Australian GP report

On the warm up lap Jean Alesi had problems getting away, as did Olivier Panis for whom the weekend just got worse. Alesi did, however, manage to get his way back to his starting position. Coulthard, 2nd on the grid, was angled towards Hakkinen...

On the warm up lap Jean Alesi had problems getting away, as did Olivier Panis for whom the weekend just got worse. Alesi did, however, manage to get his way back to his starting position.

Coulthard, 2nd on the grid, was angled towards Hakkinen and ready for the start, but things did not go his way once the lights went out. Coulthard kept second and managed to keep a hard charging Schumacher behind, with Villeneuve, Fisichella and Herbert in tow. It proved to be a momentary challenge, as by the end of the first lap Hakkinen had 1.5 seconds over Coulthard, who inturn had a further 1.3 seconds over Schumacher. Hakkinen's time on the first lap would have been more than enough to qualify for the race (a 1m34.346). So much for the new rules bunching everyone together....

The McLaren steamroller then got well and truly under way, with the gap from Hakkinen to Schumacher being some 6.4 seconds by the end of lap 3.

1988 anyone?

At this stage, Barichello was in the pits, Ralf Schumacher and Magnussen had tangled and were out, whilst Takagi reversed into Ralf in sympathy. Diniz also retired with a severely smoking engine.

Behind race 1, Fisichella was up to the tail of Villeneuve but could do nothing about it. Come lap 6 and Michael Schumacher's Ferrari was smoking and rapidly the engine let go in a big way. Shuey was obviously disgusted with the situation, and threw the steering wheel away in disgust. He then hastily remembered the previous days fines for not leaving steering wheels in place and retrieved it and reatatched it before he had a chance to line the pockets of the FIA.

It was clear from the television shots that the Williams was eating its Goodyears. The left front tyres were shot (one good thing about the new grooved tyres is it is easier to see the state of the tyres). Fisichella, obviously faster, was unable to do anything about the Canadian in front. This allowed Herbert to trail Fisichella as well. Further down in 6th place Frentzen was holding up his own personal train as well.

News now arrived that Tuero had jumped the start (rather blatantly) and would have a stop go penalty. Fisichella continued the push on Villeneuve, but the Canadian was not relenting despite his left rear now also being visibly ruined. Tuero was not having a good day by this point, being awarded another stop-go penalty for speeding in the pit lane.

The Frentzen train of Irvine, Hill, Wurz and Trulli continued to trundle around. Hill, rather sensibly, decided not to follow the crocodile and pitted for new boots. Mika Salo also pitted at the same time, the latter doing a particular good in lap and beating the former World Champion out of the pits. At the front, Hakkinen now had 3.4 seconds over Coulthard, whilst Coulthard was 1 minute - repeat 1 minute - ahead of Villeneuve in third place. Wurz soon pitted, and the Bridgestones looked almost new - rather different to the state of Williams' Goodyears. Hakkinen was now lapping in the 1m32's by lap 21. Fisichella then pitted in 8.3 seconds.

The top 6 now featured Hakkinen, Coulthard, Villeneuve, Herbert, Frentzen and Irvine. McLaren were now ready for their stops. Hakkinen pitted first for new soft Bridgestones and the old ones again looked almost new. On the track, Tuero's bad day continued with an engine blow up. Coulthard now had the lead from Hakkinen, pitted and rejoined the race still in second place such was the McLaren teams domination of the race.

Rosset was next to join the stop-go club for speeding in the pit lane. Herbert was the next of the 'top' runners to pit and rejoined the race ahead of Wurz. Villeneuve pitted on lap 29 - a 1 stop strategy - and rejoined ahead of Herbert.

Lap 29: Hakkinen, Coulthard, Frentzen, Irvine, Alesi, Fisichella, Villeneuve, Herbert, Wurz, Hill, Panis.

Wurz was now being lapped by Hakkinen and holding him up, with Coulthard breathing heavily down the Finns neck. Wurz finally let him through, whilst Coulthard managed the same feat rather easier now that the reality of 1998 had sunk in to the Benetton driver! Frentzen and Irvine pitted together, with Irvine having a very long stop, and rejoining the race with Fisichella now between him and Frentzen. Drama! And did this race need it. Hakkinen suddenly pitted and went straight through without stopping. In the process he lost the lead to Coulthard to the tune of 8 seconds. Coulthard was now trying to pull away and came up to lap Frentzen. In the process Fisichella took Frentzen for the place.

Hakkinen was now like a man possessed and pushed very hard doing a 1m31 (similar to pole time on Saturday) on his in lap on old rubber. He made a complete hash of the stop, with the rear wheels spinning away whilst the mechanics tried to get the new boots on.

Lap 40: Coulthard, Hakkinen, Fisichella, Frentzen, Irvine, Villeneuve, Herbert, Alesi, Wurz, Hill, Panis.

Coulthard was next to pit, and did so very calmly. Fisichella also pitted, but from a lap down. The McLarens had lapped everyone else in the field. The Williams strategy of a one stop race was now looking good for the non-McLaren race for third. Alesi was the next casualty of the race, dumping oil over the apex of turn 3 before pulling off. Fisichella, meanwhile, had a trip over the grass and then to the pits with a collapsed rear wing support - the cause rather than the effect of the excursion.

Irvine was now after Frentzen, but Coulthard was up to lap them. Irvine politely lets him through, only for Frentzen to be a little less co-operative. Hakkinen followed through rather more cleanly, but still possessed. Hakkinen charged and charged, despite pit boards telling him to slow down. He finally calmed down, only for Coulthard to slow right down to let him through. He continued the race to 'win' from Coulthard. The 2 McLarens a clear lap ahead of third placed Frentzen.

1. Hakkinen 2. Coulthard +0.7 seconds 3. Frentzen + 1 lap 4. Irvine 5. Villeneuve 6. Herbert 7. Wurz 8. Hill 9. Panis

-- Stephen M Baines

F1/TouringCars http://web.ukonline.co.uk/stephen.baines

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Ralf Schumacher , Michael Schumacher , Jean Alesi , Mika Salo
Teams Ferrari , McLaren , Williams , Benetton