As the cars were completing the formation lap, the news came through that Car 8 (Button) was under investigation. The reason being that Button had both his race car and the T-Car on the race circuit at the same time. At the lights going out,...
As the cars were completing the formation lap, the news came through that Car 8 (Button) was under investigation. The reason being that Button had both his race car and the T-Car on the race circuit at the same time.
At the lights going out, Mika Häkkinen managed to take Rubens for 2nd place, whilst Schumacher led into the first corner. Eddie Irvine didn't have the best of starts, going of at T3 and rejoining, whilst Montoya had an off-track moment in a bunching at the first corner. At the end of the first lap the positions were Schumacher, Häkkinen, Frentzen, Barrichello, Coulthard and Trulli.
Barrichello caused the rapid demise of Frentzen from the race. The German quite clearly had the corner, and was already at the apex, as Barrichello decided that he would go up the inside and nurf the Jordan. The Jordan was to have no further part in the race, whilst the Ferrari continued on majestically.
A little while later Ralf Schumacher's car was seen at the side of the road and broken, with no rear wing. The replays showed that the BAR of Villeneuve went into the back of the WilliamsF1 and was launched into the air a long way before the corner, it was then launched into the safety fencing and off towards the cameras. There was a lot of debris on the track. Both Ralf and Villeneuve were safe. The Safety Car was brought out. Villeneuve later said that he had been following Ralf, and he was in the middle and not moving. Villeneuve ended up with no alternative than to hit the Williams. The safety car stayed out for a very long time, and it became apparent that someone had been hurt. The ambulance was present, and later on news came that a marshal was involved. Much later, the news was broken that a marshal had been killed in the accident - the teams and drivers later once it was known were universal in their grief. The initial reports were that the marshal had been killed by a flying wheel.
At the end of the safety car period of 25 minutes the Arrows of Verstappen pitted for his first of two pit stops. Schumacher bunched up the field on the last lap, and slowed massively and suddenly at various points around the circuit, apparently to get some brake heat into the now very cold tyres. At the re-start sensibly no one attempted any overtaking, as the cars were massively under temperature, and not likely to behave as intended. The teams now faced the situation of cars heavy with fuel, as they had not been at racing speed, but with tyres that were likely to wear out before the cars were ready for refuelling.
Benetton were not having a good time. Button did receive a 10 second stop/go penalty for the technical infringement before the race, and then on lap 25 Fisichella had a loss of engine power, and he fell back gradually through the race.
McLaren also had their traditional bad start to the season, with the car of Häkkinen being seen in the tyre wall, after travelling in backwards from the corner. Adrian Newey later reported that it was suspected to be either a suspension or wing failure. The team later reported that it was a front right suspension failure.
One of the strangest events of the race occurred shortly afterwards, with Schumacher driving past the pits doing his best Laurel & Hardy impersonation by scratching his head. It was later revealed that the team was having problems with communications, and they wanted to know if Schumacher could hear them. Coulthard and Barrichello now made very short work of Fisichella as he continued to be plagued by his engine problems.
Olivier Panis continued to have a good race for BAR as he took Trulli on the straight in a very easy move. The Jordan appeared to have no power at all, and it is assumed the car was having an engine problem of some sort. A little while later, Coulthard made a beautiful move on Barrichello and took him through Turn 3, and then nailed it home through 4. He then pulled away quite rapidly from the Brazilian.
On lap 38, Schumacher toured in for his new tyres, and was turned around in 107.7 seconds, rejoining in third place. Heidfeld, having a new lease of life at Sauber, was soon in and out again. Coulthard now had his chance to try and pull out a lead before pitting to try and close the gap to Schumacher after his own stop. Barrichello pitted first, and was out in 10.2 seconds, Coulthard made his stop in a fraction under 10 seconds, and managed to rejoin ahead of Barrichello. Williams had their second car quit the race with engine failure.
From hereon, the main action was the battle between Frentzen in 6th and Heidfeld in 5th. The two Germans were both out to prove their superiority, and both came out very credibly at the end of the race. Jenson Button stopped after 52 laps with an electrics problem caused by an earlier exhaust problem overheating them.
Stephen M Baines - http://www.motorsport.org.uk