divides the red-and-white from the blue-and-yellow halves of the car considerably bigger than it was in Australia.
Bigger cities: With a population of more than 20 million, Sao Paulo is the biggest city in the Southern Hemisphere. It covers 3,000 square miles. Experts predict that by 2000 Sao Paulo will have surpassed Shanghai to become the second-largest city in the world after Mexico City.