by Tom Haapanen/motorsport.com A stop-and-go penalty ... spins by Schumacher and Coulthard ... Ferrari team orders ... congestion in the pits. There was no shortage of events at the Canadian Grand Prix, as the Formula One circus made its ...
by Tom Haapanen/motorsport.com
A stop-and-go penalty ... spins by Schumacher and Coulthard ... Ferrari team orders ... congestion in the pits. There was no shortage of events at the Canadian Grand Prix, as the Formula One circus made its first North American stop this year in Montreal. David Coulthard inherited Mika Hakkinen's bad luck, Rubens Barrichello donated a victory to Michael Schumacher, and Hakkinen lost at least three championship points on a poor pit stop call.
In qualifying, Coulthard's misfortunes hadn't quite matched those that Hakkinen had suffered in Monaco. However, as he sat on the grid, next to polesitter Schumacher, ready for the formation lap, the unthinkable happened: the Scot stalled his McLaren. The black-suited McLaren mechanics swarmed around his stricken car past the 15-second warning, only managing to restart the engine as the cars pulled away.
The steward's would eventually call the Scot in for a ten-second stop-and-go penalty, dropping him from second to tenth in the process, a seemingly draconina penaly. However, as FIA's regulations clearly state that any car that is disabled after the final warning signal, as Coulthard's had been, shall start at the back of the field. Had that rule been followed, Coulthard's position would have surely been even worse than with the stop-and-go penalty.
But the black flag wasn't out yet, as the field rolled around to the starting grid on this cloudy afternoon on Ile Notre-Dame. The starting lights came on, one after another, and went out in their usual anticlimactic fashion, while, below them, both the contenders and pretenders jostled for position in the first corner.
Schumacher took advantage of his pole position, and comfortably retained his lead over Coulthard into the first corner. Behind them, though, Hakkinen got the jump on Barrichello's Ferrari, pulling ahead and into third place. This was to be short-lived, though, as Jacques Villeneuve had taken the best start of the race, and shot from behind Hakkinen, and passed him into the first turn complex. To add insult to injury, Hakkinen had to lift his foot off the throttle, allowing Barrichello past him as well.
Behind them, it was Heinz-Harald Frentzen, followed by Pedro de la Rosa, who had taken a great start to improve from his outstanding 9th grid position into sixth by the first turn. To Arrows team boss Tom Walkinshaw's delight, the young Spaniard further passed Frentzen on the second lap. Eddie Irvine, though, stalled his Jaguar on the grid, and had to be pushed to the pits, taking him a lap down on the leaders at the start of the race already.
On lap 11, the axe fell on Coulthard: the black flag was shown to the McLaren driver. As he pulled into the pits, with the clock ticking, the competition was driving past the pits. He would finally exit the pit lane in tenth place, behind Jos Verstappen and Giancarlo Fisichella, elevating de la Rosa to a lofty fourth position.
At the front, as Schumacher pulled away rapidly from Villeneuve, Hakkinen made several attacks on Barrichello, but the edge seemed to be missing from those attempts. Was the Finn truly distracted by thoughts of his family? Did he no longer hunger for the victory and for extracting the ultimate performance from his Silver Arrow? These questions are still to be answered ...
But Barrichello's hunger was not sated, and on lap 25, he finally succeeded in pulling abreast with Villeneuve at the first turn complex, and stayed his position long enough to get the inside line into the second turn - which was all he needed to start disappearing to the horizon, leaving Villeneuve and a despondent Hakkinen behind him.
And, yes, there was some rain, too. A few laps after Schumacher, Barrichello and Hakkinen had made their scheduled stops for fuel and tires, sheets of water began to fall down heavily on the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve. There was nothing to do but to put on full wets. Ferrari was prepared, and on lap 45, Schumacher was the first of the leaders to come in for the wet-weather wear. As he released his clutch to leave the pit box, Barrichello appeared on the pit lane, too, only seconds behind. The Ferrari mechanics could not be, and were not, ready for him, and had to scramble for tires while he waited. Over twenty seconds in the pits ... surely this was all that Hakkinen needed?
But Ross Brawn had outwitted the McLaren team yet again: the Woking team did not call Hakkinen in until the following lap, forcing the Finn to skate gingerly around the track to the pits on grooved tires, losing far more time during his "in" lap than Barrichello lost during his pit stop mayhem.
The real winner in the rain sweepstakes, though, was Giancarlo Fisichella, who had started with a little bit heavier fuel load, and was able to delay his scheduled stop until after the rain started. The single stop, compared to two or three for everyone else, elevated him from ninth place up to second, ahead of both Barrichello and Hakkinen. However, the joy of P2 did not last long, as the Benetton spun off the track in the standing water. Fisichella was able to keep going, but as he stumbled back onto the track, Barrichello pulled past and into second.
Behind the leaders - Schumacher, Barrichello, Fisichella and Hakkinen - Frentzen's brakes had given up the ghost, but his teammate Jarno Trulli had reclaimed the fifth place after the tire change pit stops. However, Jos Verstappen was now demonstrating the Arrows' newfound strength on this track, passing first Alexander Wurz for sixth, and then Trulli for fifth.
Outside the points, there was some excitement yet, as Villeneuve plowed into Ralf Schumacher's Williams while trying to overtake the German for ninth position, taking both cars out of the race. The Canadian apologized immediately after the incident, but the damage was already done. However, Coulthard decided to try the same tactics, and push Wurz's Benetton out of the way at the first corner. He was luckier and able to continue, but Wurz lost both a barge board and the seventh place.
And so it finished ... although it might not have. Barrichello had been catching Schumacher hand over fist for the final half dozen laps, and looked like he would have swept past the German on the final lap. However, the radio message came from the pits: hold positions. Schumacher needed the points more for the championship, and so this was not to be Barrichello's day. Another time, maybe ...