San Marino GP report

San Marino Grand Prix At the start, Coulthard made a good start, and soon was charging, with Hakkinen behind, Schumacher 3rd, and Villeneuve making a brilliant start to go to 4th. Irvine was down in 5th, whilst further down the field,...

San Marino Grand Prix

At the start, Coulthard made a good start, and soon was charging, with Hakkinen behind, Schumacher 3rd, and Villeneuve making a brilliant start to go to 4th. Irvine was down in 5th, whilst further down the field, Barrichello had lost his rear wing and spun off. His team mate was soon into the pits as well. Barrichello felt that Magnussen had gone into the back of him. Rumour continue to abound that Magnussen may well be replaced, and this will not have helped him in the slightest. Also in trouble was Hill and Wurz. Wurz was stuck in third gear, and Hill bashed him from behind. Hill pitted for a new nose, whilst Wurz had to call it a day.

Alesi was making the best of things, and charging hard in 8th place. By the end of lap 3 the two McLarens were separated by 1.5 seconds, whilst Schumacher was a further 1.6 seconds behind Hakkinen. Villeneuve was not making much headway into Schumacher, being some 3 seconds behind him, whilst Irvine and Frentzen likewise had similar gaps between them as well. The two McLaren-Mercedes continued to pull away for lap after lap, and unlike in Argentina, the two were well and truly the class of the field.

The main race, however, was a little further back, with Fisichella pushing Frentzen hard for 6th place. Alesi was also joining in the fun by making progress onto Fisichella's tail. The Williams of Frentzen was clearly defending and looked decidedly twitchy. The new FW20 cannot come soon enough for the team. Hill had rejoined the race, and was now in 19th place, and charging through the field. The Jordans were much improved in this race and Hill clearly had the better of Schumacher Jr over the race distance.

Ralf Schumacher was not having a good race, and was dropping back from the race for 6th at a rapid rate. Hill, meanwhile, was scithing his way through and making a much better job of it for Jordan. Herbert was soon into the pits around lap 15, with his left front wheel up in the air. The team initially thought it was suspension failure, and he was retired. It later transpired to be puncture related. At the front, Schumacher suddenly got past a fast slowing Hakkinen. The finn retired with gearbox problems - losing 4th gear. Wurz, meanwhile, retired with a blown engine.

The pit stops came thick and fast from lap 20, with the main option for everyone being a two stop race. Rather startling was Jean Alesi's stop, whose exit from the pit lane seemed to catch the team unaware. Ferrari were being very cagey with their stop, and desperately trying not to let McLaren know what there strategy was. It didn't work, with Coulthard brought in on the same lap as Schumacher, and so keeping his lead. Villeneuves stop was notable in that the fuel filler cap was not replaced securely, and for the whole second section could be seen flapping around. Salo, with the new evolution of the Arrows/Hart engine, had a bizarre stop with lots of nothing in particular going on. The battle between Villeneuve and Irvine was a thrilling spectacle and soon the Ferrari was ahead of the Canadian. By the end of lap 29, the gap from Coulthard in the lead to Schumacher in second was some 23 seconds.

Nakano's Minardi had a rather spectacular end, with a blown engine, which went belching huge flames from the rear for some time after being parked. Panis was making progress through the field, and soon took Ralf Schumacher for 7th place. His team-mate, Trulli, meanwhile was making another sort of progress - through a gravel trap and to the pits to retire, presumably with damage to the suspension or underbody. Coulthard had now lapped the field up to 6th place as the second round of stops came up. Ralf was brought in early, interestingly because his fuel flap had opened and the team did not want to be black flagged. Irvine's Ferrari was eating its Goodyears and was really suffering, as he went wide and onto the grass at Tamborello.

The second round of stops went without major problems, barring Villeneuve's longer than expected pit stop. Irvine made a slight mistake on his first lap out, locking his brand new tyres. Coulthard didn't have any problems, but later revealed that his last set were used Bridgestones and this would have consequences later. By lap 47, Coulthard had a clear 20.7 second over Schumacher, but then Schumacher started to make big strides into the leader - 1.5 seconds a lap. The McLaren started to look more and more ragged, and was starting to lose whole chunks of time. Ron Dennis did not look a happy bunny in the pits, everytime the McLaren went by he was running into the garage to examine the data.

Lap 58, and Coulthard was up to Alesi. Panis' progress for Prost went in a puff of smoke - literally with a blown Peugeot. Hill had by now made his way to 7th place - ahead of Ralf Schumacher, despite a first lap pit stop for a new nose cone that cost at least 30 seconds. Unfortunately Hill's race ended with him pulling into the pits to retire some 5 laps from the end. At this stage it all started to get very interesting, with the McLaren being totally unable to do anything but nearly stop into Rivazza and other corners. Lap after lap the Ferrari got tantalizingly close to the McLaren, but come the finish Coulthard just held it together to win the race. A magnificent race with action from start to finish. Let's hope this is a sign of things to come, with the championship now being well and truly thrown open.

1.Coulthard 2.Schumacher 3.Irvine 4.Villeneuve 5.Alesi 6.Frentzen 7.R Schumacher 8.Tuero 9.Salo 10.Hill (classified, not running at finish) 11.Panis (classified, not running at finish)

-- 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

F1/TouringCars http://www.motorsport.org.uk

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Ralf Schumacher , Jean Alesi , Tiff Needell
Teams Ferrari , Mercedes , McLaren , Williams , Minardi , Jordan