British GP race report

After the terrible weather and conditions of the previous few days, the British Grand Prix was expected to possibly be a bit of a let-down. In the event what occurred was possibly one of the most exciting races to be seen in recent years in ...

After the terrible weather and conditions of the previous few days, the British Grand Prix was expected to possibly be a bit of a let-down. In the event what occurred was possibly one of the most exciting races to be seen in recent years in Formula 1. For the whole of the race it was nigh on impossible to even remotely predict where the cars would be at the end. The race was, quite simply, a corker from start to finish.

The grid looked a little unusual as a result of the last couple of days weather - the front row of Barrichello and Frentzen was a nice change, whilst Schumacher was on the third row with Button, and the two McLaren's on the second row. The lights went out, and Barrichello made a good start, and kept the lead from Frentzen. Schumacher made a lightening start, but was squeezed out by the McLaren's and dropped back, and back, whilst Jacques Villeneuve made a cracking start, and up into the top 6. Ralf Schumacher was in 7th, and harrying Jacques hard all the way around the first lap, and took him into Stowe on the second lap. Michael Schumacher was in 8th place...

What followed was lap after lap where the top 6 were covered by only a few seconds, with everyone pushing each other hard. The gaps between the drivers changed from lap to lap, as each took it in turns to set the fastest lap. Ralf was the initial charger on lap 2, whilst on lap 6, it was Frentzen who suddenly edged up on Barrichello, only for Coulthard to sense the Jordan pulling away, and make a few tenths on him. Then Button sensed that the McLaren of Hakkinen was dropping back, and had a spurt and set the fastest lap, then for Coulthard to push, and Barrichello. You could sense that this was possibly the most evenly matched top 6 that we have seen for a long time. Lap 11, in particular, was odd, as the gaps between all of the cars increased by around 0.3 seconds. Lap 14, Barrichello slowed considerably and gave all a brief flutter...

On lap 15, the rear of the field started their pits stops, with Salo pitting, followed in the coming laps by Fisichella (back in 11th). One of the Arrows, Verstappen, who was running in a solid 9th on Schumacher's tail suddenly slowed, and pulled into the pits to retire. A crying shame as the Arrows have looked good all weekend. On lap 20, Frentzen was on a charge for Barrichello and pushing hard, setting a fastest lap of 1m28.285. On the same lap, there was a report that Fisichella had somehow damaged the front of his car. The very same lap, an even more significant and worrying sign appeared - a pit board out for Hakkinen telling him to change mixtures to "Mixture 3". Was the McLaren in trouble? Apparently now, as the McLaren had a sudden burst of speed... Villeneuve was feeling the pressure from Michael Schumacher and had a slight wobble.

The pitting for the rear of the field continued to go on, with Mazzacane making his stop, with Alesi, de la Rosa and Gene all pitting on lap 23. Alesi kept his place, whilst Gene gained a place on de la Rosa in the pits. The first of the front runners came in, Frentzen, and was turned around in 8.1 seconds, whilst Ralf Schumacher came in for a long stop - 9.3 seconds - and had a slight problem with the right-rear of the car. Nick Heidfeld also made a stop, and had a slight problem with the nozzle not wanting to leave the car. Jenson Button was next to pit from 4th, and was turned around in 10.3 seconds, and lost track position to Ralf. It looked like the Williams' and Jordan were on for a 1 stop strategy...

Back in the lead, Barrichello was being caught hand-over-fist by Coulthard, and was now chasing after his tail hard. Meanwhile, on lap 26, Eddie Irvine made his stop for Jaguar. The following lap, de la Rosa pulled over into the old pit lane and retired - after so much promise, it was sad to see the Arrows' both retiring, but the car this year has much potential. Finally, Coulthard made a very brave move on Barrichello, taking him around the outside of Stowe, and made it stick. Once past the Ferrari, the McLaren just streaked away... Mika Hakkinen pitted from 3rd, and was turned around in 11.3 seconds - a clear 1 stopper. He rejoined the track behind the BMW-WilliamsF1, whilst at the front, Coulthard was being slowed down by a Minardi.

With 28 laps to go, Coulthard was trying to build up a comfortable cushion to get himself out ahead of the Williams' that now looked to be threatening the podium, and Frentzen for second. Coulthard finally pitted, and was turned around in 10.2 seconds, and rejoined the race behind Frentzen. This left the top runners as Barrichello & Schumacher (both yet to stop), followed by Frentzen, Coulthard, Ralf Schumacher, Button, Hakkinen, Trulli and Villeneuve.

Then, a totally unexpected thing occurred - Barrichello spun. The whole of the rear end of the car just overtook the rest of the car, and he then struggled to gather it together enough to drag it back onto the track, and back to the pits. The team reported that the hydraulic pressure dropped during the lap, causing gearbox problems. Ricardo Zonta also hit trouble, and spun off into the gravel. The pit strategy of Ferrari was now gone, as Ross Brawn and Schumacher were both at Barrichello's disposal, and it was lap 38, and Schumacher finally made his stop. With everyone now pitted, the top ten shook out as Frentzen, Coulthard, Ralf Schumacher, Button, Hakkinen, Michael Schumacher, Villeneuve, Fisichella, Trulli and Irvine.

With 20 laps to go, Jordan were ready for a stop, and in came Frentzen, allowing Coulthard into the lead. Frentzen was not on the 1 stop strategy that everyone had thought he was. The Williams' of Ralf and Button were now in 2nd and third. Were both the Williams' to finish on the podium in only their 4th race with BMW power? Frentzen dropped back to 6th place, behind Michael Schumacher...

After a while it became clear that the Williams' couldn't run to the end, as Button was pulled in, and turned around in 7.5 seconds, with just 14 laps to go. Eddie Irvine also pitted his Jaguar, and found himself with a box of neutrals, taking his stop to 30 second territory... Ralf Schumacher came in the next lap, and was turned around in 7.1 seconds. Johnny Herbert came in, and was having a problem with the hydraulics on his car, and had it repressurised, lengthening his stop to 17 seconds. Not a good day for Jaguar.

With 10 laps to go, Frentzen's car was in 4th and ahead of Ralf and Button, but now a misfire of some sort could be heard, only for it to become apparent that Frentzen was unable to change gear. The hydraulics on the car were failing. Ralf took him, and later Button did likewise, when Frentzen realised it was a lost cause and pulled over to let the Brit through. Frentzen later confirmed that the car was stuck in 6th gear and it was a "mechanical piece causing a problem". Heidfeld had a smoky off in his Prost.

Villeneuve was now in 6th place, with Trulli in 7th, and being the only chance Jordan had of a point. Trulli found a sudden rush of pace, and pushed the French-Canadian hard, finally making a very brave move into Priory on the inside, and snatching 6th. Hakkinen was also suddenly running very fast in second place from Coulthard, and pushing him for the lead. The McLaren team put out a board telling him to back off, but for a while it made no difference, as the Finn continued to push Coulthard hard. Villeneuve's bar finally gave in, and he pulled into the pits. He did not look a happy bunny as he left the car. Hakkinen continued to be only a little adrift from his team mate to the flag, but the Scot won the race handsomely in one of the most thrilling and exciting races in recent history.

Stephen M Baines

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Eddie Irvine , Jenson Button , Ralf Schumacher , Johnny Herbert , Michael Schumacher , Mika Hakkinen , Jacques Villeneuve , Nick Heidfeld , Ricardo Zonta , Ross Brawn
Teams Ferrari , McLaren , Williams , Minardi , Jordan