Australian GP report

Before the start of the race, there was drama in the McLaren team. Both of the McLaren's were having problems, Mika with ECU problems and Coulthard with a clutch problem. The problems got worse when Mika drove out of the garage and took half...

Before the start of the race, there was drama in the McLaren team. Both of the McLaren's were having problems, Mika with ECU problems and Coulthard with a clutch problem. The problems got worse when Mika drove out of the garage and took half the gantry with him... The team failing to disconnect the cord from the computer to engine.

The cars lined up on the grid, with Coulthard pointing agressively for the first corner. Suddenly one Stewart had smoke pouring out of it, and the start was aborted. Johnny's car was not happy, and now Barrichello's Stewart did exactly the same in sympathy. Johnny suggested that something at the rear was overheating and set fire to the wiring loom. The spare car was set up for Barrichello, and Johnny was out...The teams went out on a second formation lap, Hakkinen was briefly delayed, but got away and made it back to his position. Michael Schumacher didn't, and had to start at the back. Tora Takagi also had a few problems and stalled on pole position, and eventually got away.

Mika got away cleanly in the lead, with Coulthard second, Frentzen briefly up to third, before Irvine took it back again. Jean Alesi was already out, whilst Jarno Trulli nudged Damon Hill out in an impossible lunge. The McLaren's were clearly faster than anything else, and pulled away 3 seconds from Irvine on the first lap. By lap 4 they had 9.4 seconds over Irvine. This looked like a silver day. Michael Schumacher was making his way through the field, and was already up to 11th by lap 13. Zanardi soon pitted and was sent out again.

It was then noticed that Coulthard was no longer at the front of the pack... He was driving into the pits, and straight into his garage to retire with hydraulics failure. On the track far more dramatic events were going on - Jacques Villeneuve lot his rear wing on a straight, and crashed. The safety car came out.

At the restart on lap 18, Irvine took the lead from a very slow Hakkinen. Hakkinen had a big problem, and limped his way around to the pits with what turned out to be a throttle linkage problem. A Benetton and Pedro de la Rosa touched, the Benetton lost its front wing in the process. Frentzen was now in second, with Trulli a magnificent 3rd, with Ralf, Michael and Pedro Diniz making up the top 6.

On the track, Alex Zanardi had a big off hitting the wall on both sides of the track, losing the front of the car and severely damaging the suspension. The safety car came out again. Possibly. In a chunk of FIA ineptitude, the SC sign went out on the pit wall, but the message didn't go around the track. The first that the leaders knew of it was when they found themselves coming across the safety car on the track... A notice went out saying that "Car 16 [Barrichello] is under investigation". It was thought to be to do with Barrichello taking the spare car, but Charlie Whiting said otherwise, saying there was no problem with it.

With the race under way again, Wurz took 5th from Diniz, only for Diniz to take it back again. Meanwhile, Marc Gene and a Prost collided and both were out, almost taking Pedro de la Rosa with them. Yet more drama when the right-rear tyre of Michael Schumacher delaminated, and he had to tour slowly back to the pits for a new set of boots and also for repairs to the front wing that was damaged somewhere. Diniz was soon to retire from his rather splendid 5th place with drive problems. Wurz, meanwhile, was having problems of his own, with the rear suspension collapsing. Barrichello was having problems of his own, getting a 10 second penalty, though at the time of writing the reason wasn't known.

By lap 31, the race had a very unusual looking top 6, with Irvine, Frentzen, Ralf Schumacher, Takagi, Fisichella and Badoer making it up. Takagi soon pitted for his routine stop, as did Ralf, and then Irvine pitted - as he did so Frentzen dived in as well to try and gain advantage in the pit lane. Irvine rejoined still in the lead, with Fisichella splitting the pair of them. Fisichella had a little fun for a while, challenging Irvine at the front, but would soon be pitting. Michael Schumacher was now in 10th place, but soon was into the pit lane and drove straight through. It turned out there was an intermittant fault with the steering wheel, meaning things like gear selection were problematic. The next time around he pitted and got his 5 new wheels.

The race then settled down for a while, with the top 6 of Irvine, Frentzen, Ralf, de la Rosa, Fisichella and Takagi staying fairly consistant, with those just outside - Barrichello and Zonta - occassionaly dipping in and out. The fight for 5th to 8th was impressive, and Barrichello finally took de la Rosa for 5th, whilst Zonta harried Takagi. Luca Badoer's gutsy challenge was over when his car failed. Tora had a minor off, but rejoined with no damage, but on the track Michael Schumacher was the fastest man, after Barrichello had had that honour for most of the race.

At the front BAR was making no friends fast. Ricardo Zonta was holding up Irvine massively, blue flags were waved left, right and center, but Zonta was having none of it. Irvine finally got by after a lap or so when Zonta's engine failed... It could have been bad for Irvine, if it hadn't been for a little problem for Frentzen on the same lap meaning his lead wasn't too badly damaged. At this point someone lit the blue touch paper at the rear of the Williams, as Ralf suddenly was finding over half a second a lap to previous times. Someone would be asking why later, but it mattered little as the order stayed to the flag.

1. E Irvine (Ferrari) 2. H-H Frentzen (Jordan) 3. R Schumacher (Williams) 4. G. Fisichella (Benetton) 5. Barrichello (Stewart) 6. de la Rosa (Arrows)

-- Stephen M Baines

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Jarno Trulli , Ralf Schumacher , Pedro de la Rosa , Luca Badoer , Michael Schumacher , Jean Alesi , Jacques Villeneuve , Ricardo Zonta , Marc Gene , Alex Zanardi , Tora Takagi , Damon Hill , Pedro Diniz
Teams Ferrari , McLaren , Williams , Benetton , Jordan