The race was to start badly for Jean Alesi, as he pulled into the pits before the warm-up lap to get into the spare. As the race started, the McLaren's got away well, with Mika leading Coulthard, Schumacher was in third, with Frentzen getting...
The race was to start badly for Jean Alesi, as he pulled into the pits before the warm-up lap to get into the spare.
As the race started, the McLaren's got away well, with Mika leading Coulthard, Schumacher was in third, with Frentzen getting the leap on Barrichello. The top three pulled away from the rest of the pack, and the mid-field was very close indeed. At the end of lap 1, Gene pitted, whilst Herbert became the first retirement when he was took out by the Sauber of Diniz. Jenson Button, in his first race, had already made up 5 places, and was looking good for the race.
By the end of lap 4, the field was starting to look settled, with Häkkinen, Coulthard, Schumacher, Frentzen, Barrichello and Trulli making up the top 6, and Villeneuve, Salo, Verstappen, de la Rosa, Irvine and Fisichella completing the top 12. The race was a disaster for the Jaguar team on their debut, with Eddie Irvine retiring on lap 6. Pedro de la Rosa's Arrow had a suspension failure, and went off in front of Irvine, Irvine lifted and it caused the rear of the car to go light, and off he went... The safety car came out for 4 laps.
Jos Verstappen's Arrows had a similar suspension problem, but made his way back to the pits for repairs, which kept the car together for a little while. The Arrows' certainly were very competitive, and were living up to their winter testing promise, and once the new-car problems have been sorted, they should be there, or thereabouts.
The race restarted, and it was the same as before the safety car period. Initially. Coulthard was quickly into the pits with a problem with the car, the team examined the rear, and then he went out, only for the engine to let go very rapidly and very spectacularly. Out was one McLaren. This made for good news for the British American Racing team, who now had Villeneuve in the top 6, and on course for a point. About this time, Barrichello also woke up and started to try and make some progress on Frentzen.
At the front, Häkkinen continued to lead, until suddenly a repeat of Coulthard's failure landed on his car. It was a bad day for the McLaren team, with - according to Ron Dennis - some sort of misfire that caused the engine to let go that was to do with the valve gear. The failure was identical to the failures the team had the previous day, and a faulty or different spec part was suspected.
Michael Schumacher now had the lead, and a commanding one at that, with 25 seconds over the Jordan of Frentzen. The Ferrari came into the pits, and rejoined ahead of Trulli, with Frentzen leading the race from Barrichello. Villeneuve was now running in 5th place, with Fisichella completing the top 6. Just outside the top 6, Ralf Schumacher was mightily impressive in the BMW WilliamsF1, and Button was inside the top 10. Jordan's hopes of having a good result in Australia started to look unlikely, when the Honda of Trulli let go in a big way, and off went the Jordan to retirement.
Frentzen came into the pits, and hit a problem - a rather major one - the car refused to be refuelled, with the nozzle not going in. A routine stop turned into a 23 second nightmare. On lap 38, Jenson Button had his first pit stop in F1, and managed a very clean and smooth stop, with no dramas. His team-mate, unfortunately, didn't have the same luck a lap later, when the refuelling nozzle refused to leave the car... Jenson was now in the top 6.
Frentzen's woes continued, with him pulling into the pits with a major gearbox problem. At the front, Michael Schumacher was slowing, and whilst there was a huge gap to Ralf Schumacher in 3rd, Barrichello was catching, and with the big fuss about no team orders at Ferrari this year, it begged the question - what would happen if Barrichello did catch Schumacher? The answer soon came, when Barrichello slingshotted past him on the straight. It soon became apparent that this was to get enough of a gap for his pit-stop.
Jenson Button's speedy and smooth race was over on lap 46, when his BMW engine let go, and was the last retirement of the race. The last 10 runners made their way around, with a very intensive battle between 4th and 8th, with Villeneuve, Fisichella, Salo, Zonta, and Wurz battling hard, with barely a second between them. Salo was showing the form he had briefly at Ferrari, and hopefully we will see more of it this season. Salo made a fantastic move on Zonta for 6th, and then pushed hard on Fisichella, but never quite made it. At the flag 4th to 8th was covered by just 2 seconds. <pre> 1 3 M Schumacher Ferrari 58 - 1h34:01.987 2 4 R Barrichello Ferrari +11.415 3 9 R Schumacher WilliamsF1 +20.009 4 22 J Villeneuve BAR +44.447 5 11 G Fisichella Benetton +45.165 6 17 M Salo Sauber +45.624 7 23 R Zonta BAR +46.468 8 12 A Wurz Benetton +46.915 9 20 M Gene Minardi 57 10 15 N Heidfeld Prost 56 DNF 10 J Button WilliamsF1 46 DNF 16 P Diniz Sauber 41 DNF 21 G Mazzacane Minardi 40 DNF 5 H Frentzen Jordan 39 DNF 6 J Trulli Jordan 35 DNF 14 J Alesi Prost 27 DNF 1 M Hakkinen McLaren 18 DNF 19 J Vertstappen Arrows 16 DNF 2 D Coulthard McLaren 11 DNF 18 P de la Rosa Arrows 6 DNF 7 E Irvine Jaguar 6 DNF 8 J Herbert Jaguar 1
F Lap 4 R Barrichello Ferrari 1m31.481 @ 41 laps
-Stephen M Baines-