RACE REPORT: AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX Ferrari's Irvine breaks through for first career victory By Dan Knutson Indyf1.com Special Contributor MELBOURNE, Australia, March 7, 1999 -- Eddie Irvine avoided the spins, accidents, bad luck and mechanical...
RACE REPORT: AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX Ferrari's Irvine breaks through for first career victory
By Dan Knutson Indyf1.com Special Contributor
MELBOURNE, Australia, March 7, 1999 -- Eddie Irvine avoided the spins, accidents, bad luck and mechanical failures that stranded 14 of the 22 starters, and went on to win the season-opening Australian Grand Prix in his Ferrari.
This was the first Grand Prix victory for the popular Irishman, in his 82nd start, and it also marked the 120th Grand Prix win for Ferrari. Heinz-Harald Frentzen was second in a Benson & Hedges Jordan-Mugen-Honda, and Ralf Schumacher was third in a Winfield Williams-Supertec. Irvine averaged 118.589 mph (190.852 km/h) to complete the 57-lap, 187.822-mile (302.271-km) race in one hour, 35 minutes and 1.659 seconds. His margin of victory was 1.026 seconds over Frentzen.
This was the first time a Ferrari won the opening race of the season since Nigel Mansell's victory in 1989 and the first time a Ferrari has won the Australian Grand Prix since Gerhard Berger's 1987 triumph. Pole-sitter Mika Hakkinen led from the start until Lap 18 when he began to experience gear selection problems in his West McLaren-Mercedes. Hakkinen's teammate, David Coulthard, ran second until retiring with hydraulic troubles.
Former Indy 500 winner Jacques Villeneuve brought out the pace car on Lap 15 when the rear wing fell off his British American Racing-Supertec, and he spun into the wall. As Hakkinen faltered on the restart, Irvine grabbed the lead that he would never relinquish.
The pace car had to come out for a second time when two-time CART champion Alex Zanardi made a mistake and hit the wall in his Winfield Williams-Supertec.
The start of the race was aborted because both Stewart-Fords had engine fires caused by oil leaking onto the exhaust pipes. Rubens Barrichello started the race from the pits in the backup Stewart-Ford, but teammate Johnny Herbert had to watch from the sidelines. Michael Schumacher stalled his Ferrari on the restart of the second formation lap and had to move to the back of the grid.
Michael Schumacher had clawed his way from last to fourth only to have a rear tire blow out. He limped back to the pits for repairs and dropped back in the field again. Later he had to pit again to have his steering wheel and all its electronics replaced.
Barrichello also charged to the front only to be issued a 10-second stop-and-go penalty when he passed a car before the start-finish line after the pace car pulled off.
EDDIE IRVINE (Ferrari, winner): "To do this with Ferrari is amazing, incredible. All weekend my engineer and I have been working away at our own thing. We made different choices from what other people were doing, and we were convinced we were going the right way. Apart from the two McLarens (being faster), we proved that we were doing the right thing. After such a long time, this is fantastic. There are so many people who have helped me all the way up, starting in Formula Ford. They know who they are, and I want to send them my thanks, but there are so many of them that I would have to be here for a few hours to mention their names. I needed a lot of help to get here, believe me!"
HEINZ-HARALD FRENTZEN (B&H Jordan-Mugen-Honda, second): "The key point was the Safety Car situation. All of a sudden Mika Hakkinen went slow, which caused a bit of confusion. I hadn't seen any green flags at the end of the previous lap (before the restart), and I wasn't sure the Safety Car period was over. Then I saw Ralf coming up alongside, and I thought, 'Gee, he's going to overtake me before the line.' He didn't go past, luckily for him, but he passed me at the end of the straight. I was able to pass him back at the second corner, and that was a key point."
RALF SCHUMACHER (Winfield Williams-Supertec, third): "I lost one of the barge boards. A few things on my car fell apart in this race, and I had to slow down toward the end. Apart from that, everything went really well for us in this race. I had a good start; I gained a few positions thanks to the Safety Car, and I even got past Heinz for a short time before he took the place back--which I promise you is the last time it will happen to me."
MIKA HAKKINEN (West McLaren-Mercedes, led laps 1-17): "I'm very disappointed because all the effort the team has put into making the car so competitive has not been rewarded. We showed the potential of the car in practice, qualifying and in the first phase of the race. Shortly before the Safety Car came out I felt that the car didn't accelerate properly. We tried some adjustments during my pit stop but without success, so I had to retire five laps later."
DAVID COULTHARD (West McLaren-Mercedes): "My car was running perfectly in the first part of the race when all of a sudden I couldn't down-change at the fast chicane and got stuck in sixth gear. So I had to retire."
GIANCARLO FISICHELLA (Mild Seven Benetton-Supertec, fourth): "This was a great but very hard race for me. On the first corner I locked my wheels and got a flat spot on the tire. This caused vibrations on the car, which I had to fight for 17 laps. When the Safety Car went back in I collided with Trulli and lost my front wing. I had to take an unprogrammed pit stop to change the nose, and then with new tires the car ran really well."
ALEX ZANARDI (Winfield Williams-Supertec, crashed on Lap 21): "I don't really know what happened. I was having quite a few problems, and I was a few seconds off the pace. I just turned into a corner and lost the back. I certainly had more problems this weekend than I thought I'd have."
JACQUES VILLENEUVE (British American Racing-Supertec, crashed on Lap 14): "The crash probably looked worse than it was because I headed straight for the wall after the rear wing failed, but I am fine. It is disappointing because the car was going well, and I was making good progress catching the cars in front of me. This is not the way I would have liked my first race of the season to end. It was looking promising in the second half of the race."
Reasons for retirement from the 1999 Australian Grand Prix: Ricardo Zonta -- gearbox overheating Luca Badoer -- gearbox Alexander Wurz -- suspension Pedro Diniz -- transmission Marc Gene -- accident Jarno Trulli -- accident Olivier Panis -- jammed wheel nut Mika Hakkinen -- throttle linkage Alex Zanardi -- accident David Coulthard -- hydraulics Jacques Villeneuve -- rear-wing failure Damon Hill -- accident Jean Alesi -- gearbox Johnny Herbert -- did not start
NEWS and NOTES:
First out: Just a few seconds after 11 a.m. on Friday, March 5, Heinz-Harald Frentzen steered his B&H Jordan Mugen-Honda out onto the Albert Park circuit. Alex Zanardi was directly behind Frentzen in his Winfield Williams Supertec. The 1999 Formula 1 season was underway.
The incredible stopping power...and speed...of a F1 car: Last year, Mika Hakkinen was clocked at 307.7 km/h (191 mph) at the end of the pit straight on the Albert Park circuit. At that point he was only 134 meters (146.5 yards) from Turn 1, which is taken at 110 km/h (68 mph).
The Arrows shuffle: Arrows waited until just four days before practice began to nominate its second driver, and it was Japan's Tora Takagi rather than Finland's Mika Salo who teams up with Spanish rookie Pedro de la Rosa this season. de la Rosa finished a strong sixth in the race, earning the final championship point.
Zanardi's return: This race marked Alex Zanardi's return to F1 after three years and two championships in CART. "I wouldn't be here if I hadn't wanted to come back," Zanardi said. "I am pleased about it, and I am anxious to start. F1 has changed a lot since I left it in 1995, and it would be quicker to say what has remained the same since then than to list all the changes. "I would say the champ cars I have driven for the last three years were closer to the F1 that I used to drive than to the Williams I will be racing here, so it's a big switch. Nevertheless, it's an enjoyable car to drive, with more power than any kind of road car you can imagine."
Schumacher not done: Michael Schumacher has denied published reports that he will retire when his Ferrari contract expires at the end of 2002.
Surf's up, Damon: Damon Hill spent the week prior to the race learning to surf on the beaches south of Melbourne. He also fitted in some water skiing.
No problems here: British-American Racing's dual tobacco livery did not draw objections from the Australian government, which has strict laws governing tobacco advertising in sports. Still, BAR must appear before F1's governing body, the FIA, on March 12 to answer charges that it might have brought the sport into disrepute during its attempt to run its cars in separate paint schemes.
United Nations on wheels: This year's international F1 driver lineup consists of four drivers from Italy, three each from Brazil and Germany, two each from France, Great Britain and Spain, and one each from Finland, Ireland, Scotland, Austria, Japan and Canada.
Weighing in: As usual, the drivers, wearing their driving suit and helmet, weighed in for the start of the season. Alexander Wurz is the heaviest of the 22 at 82.5 kilos (181.5 pounds) while Luca Badoer was at the other end of the scales at 58.5 kilos (128.7 pounds).