The first start to the race was delayed when the Benetton of Wurz hit a problem, and so we were treated to a delay for the second start. The second start happened, and Schumacher led into the first corner. It proved to be for nought, as by the...
The first start to the race was delayed when the Benetton of Wurz hit a problem, and so we were treated to a delay for the second start. The second start happened, and Schumacher led into the first corner. It proved to be for nought, as by the time they'd got to Loews the race had been red flagged, only for then for there to be a collision between Button and Verstappen, resulting in the rear of the field being stuck with nowhere to go. Quite why the race was red flagged was not known at the time of writing, though it appeared to be clear that the race was red flagged *before* the Button/Verstappen incident. A new race was declared...
At the new start, everyone was able to start, except for Pedro de la Rosa in the Arrows. As they got away, the top 6 remained as it had been at the grid, except for Ralf Schumacher making a brilliant start, and making his way to 6th. Häkkinen was stuck behind Frentzen, and Coulthard behind Trulli, and both were fighting hard, trying to find a way by. Sadly for them, it proved to be impossible, and just as the rest of the field found, overtaking was to prove next to impossible. Michael Schumacher, in the lead, was pulling a huge lead over Trulli, and by lap 11, he had an 11 second lead... The major dramas up to this point had been Jos Verstappen making a trip over the nouvelle chicane past the tunnel, and Eddie Irvine doing likewise 2 laps later. By lap 15, there still was no change in the order except for Mazzacane taking Wurz for 17th place, and at the front Schumacher has 18.4 seconds over second place Trulli.
The race, it has to be said, had been quite processional, and nothing much happening. Yes, the McLaren's had been pushing the Jordan's, but it was for nothing, and made for poor viewing. Sensing the viewing figures plummeting as we watched, the puppet meister of F1 brought the race to life. First, Jenson Button pulled into the pits and retired, then Alex Wurz went into the barrier at St Devote and out; Marc Gene rolled to retirement, and Mazzacane went off likewise at St Devote. At the front, Schumacher now had a 25 second lead...
The Jordans, on the soft rubber, were now starting to look a bit off, as the Jordan of Frentzen in particular was struggling to keep Häkkinen behind. Herbert pitted his Jaguar and rejoined the raise, whilst Fisichella tried to take Barrichello for 8th, and failed. On lap 32, Pedro Diniz went off the track at... St Devote (you may spot a trend forming here), and was parked on the racing line. The safety car was readied just in case, but wasn't brought out.
Suddenly, Häkkinen slowed and the field flooded past - he made it back to the pits, and after some work on the electronics/engine, the car rejoined the race with it's normal speed. Ralf Schumacher was the next driver to join the St Devote club and managed to rearrange the left front suspension. Sadly, the German was out, with a badly cut leg, and was stretchered off to the medical centre for treatment. Jarno Trulli was now also out, with a gearbox problem (though it isn't known if mechanical or software), freeing Coulthard to second place, and now banging in fastest lap after fastest lap in his chase of Schumacher.
On lap 40 the positions were: Schumacher, Coulthard, Frentzen, Barrichello, Fisichella, Irvine, Salo, Verstappen, Villeneuve and Zonta.
In response to the now charging Coulthard, Schumacher raised his game, but the McLaren was able to respond, matching his times and then some for lap after lap. Further back, Zonta and Heidfeld pitted together, and rejoined together. Ferrari were now ready for a stop, and Schumacher had a comfy 33 seconds over Coulthard, meaning that barring a disastrous pit stop, he would rejoin in the lead. He came in, and was turned around in 7.7 seconds, leaving the Scot 11 seconds behind on the track, and yet to stop. Zonta was the next driver to join the fun at St Devote - clearly there was something of major interest that the drivers couldn't miss there... Frentzen and Barrichello both pitted at the same time, and the Jordan team did a brilliant job to keep the position from the Ferrari - something that few teams manage.
On the track, Schumacher was in trouble, the right front wheel was up in the air, indicating a left-rear suspension problem. It happened just past the pit entrance, meaning the German had to trundle around for a full lap to get to the pits. Coulthard now had the lead... Schumacher later reported that he hadn't hit anything, but the exhaust had failed on his car, and cooked the suspension to breaking point.
With 20 laps to go, the positions were Coulthard, Frentzen, Barrichello, Fisichella, Irvine and Salo.
On lap 62, Verstappen went off, and rather uniquely at the Swimming Pool. For a while it looked like the safety car would come out, but thankfully it did not. Häkkinen was now running in 7th place, and charging hard after Salo. Would the Finn be able to take a point from his countryman? Both eventually ended up in the points, as Frentzen joined the party at St Devote and broke his suspension, promoting Barrichello to 2nd. And so to the flag, where the positions were:
Stephen M Baines