Luxembourg Grand Prix 1998
First you've got to Finnish
At the start of the race, the Ferraris - as expected - got away well. However, what was not expected was for Irvine to lead Schumacher. Coulthard did well and got up to 4th place, with both of the Benetton's behind. After a little while, Schumacher took Irvine, whilst further back Villeneuve had a moment and had a small off.
Tuero was the first of the drivers to retire, on lap 1, with a broken drive shaft. Irvine was now into his role of Schumachers defender, holding back the two McLarens. As a result, the two McLaren's were unable to make any progress, and settled back a little, whilst Schumacher made a good job of pushing at the front to build a lead, and had 3 seconds over Irvine within 5 laps. Trulli and Diniz were the next out, with transmission and hydraulic problems respectively.
Irvine's Ferrari was now starting to look something of a handful, with the car locking up at various points around the circuit. Hakkinen now started to charge at the Ferrari and was determined to make progress and get by the Ferrari. Hakkinen for several laps had a look on the run up to turn 1. Irvine continued to lock up, and Irvine got massively out of shape as Hakkinen again saw his chance and had another go. He didn't quite manage it, but continued to pressure Irvine.
Hakkinen finally got by with a beautiful move at the chicane. He quickly started to pull away from Irvine and after Schumacher. The gap to Schumacher rapidly fell from 8.5 to 7.7 seconds in a single lap. Hakkinen had clearly been held up by Irvine, and was now making the most of his chance to charge after the German.
Behind Irvine a train of cars was starting to emerge. Coulthard, Fisichella and a fast catching Wurz were all trying to get by the Ferrari. It was a fantastic battle, and for much of the race this was to continue. Irvine was having big problems with his car, and was locking his fronts with regularity. In just a few laps, Hakkinen had the gap to Schumacher down to 5.5 seconds.
The pit stops started. Fisichella and the Benetton team saw a chance to make progress on these by coming in before the Ferrari of Irvine. The stop was very poor, with the Italian having problems getting away. Wurz was to have a similar problem with his stop. Michael Schumacher soon made his stop, with very poor looking tyres. In the pits, the wear on the Bridgestone shod cars was noticeably less than that on the Goodyears. At various stops the Goodyears looked almost slick like, whilst the Bridgestones looked in very condition. Irvine soon made his stop, and it was rather long at 10.6 seconds, rejoining behind Ralf Schumacher.
On lap 26, Hakkinen had a 17 second cussion, and yet to stop. The Finn pushed and pushed, and easily built a cussion. For several laps, Hakkinen continued to push, and was running a couple of seconds a lap faster - this, though, may have been explained by a picnicking Verstappen having a trip over the grass. McLaren were now ready for their stop, and pulled Hakkinen in and turned him around in 8.7 seconds. The question was, would he have enough to rejoin in the lead. He did, but only just! The two were almost side by side at the first corner, allowing Schumacher to have a go, who then had a very lurid moment.
Hakkinen continued to make a good charge, and made a lot better work of the traffic than Schumacher. Coulthard made his stop, and rejoined just ahead of Irvine. By now, all of the top 12 bar Villeneuve had stopped. Finally on lap 32, Villeneuve pitted in 11.1 seconds. Schumacher now started to make some progress on Hakkinen, but only the odd 0.1 seconds here and there. The pair were very close at the chicane.
Further back the Fisichella/Frentzen battle was hotting up, with Wurz close behind. Fisichella looked this way and that, trying to find a way by, whilst Wurz was trying the same on the pair of them. It was a fantastic battle, with Fisichella making a wonderful move on Frentzen, with Wurz also trying the same again but from the other side. After a little while, Fisichella lost 2 places to both Frentzen and Wurz. Fisichella pitted from the traffic.
Schumacher was still chasing Hakkinen hard at the front. At times a little too hard, and locked up several times. Behind them a drama was about to happen in the pits. The Frentzen/Wurz battle was now pitting together, with Salo in front of the pair. Frentzen had the edge on the stop, and pulled out, but Salo had been quicker still and Frentzen took Salo on the pit-side of the pit-lane just past the speed trap. On the track, the Ferrari continued to look very ragged, but the gap to Hakkinen was only 2 seconds.
Villeneuve pitted rather early, considering his late pit stop. Ferrari were also ready for their stop, and brought in Schumacher rather promptly. It was a good stop, but the Goodyears that came off were extremeley worn. Hakkinen was now into traffic, and not making quite such a good job of it. He soon pitted, but maybe - just maybe -the advantage was now with Schumacher. McLaren did a fantastic job in the pit, and Hakkinen rejoined the track ahead of Schumacher.
As Coulthard pitted, Schumacher had a 5 second gap to Hakkinen. Ralf Schumacher, meanwhile, was having a bad time. His car going off at turn 1. He limped around the track, but a brake disc had broken. Verstappen, just to be fair to the leaders, had a massive moment and went off the circuit in front of Hakkinen, and looked set to collide with the Finn. Schumacher was also in traffic, and the Ferrari engined Sauber of Alesi was very helpful letting Schumacher through.
Hakkinen was now determined to settle the race, and started to pull out a worthwhile gap over Schumacher. On a single lap, Hakkinen pulled out 0.7 seconds over Schumacher. Schumacher's third set of Goodyears were clearly also going the way of the others, as the Ferrari was locking up and looking in rather bad shape. On lap 64, Schumacher had 5.3s to catch Hakkinen. Hakkinen was now starting to back off a little, and lap by lap the gap came down a little. By the last sector of the last lap the gap was down to 3.1 seconds. At the line, Hakkinen won by 2.2 seconds - but whether a minute or a second it was enough for a win.
The championships go down to the wire at Japan. McLaren need one point to settle the constructors championship, whilst Ferrari would need to be 1st and 2nd with McLaren failing to score. Schumacher has to win to stand a chance of the championship, whilst Hakkinen would still win if he was second to Schumacher at Japan. It is all to fight for - it couldn't be a better set-up for the season finale.
1.Hakkinen 2.M Schumacher 3.Coulthard 4.Irvine 5.Frentzen 6.Fisichella
-- Stephen M Baines
"[The Autosport sticker] started to peel off in the middle of Eau Rouge and it distracted me. In fact it was the first thing to hit the barrier" Tiff Needell - Jaguar XJR-15 Challenge - Interview with Autosport