Nurburgring, September 26, 1999 - The Eifel Mountain trolls were working overtime, and what they euphemistically call the "vagaries of weather" that can turn a race on the Nurburgring upside down, came as advertised. The result was the strangest...
Nurburgring, September 26, 1999 - The Eifel Mountain trolls were working overtime, and what they euphemistically call the "vagaries of weather" that can turn a race on the Nurburgring upside down, came as advertised. The result was the strangest race of this season's FIA Formula One series, with favourites littering the track and back markers in the points when the spray had cleared at today's European Grad Prix.
It was also a bittersweet day for British American Racing, with Ricardo Zonta surviving the dry and wet conditions to finish eighth, one lap down from the winner, and suspected clutch failure prematurely ending Jacques Villeneuve's race with fours laps remaining while he ran in the points (fifth). The Canadian had driven an aggressive race, running on dry tyres throughout the various squalls, until mechanical difficulties claimed him.
The race was jinxed from the outset, with a false start caused by an unnaturally long set of starting lights, and then a first-lap accident that knocked Damon Hill (Jordan), Alexander Wurz (Benetton) and (Sauber's) Pedro Diniz out of the race, and sent Diniz to hospital. The McLaren and Ferrari teams were plagued by bad tyre decisions, which essentially ended the victory aspirations of Mika Hakkinen and Eddie Irvine, and then three straight leaders fell by the wayside: Jordan's polesitter Heinz-Harald Frentzen with mechanical failure, McLaren's David Coulthard locking his front tyres and spinning out, and Williams' Ralf Schumacher sustaining a puncture.
In the end, Stewart-Ford had its first-ever race victory in three years of Grand Prix racing, Johnny Herbert coming from 13th to capture his third career win. His team-mate, Rubens Barrichello was third, and the Stewart duo was joined on the podium by Prost's Jarno Trulli, in second. Schumacher claimed fourth, and Hakkinen hung on for fifth and two World Championship points, giving him a 62-60 lead over Irvine on the season with only two races remaining. Marc Gene of Minardi gave that team a rare point with a sixth-place finish.
The Formula One circus now leaves Europe for the final two rounds of the 1999 calendar, in Malaysia and Japan. The next race, the Malaysian Grand Prix, takes place on the brand-new, high-tech Sepang circuit just outside Kuala Lumpur, on October 17. The season will end on Halloween day at Suzuka in Japan.
JACQUES VILLENEUVE - Retired/Classified 10th "It was extremely disappointing to stop with four laps to go, but I had been expecting it because I had problems changing gear for 10 laps before that. Our one-stop race strategy was good because we had to take risks, although maybe we should have gone to wets, because during the first rain I spun at the chicane and had to take it easy for a bit until the rain eased off. The positive thing now is that the car is competitive and we just have to go for it in the last two races. Points should now be our aim, not just finishing races."
RICARDO ZONTA - 8th "It was my choice to come in for wets during the first rainstorm and this was a mistake because the rain was not that bad. It's a pity because the car was fast and good to drive and I could have finished higher without that extra pit stop. The guys did a great job for me, particularly 'Rocky' Rocquelin who was my engineer for the first time. We had the opportunity over the weekend to change a lot to see which would be the best set-up. I think if I could start the weekend from now, I would qualify better."
CRAIG POLLOCK, Chairman & CEO, British American Racing "In spite of another non-finish for Jacques, things are starting to come together now. The car proved very competitive today - both drivers were able to lap quickly, and Ricardo's times in particular were up with the leaders as the track started to dry. The team worked very well together, we held our nerve, and the one-stop strategy for Jacques almost got us in the points. We feel that we missed out this time by a very small margin. We still have to do better, however."