Occasionally in Formula One we get a race that goes totally against all expectations, that throws up all sorts of amazing and bizarre results. Occasionally we get one that has overtaking, changes of lead, accidents, strange pit strategy and ...
Occasionally in Formula One we get a race that goes totally against all expectations, that throws up all sorts of amazing and bizarre results.
Occasionally we get one that has overtaking, changes of lead, accidents, strange pit strategy and stops, weather, driver mistakes, official mistakes or car failures that lead to cracking races. Usually only a few - this had them all, in spades. The weather forecasts for the afternoon promised everything from sunshine to thunderstorms. Perfect for deciding how to run the race...
The drama started at the off, when the lights came on one by one... Then they didn't go out. The top 6 decided to move anyway, and then stopped. The race, it seems, had been aborted anyway, so no-one on the grid would be penalised for jumping the non-start...
The second start happened undramatically, if a tad slowly forming up, with Frentzen taking the lead, with Hakkinen up to 2nd place. A little further back was a sight that no-one wanted to see - a Sauber upside down in the countryside, with no roll-bar. Rather oddly, the car was extricated under the safety car. The new removable seats worked well, allowing the medics to remove Diniz from the car and take him to the medical centre. The frightening thing was that the roll-bar had failed - totally failed. How did it happen? Hill's Jordan had some sort of electrical failure and dramatically slowed. The Ferrari's jinked around, whilst the Benetton of Wurz jinked dramatically and tagged the back of the Sauber, flipping it over where the roll bar appeared to fail as it hit the curbing.
By lap 6 the marshals had cleared up the mess, and were ready for the race to re-start. The order as the safety car pulled in was Frentzen, Hakkinen, Coulthard, Ralf Schumacher, Fisichella and Panis. The last two were fighting hard, whilst Coulthard was looking very threatening at Hakkinen. Irvine managed to take Panis for 6th place at the chicane. At the front, Hakkinen was looking at Frentzen regularly, but the German had the race under control. Irvine was now having a good look at Fisichella and made several attempts at the place in some moves that at times looked a tad desperate. Irvine's Ferrari was a lot faster than the Benetton over the whole circuit, except at the point where it mattered - by the chicane which was the realistic overtaking point on the circuit.
Zanardi's bad run of races continued with him trying to take Takagi and Zonta. Zonta got through unscathed from the attempt, whilst Takagi span as did Zanardi. Zanardi stalled the car, and it was immobile in the middle of the track. For a while it looked like we were in for another safety car period, but the marshals efficiently cleared away the car. At the front of the pack, Fisichella and Irvine continued to fight for position, with Irvine trying every trick at him disposal to try and get by the Italian. The gap from Fisichella's Benetton in 5th to the fellow Supertec engined Williams of Ralf Schumacher was some 8 seconds, and the young German was doing a tremendous job of keeping on the coat tails of the Jordan and the two McLaren's. Irvine finally put enough pressure on Fisichella that he made a slight mistake and briefly went off track, allowing Irvine to get through and pull away and try and catch the Williams ahead.
It was the end of lap 17, and the brollies were now going up around the circuit. Ralf Schumacher was challenging David Coulthard very hard for 3rd place and made a very late breaking attempt on him at the end of lap 18, but didn't manage to take him. The lap times were starting to increase, and were now slowing by around 3 seconds a lap. The track was getting very wet, but in a Spa kind of way, with some parts of the circuit being bone dry, whilst others were sopping wet. This was not an ideal situation to try and make a tyre choice on...
On lap 20 Ralf Schumacher managed to make his move on Coulthard stick, and was now in third place after a very late breaking move on a very wet track. Ron Dennis decided to pull Hakkinen in for wets, whilst the rest of the top 4 stayed out. Ferrari brought in Salo to test it out for Irvine - the Finn had a very, very long 38 second stop for reasons that were not apparent. The rain now stopped, and Ronzo's decision seemed to have been the wrong one.
At the end of lap 21, Irvine pitted and was put on slicks. The difference between lap 20 and 21 was enough to affect the tyre decisions that much. Unfortunately for Irvine, Ferrari's pit stop was anything short of perfect. The tyres came off easily enough, and three tyres went on - but no more. The right-rear hub had no wheel on it, and no wheel to put on it. The mechanics looked as around as if it was going to appear by magic before one finally decided to get a tyre for the Ferrari. The mechanics then decided to argue about it rather than fit the tyre. A routine stop became a 30 second farce. Both McLaren and Ferrari seemed determined to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory today.
Ralf Schumacher continued to fend off Coulthard, and had a major off at the chicane. Coulthard's team mate, Hakkinen, was now back in 10th, on wets on a drying track and losing ground fast. Irvine was as a result of his pit stop fighting for 11th place, and trying to catch Hakkinen. At the front Frentzen was lapping an Arrows. On lap 24, Ferrari pulled Salo in for slicks, whilst Hakkinen had the indignimy of being passed by the Minardi of Gene. The following lap McLaren pulled in the Finn, who rejoined and promptly went to sleep for most of the rest of the race.
The top 6 was now Frentzen leading Ralf Schumacher by 3/10th of a second, with Coulthard a further second behind. A 10 second gap to Fisichella, whilst Barrichello was a further 14 seconds back in 5th, and Trulli a further 3 seconds back. Williams were now ready for a stop, and Ralf was turned around in 7 seconds, and rejoined in 4th place. The front runners continued on their merry way, and Fisichella lapped Hakkinen on lap 29... Frentzen had a major off at the chicane and went via the escape road and rejoined. It was possible he would get a stop-go penalty, but it never came. Hakkinen woke up briefly, and after further dropping back down the field took Pedro de la Rosa half-heartedly for 13th place.
The front pair - Frentzen and Coulthard - pitted together. McLaren appeared to have the drop on Jordan, but it was the German who got out ahead of the Scot. They managed to even rejoin on the track ahead of Ralf Schumacher. For Frentzen it was all for nothing, as the ignition cut out, stranding the Jordan out on the track. Coulthard now had the lead from Ralf Schumacher.
It now started to rain again and heavier than before, but as before patchy around the track. Salo had a spin in his Ferrari but got it together again and got going. The decision for teams was tricky - pull the cars in for wets and see it dry again, or leave them out and watch them fall off. Alesi's Sauber pulls off the circuit, apparently with some sort of mechanical failure. Coulthard kept it together at the front, leading by 9 seconds over Ralf. Tora Takagi span off the track but rejoined.
Lap 36: Coulthard, Ralf Schumacher, Barrichello, Fisichella, Herbert, Villeneuve, Irvine, Trulli, Gene, Badoer, Hakkinen
Zonta now span off the track, whilst suddenly Coulthard out-broke himself and then went off and out of the race, as he stalled the engine on the way in. Ralf Schumacher now led the race. Johnny Herbert was now up to 3rd, and Villeneuve had now snuck into the points. Ferrari were now ready for another stop, and pulled in Irvine from 7th place and installed wets, just as the rain stopped and the track started to dry...
Fisichella had a little cross-country moment, whilst Ralf Schumacher pitted from the lead, but rejoined behind Fisichella and Herbert. Fisichella was on slicks, Herbert on wets. Tora Takagi span off yet again and lost a wheel from the front of the car - the wheel retainers clearly not working. Ralf closed in on Herbert and took him on the long drag down the straight. Mika Salo pitted and retired from the race.
The points started to liven up, with Luca Badoer in the Minardi sneaking into the points. Johnny Herbert made his stop for slicks and fuel, whilst Fisichella lapped Irvine whilst leading the race, only to shortly after to slide off the track sideways and stall the car. Ralf Schumacher was now back in the lead. But not for long, as the right-rear tyre punctured and the car slid off the track and into the gravel. Ralf collected the car and got it back to the pits for a new tyre. This was a truly impressive drive from the young German. But now Johnny Herbert was leading the race.
The top 6 had a totally unfamiliar feel to it, with Herbert leading Trulli, with Barrichello 3rd, Luca Badoer 4th and Ralf Schumacher 5th, and Villeneuve back in 6th. Gene, Irvine and Hakkinen made up the rest of the top 9. Sadly, Luca's 4th place wasn't for long as the car failed him and he retired. Badoer was heartbroken at the side of the track, but in a rare bit of good news for Minardi, at least it was his fellow Minardi driver Gene who now moved into 6th place. Villeneuve soon retired as well, allowing Gene to now get to 5th place. This was good news indeed for the Faenza based team.
Throughout the top 6 battles happened - Herbert was in a comfortable 26 second lead, whilst Barrichello and Trulli battled for 2nd place. Ralf was chasing hard, whilst Hakkinen woke up, and sensed the chance of points and made a move on Irvine to take his position as Irvine took a trip through the bundies. The battle between Trulli and Barrichello was impressive and very entertaining. Sadly for Minardi further back, Hakkinen stayed awake long enough to take Gene's 5th place, and drop him back to 6th. Thankfully the Gene kept his position, and didn't fall prey to Irvine as had been feared, and scored Minardi's first point of the season, to move them into the top 10 constructors ahead of British American Racing, and joint 9th with Arrows - the team that Giancarlo Minardi felt had deliberately took out his team at the last race.
1. Herbert 2. Trulli 3. Barrichello 4. R Schumacher 5. Hakkinen 6. Gene 7. Irvine -- Stephen M Baines "Con mi vida hago lo que quiero" http://www.vollans.demon.co.uk - *new stuff* One to watch: Charles Hall, Opel Euroseries