The start was to prove crucial to both McLaren and Ferrari, for whoever made the best get away would have the chance to control the race. During the weekend, Ferrari has gone considerably better than had been expected - this circuit was expected...
The start was to prove crucial to both McLaren and Ferrari, for whoever made the best get away would have the chance to control the race. During the weekend, Ferrari has gone considerably better than had been expected - this circuit was expected to be the teams worst. As it happened, the two McLarens made a storming start, and leapt into the lead with Hakkinen leading Coulthard. Irvine unintentionally hindered his team mate, whilst Villeneuve made a stunning start up to third. From third Villeneuve was able to fend the Ferraris off, and prevent them making a challenge for the lead. This one had not been expected.... Two drivers, however, had a very short race, not even getting away from the grid - they were Panis, and in his home Grand Prix Marc Gene.
For the first section of the race, the race was under McLaren's control. They pulled away from Villeneuve, who in turn was keeping the Ferraris under control, and wasn't visibly slowing them down. The top six was rounded out by Jarno Trulli, who made a quiet start, but was in 6th place from the off. Things stayed settled to the first round of pit stops. Schumacher and Villeneuve pitted at the same time, and it was with this stop that Schumacher was able to take the place, and move up to third. Coulthard had a very very poor stop, not even vaguely lining up the car in his pit, and as a result had a very tardy 13 second stop.
The pit stop obviously did wonders for the performance of Schumacher's car, as suddenly his Ferrari was handling visibly better, and also found a sudden spurt of speed and making a big impression on Coulthard. Further down the field, Jordan were not having the best of races compared to recent form, and Frentzen retired with drive loss. By lap 38, the field seemed still rather settled, with the top six of Hakkinen, Coulthard, Schumacher, Irvine, Villeneuve and Trulli followed by Ralf Schumacher, Barrichello, Diniz, Hill, Herbert and Salo.
Villeneuve was in for his second stop when there was a dramatic turn around in his race. The team started to tug and pull trying to remove an element from the rear wing. A neat and tidy pit stop rapidly turned into a farce, with the clock ticking away to the 28 second mark before they succeeded. Then the car moved away. And stopped. The team then tried to push start it. That failed. Exit on BAR.
Schumacher was now within .8 seconds of Coulthard, and making a big effort to catch up the last little bit. Hakkinen, however, was not so worried - being a further 14 seconds up the road. Johnny Herbert had one of his usual weekends, retiring to be interviewed in the pits before the rush. Schumacher - on the tail of Coulthard, with no visible way of getting through - decided the best course would be to pit and try and make up time elsewhere. Unfortunately an Arrows decided the same, and he had to follow the rather slow moving car down the pit lane. It cost maybe a second or two, but that was to prove costly within a lap or so.
Coulthard made his stop in 7.4 seconds, a shade faster than Schumacher's 7.7 seconds, but those lost seconds in the pit road proved vital, as Coulthard just got ahead of Schumacher, and fended him off for the first half of the lap, until his tyres got up to temperature, when Coulthard started to pull away from the German.
The top 6 stalwart of the race, Jarno Trulli, was now under pressure from Barrichello and Hill, whilst Hakkinen was up to try and lap the trio. Coulthard, a little further down the road, was up to take an Arrows, and would soon be up on the gaggle. With four laps to go, Coulthard came up to Hill, and despite the Blue Flag Hooha of the last race, there was a noticeable lack of blue flags being shown, as a result the drivers were not moving out of the way, and as a result Michael Schumacher started to make up those vital tenths on the Scot. Finally a blue flag was shown and Coulthard got by, Schumacher was now up to Hill. Schumacher made a very decisive move on him and got by, meanwhile Coulthard was trying to get by Barrichello. This he did, leaving Schumacher also to find his way by. Whilst he did, Coulthard moved up on Trulli. Schumacher was finding getting by Barrichello more difficult, failing to do so for quite a few corners. When he did, it was a quite spectacular lunge. Damon Hill - with a bit of opportunist driving - followed through to take 7th.
1.Hakkinen 2.Coulthard 3.Schumacher 4.Irvine 5.Ralf Schumacher 6.Trulli +1 7.Hill +1 8.Barrichello +1 9.Salo +1 10.Fisichella +1 11.Wurz +1 12.de la Rosa +2 13.Takagi +3
-- Stephen M Baines http://www.motorsport.org.uk