At the start of the race Schumacher lead from Coulthard, with Barrichello then sneaking past into second place. Villeneuve also made a good start, and was soon up to 5th place. Already at the front, Barrichello was dropping back from his...
At the start of the race Schumacher lead from Coulthard, with Barrichello then sneaking past into second place. Villeneuve also made a good start, and was soon up to 5th place. Already at the front, Barrichello was dropping back from his team-mate, and this set the pattern for the first part of the race. Coulthard harried the Brazilian, but couldn't find a way past, whilst Häkkinen settled in behind the Scot, and watched to see how the race would develop. Further down the pack, Trulli took Ralf Schumacher, only for the German to whip it back almost as quickly. By lap 5, Ralf was looking enviously at the Jordan of Frentzen in 6th place. For some reason, the WilliamsF1 of Ralf Schumacher had the rear rain-light on.
On lap 10, the top 6 was as it had been from the off - Schumacher, Barrichello, Coulthard, Häkkinen, Villeneuve and Frentzen; the gap between the two Ferrari's was some 5 seconds, with the McLaren of Coulthard only a few tenths behind. The dramas Chez Prost were getting worse, following a strike by the team earlier in the day, the team were now suffering with Heidfeld nerfing Alesi into a spin - the Prost team tried to claim that it was a Benetton that caused the collision, but the television showed that clearly not to be the case. The BAR of Zonta was not having a good race, and was running in 17th place - a long way back from Villeneuve - and was soon into the wall when the Brazilian drove the car off all by himself. Prost's woes continued when Heidfeld managed to have a dreadful stop and stalled.
Coulthard was having a fantastic race, and was pushing the Ferrari of Barrichello hard for 2nd, when he finally made a blinding move on him, and took second place, and started to really pull away. Ralf Schumacher had a rather poor stop due to other traffic in the pit lane, whilst Johnny Herbert retired with gearbox problems - the Brit was last seen storming away from the garage in a very determined mood.
On lap 20, the front runners started to make their stops, with Häkkinen in and out in 7.5s, closely followed by Schumacher's stop, handing the lead to Coulthard, who tried to edge out a lead. Coulthard soon likewise stopped, but couldn't keep the lead, followed by Barrichello pitting.
Schumacher, Coulthard, Häkkinen, Barrichello, Villeneuve, Trulli
The two Jordans had spotted the telly potential shown by the Prost's, and likewise had a touching moment, as Trulli took Frentzen's 6th place. Verstappen retired his Arrows.
By lap 26, Coulthard was 5.3 seconds behind Schumacher, and edging away from Häkkinen in 3rd. Ralf Schumacher, meanwhile, was being pushed hard by his team mate. Coulthard, meanwhile, was making huge strides on Schumacher, and charging hard - there was only a Minardi between the pair. The pair scythed through the traffic, and each time the McLaren edged closer and closer - Coulthard was in determined mood. Schumacher and Coulthard finally took the Prost, and were now in clean air, and Coulthard rapidly got on the gearbox of the Ferrari. At the hairpin the McLaren almost touched the rear of the Ferrari, as Schumacher had to start making very defensive moves. On lap 33, the pair almost touched at the hairpin, with the McLaren just nosing ahead, only to have to concede the place. A marker had been placed in Schumacher's court, and now he knew he would have a major battle to keep the Scot behind.
Over the next few laps, Coulthard pushed hard, whilst others battled for telly coverage in the most unlikely ways. Alexander Wurz made the most bizarre move on Jean Alesi, undertaking him, and straight across his nose through a corner and into a gravel, in a move that was never in the slightest bit likely to succeed. Schumacher and Coulthard continued on in their charges, and cleanly took the Sauber. Coulthard finally managed to take Schumacher in a blinding move, as Schumacher moved wide to defend, only to leave the door open for Coulthard to push in and edge the German even wider, and force the issue - a very impressive and dominant display. Schumacher now had Häkkinen to worry about...
Next came the Jordans pitting, with Fisichella getting his moment of glory via a cross-country moment. Schumacher and Häkkinen now pitted together, and this was Häkkinen's chance to try and take the German. The Ferrari team, however, kept it together. Coulthard kept out, and was making the most of what wear was left in his tyres to try and pull out enough advantage to keep the lead into his stop. Barrichello soon pitted, and it looked like a clean stop - briefly - then the right front tyre wouldn't do it's job, and the wheel refused to be fixed due to a crossed thread... Barrichello's chances in the race were blown.
Into lap 45, Coulthard lead from Schumacher, with Häkkinen 3rd, Barrichello 4th, and Ralf and Villeneuve behind. Coulthard now made his stop with a 23 second lead, and with a 7.9 second stop, he managed to rejoin the track just far enough ahead to get up to speed and keep his lead. Jean Alesi was assaulted by Marc Gene - Prost were getting a lot of exposure in their home Grand Prix, but for all the wrong reasons. Up near the front, Ralf Schumacher managed to take Jarno Trulli for 6th place.
Häkkinen was now having a good look at Schumacher, and the German was having to work hard to keep the Finn behind. The Ferrari clearly had no grip, and was struggling to keep on the track. Finally, Schumacher (or his car) made a mistake, and let the Finn by, and Mika then leapt away into the distance... Schumacher, however, suddenly was going the opposite direction, and falling back fast, only to have blue smoke pouring out of the back. For the 2nd time in three races, the Ferrari had failed Schumacher. Coulthard was now a comfortable 14 seconds in front of Häkkinen. Button was now also on a charge, and trying to take 7th from Frentzen, with Fisichella pushing Button for 8th, further forward, Ralf was pushing Villeneuve for 4th place, and kissed the rear of Villeneuve at the last corner. Positions, however, were set, and Coulthard won the race to put himself clearly as the team-leader at McLaren.
<pre> 1. Coulthard 2. Häkkinen 3. Barrichello 4. Villeneuve 5. R Schumacher 6. Trulli
Stephen M Baines