The race fans in the US were prepared for something they aren't used to - cars racing under wet conditions. Johnny Herbert, meanwhile, decided to further show how talented the F1 boys are by putting dry tyres on his car, rather than the wets that the rest of the field were using. The cars lined up on the grid, and the lights came on, and Coulthard got away well, and then the lights went out. It was hardly a surprise that it soon came out that Car 2 was "under investigation" for a suspected jump start... Giancarlo Fisichella joined in the fun.
Into the lead was Coulthard, and pushing hard to keep Schumacher behind, with Häkkinen in 3rd, and Button in 4th, with Trulli in 5th and Villeneuve managing to get up to 6th place. Button pitted very quickly and did Trulli - Trulli having a left-rear puncture.
<pre> Coulthard Schumacher Häkkinen Barrichello Villeneuve Frentzen Lap 4 0.717 3.043 4.350 9.490 10.207
</pre> Alesi was also soon into the pits, and suspected to be going onto dry tyres. Schumacher continued to harry Coulthard, whilst Coulthard performed a masterpiece of Schumacheresque driving, keeping moving just enough to keep the German behind. Barrichello soon pitted. Finally Schumacher got by, but from the desperation of the attempts to get by, you could just tell that comments would be coming later about unsporting behaviour. Coulthard soon let Häkkinen through, whilst Herbert was now the fastest driver on the track...
Häkkinen soon responds to this news, and is onto slicks, whilst Coulthard and Fisichella get their 10 second stop-go penalty. Michael Schumacher meanwhile kept out on the track... Ralf Schumacher was starting to make progress, and was up to 7th by taking Barrichello, and now charging after Villeneuve. Trulli had a dreadful stop, with it taking around 26 seconds, whilst Jenson Button was the fastest on the track, and a Minardi - that of Mazzacane - was now in 3rd place...
The dream of a lurid-yellow podium was soon over, as the other drivers were put onto dry tyres, and the Minardi had to succumb to the inevitable. Button's dream was also soon over, as he managed to get the car in the wall. Via a very bad radio link he said that he managed to "hit something, then the engine died" - what or who was not immediately obvious. Herbert was still charging on the track, and made easy meat of Barrichello.
Michael Schumacher now pitted with 43 seconds over Häkkinen. Herbert was now charging after a high-placed Diniz. The Brazilian went off under the terrific pressure, and Herbert's stock went up massively during the race. Häkkinen was now also on a charge, and making a second a lap on Schumacher. It was all for nought, as a fire appeared in the left-rear side of the car - he pulled into the pit lane (not the smartest move) and then finally pulled over to retire.
Herbert's day was having a bit of a downer, as he pitted, had new tyres and refuelled, and then the team had a damaged front wing to work on. Ralf Schumacher was a good solid second, with Frentzen in third now, making a German 1, 2, 3. Fisichella was not having a good weekend, and spun off the track, but managed to rejoin. Verstappen, sadly, had an off and managed to collect a wall in the process.
Coulthard managed to catch de la Rosa, and finally managed to get by him in turn three, after failing at the end of the pit straight. A lap later, Coulthard managed to catch Diniz and got by him at the end of the pit straight.
Ralf was then into the pits for a routine stop, and from therein would fall back from his 2nd place. Coulthard also pitted in 9.6s and rejoined the race in 11th place. During his stop his car was rolling, which pointed to a clutch problem at the start of the race.
The next series of laps had minor incidents, with Fisichella retiring, and Schumacher stopping, whilst Ferrari played mind-games with Jordan by dodging out of the pits and then back in, forcing Jordan into an earlier stop than planned for Frentzen. Barrichello then pitted a few laps later, whilst Ralf Schumacher stopped again with a pneumatics problem, and needed the system recharging. It was his 5th stop of the race...
By lap 64, with only a few laps to go, the battle for third was very strong, with Frentzen leading Villeneuve, and the latter not being especially happy about it. Villeneuve tried everywhere to get by, and was having none of it. He finally made an overoptimistic lunge at the end of the pit straight, and had to brake rather severely and shoot off the track. Frentzen continued on majestically in 3rd... Alesi's rather impressive race was over with a slightly overcooked Peugeot deciding to seize as he attempted to park it sensibly. It wasn't only those down the pecking order who had problems with their cars or themselves, with Schumacher giving himself a fright and going off track. He rejoined and continued on to the flag. For third, Villeneuve was soon on the back on Frentzen again and tried like mad to get by - but failed, probably through trying a tad too hard.
Stephen M Baines