At the start of the race the talk was of the weather. After earthquakes earlier in the meeting, the focus was now on the rain that was forecasted somewhere between 2pm and 5pm in the afternoon. Would weather decide the race, or would another...
At the start of the race the talk was of the weather. After earthquakes earlier in the meeting, the focus was now on the rain that was forecasted somewhere between 2pm and 5pm in the afternoon. Would weather decide the race, or would another earth tremor do the job?
On the line, waiting for the lights, it appeared that the race may well have been over before it even started - an ominous amount of blue smoke was coming out of the back of the McLaren of Häkkinen. The lights went out, and Schumacher got away, with Häkkinen coming up the inside. Schumacher moved over - a lot - into Häkkinen's path, but the Finn held his nerve and used the pit exit to ensure that he was not knocked out at the first corner. Coulthard kept 3rd, whilst Barrichello was flooded, and back down to 6th place.
Over the next few laps Häkkinen pulled out a lead - typically around .3 seconds a lap. On lap 10, Verstappen slowed down and came into the pits with a gearbox that was missing a few too many gears.
By lap 15, Häkkinen had 2 seconds over Schumacher, as the mid-field started their stops. Trulli was one of the first to stop, with Jaguars soon to follow. The McLaren's and Ferrari's, however, did not look like they would stop for a while. When their time came, Ferrari brought Barrichello in first, who made a very sloppy entry. On the track, Alesi's race was over, as his engine decided to let go in a big way, projecting off the grass he'd pulled onto, and back onto the track, leaving a load of fluid on the track. McLaren were now also ready for a stop, as Alex Wurz's dreadful season continued with him going off the track. Häkkinen made his stop in 6.8 seconds, just enough fuel to take him to the window where rain was most likely to land on the circuit. Ferrari were also ready for a stop, and brought in Schumacher for a longer 7.4 seconds. Häkkinen kept his lead of 2 or 3 seconds during this spell of stops. Finally, Coulthard made his stop and was turned around in 3 seconds.
By lap 29, Trulli was ready for his second stop, and was out in 9.7 seconds. On the track, his team mate was not so lucky, pulling off with transmission problems - his tenth retirement of the year. The was now obviously rain starting to appear at the circuit, and it looked like McLaren and Ferrari's plan to have the option of wets and a routine stop would pay off. In the end, the rain did not get heavy enough for wets, but at least the team had the option. Häkkinen came up to Zonta, who let him through cleanly at the hairpin. Zonta then let Schumacher through, but the German took perhaps too great a risk, drifting wide, and forcing the Brazilian to hit the green stuff to avoid a collision.
McLaren brought Häkkinen in first, and Ferrari were ready to follow. In the end Häkkinen pitted, and avoided some of the traffic that Schumacher was to hit. Schumacher finally pitted, after a lap of being slowed by Jaguars, but managed enough on his second lap to pit and come out in the lead. Of the others, Wurz went off the track (again) and was stranded across the circuit, whilst Ralf Schumacher had to retire from 6th place after spinning as a result of touching a damp wet line. The rain appeared again 6 laps from the end, and Häkkinen was only 4 seconds adrift of the German and catching fast. It was all for nought, as Schumacher crossed the line, and with it he took his third F1 crown.
Stephen M Baines