Belgian Grand Prix 1998 Race Report Before the start of the race there was rain. Lots of it. It was touch and go whether to start under the safety car. In the end the decision was to start normally, and at the time it looked to be the...
Belgian Grand Prix 1998 Race Report
Before the start of the race there was rain. Lots of it. It was touch and go whether to start under the safety car. In the end the decision was to start normally, and at the time it looked to be the correct decision. It wasn't to look so in a few minutes time...
On the formation lap, Damon Hill reported back to the pits that something fell off one of the McLarens. Irvine made a good start, but Villeneuve did better, and found himself second to Hakkinen. Schumacher had moved down to 6th. Then, barely after the start, Coulthard had a huge moment and collided with the wall, bounced off and collected at least half the grid in the process. Only 5 cars got through without being partly involved in the fracas. Hakkinen, Villneuve, Schumacher, Hill and a Benetton (the last two picked there way through somehow apparantly unscathed).
Everyone else was in the pile of broken cars. The race was stopped. There was no way - even if anyone wanted to - that anyone could have got through. The whole track covered in broken pieces of suspension, bodywork and gearboxes. The drivers were very concerned for each other, and checked each other to see how everyone was. Only Irvine appeared to have any problems, limping back to the pit. It was highly unlikely that all the teams would be able to re-start - many of the backend of the grid had both cars involved.
Indeed, that was to be the case. After half an hour, Rosset, Salo, Panis and Barrichello were confirmed as non-starters for the second start. Some, still, were in the air. The pit lane, by necessity, was closed so no one could get to the grid from the pit. A sensible decision, as the cars would have to go through the debris...
After nearly and hour the race was restarted. Irvine made a good start, but Hill made an even better one and was into the lead by the first corner! Hakkinen, meanwhile spun and was collected by Herbert. Further round, Hill still leading from Irvine and Schumacher, Coulthard and a Benetton tangled and went off. Schumacher, meanwhile, took Irvine for second. The safety car came out - very sensibly - allowing the track to be cleared. Hill led from Schumacher and Irvine. Coulthard picked himself out of the gravel and rejoined at the back of the field. Later, Hakkinen was reported as saying he felt that Schumacher had touched him.
The safety car went in, and Hill led from Schumacher with Irvine 3rd, Villeneuve quickly dispatched Alesi for 4th, and Frentzen in 6th. Hill led, and led well, for some time, holding a couple of seconds over the Ferrari. Villeneuve, a little further back - had a spin and lost 4th, rejoining in 6th place. The top two were lapping some 3 seconds a lap faster than the field. Eventually, Hill lost the lead to Schumacher, who made a good move at the exit of Blanchemont to take him at the entrance to the bus stop on lap 8. Verstappen's engine - the sole runner for Stewart - went in a cloud of smoke. Irvine then had what looked to be a breakage, with the front wing tangled under the car before going into the gravel trap. The rain was starting to fall again, and quite heavily. It looked to be only a matter of time before full wets would be the order of the day.
The incidents came thick and fast, with Takagi going off at La Source. Villeneuve and Tuero narrowly avoided a coming together at La Source. Ralf came into the pits for soft wets. The front two - Schumacher and Hill - were massively faster than the rest of the field. Frentzen then had a little off, and Alesi moved to 3rd. Schumacher, Hill, Alesi, Frentzen and Fisichella all pitted on the same lap - Villeneuve was left out on the track in the lead (only room for one in the Williams pit) and span off - of those who pitted, the major dramas were for Hill and Fisichella. Jordan took the opportunity to alter the front wing settings, and the alen key got stuck. Fisichella meanwhile had a very tardy stop, though nothing obvious went wrong. Wets were now well and truly the order of the day.
On lap 23, it was still raining. Diniz and Trulli (on a one stop strategy) made their stop. The order was now Schumacher, Hill, Ralf, Alesi, Frentzen and Irvine. Irvine catching Frentzen and catching fast, and harrying him. Schumacher was being a little too brave, almost coliding with Diniz. He was then up to Coulthard in 8th place, and lapping him. Jean Todt went down to McLaren to let him by sensibly. The McLaren moved over to let him by and slowed a little. The Ferrari piled into the rear, head on, moved over, and went in again and lost a wheel and the front wing. Amazingly he got back to the pit, but was out, and went to try and attack Coulthard in the McLaren garage. The Ferrari mechanics had to restrain him. Hill was now in the lead from Ralf Schumacher. Ferrari's hope for the day went with Irvine in the gravel. It was now a totally open race, with nothing to affect the championship as both McLarens and both Ferraris were out.
Hill now had 14.3 seconds over Ralf. Hill then had a little moment and missed a chunk of the chicane. Ralf then pitted in 10.5s. Then another horrific accident. Fisichella's Benetton hit the rear of Nakano's Minardi. The front end was ripped appart, the car sped for ages against the wall, coolant spewing out, and slithered to a halt with flames licking out of the side. A very nasty accident. The safety car came out and collected what was left of the runners. The order was now Hill, Ralf, Alesi, Frentzen, Diniz, Trulli - the only runners. Sixteen cars out, six remaining. It was clearly a dangerous track to be on.
A bizarre twist then occured. Coulthards car was fixed and as there were only 6 runners, there was a chance of McLaren getting a point or two... Coulthard rejoined the back of the pack, 6 laps down, and hoping for others to fall off. Not the ideal way to continue a race, and probably would do wonders for Michael Schumacher's temper...
Nakano also decided to rejoin - the Minardi team also sensing a point in the offing. So, at the restart we had 8 runners. Hill continued to lead from Ralf. It was reported that the Jordan team had instructed no silly business - sensibly in this instance as the team was looking for a win. In the space of 2 laps, Hill pulled out 2.4 seconds over Ralf. Alesi was close behind.
Things were mighty close for the front three. Hill, Ralf and Alesi all pushing hard and taking at turns to make progress. Frentzen has a little moment with 5 laps to go, spinning, but catching it again and keeping it going. It then started to rain again with 4 laps to go, this started to aid the Jordans again. Coulthard was now starting to make some progress in 7th, but 6th was not really an option.
Alesi started to slow with 3 laps to go, the leading pair got by Trulli's slowing Prost. EJ, meanwhile, in the pit, was looking happy at the prospect of an almost certain victory, despite a rumoured $100,000 a point bonus with Hill. Hill won a fantastic race from Schumacher - a truly unbelievable race. The joy in the Jordan pit was clear to see. Who could have hoped for this just 4 races ago...
1.Hill 2.R Schumacher 3.Alesi 4.Frentzen 5.Diniz 6.Trulli
-- Stephen M Baines
"I've always felt very secure in rain, even when I was a little boy standing at the window looking out" Phil Hill
F1/TouringCars http://www.motorsport.org.uk stephen @ motorsport * org * uk