French GP race notes

Clouds don't always have silver linings By Erica Southey - McLaren had a dark day beginning with Mika Häkkinen stalling on the grid at the start of the formation lap. Häkkinen waved frantically while the rest of the...

Clouds don't always have silver linings

By Erica Southey -

McLaren had a dark day beginning with Mika Häkkinen stalling on the grid at the start of the formation lap. Häkkinen waved frantically while the rest of the pack passed him. The mechanics managed to get the car off the grid into the pitlane hoping to start from there with the spare car, but Häkkinen's race was over. He explains: "You cannot believe it. It is simply disappointing". It appeared that David Coulthard could be the silver lining around the dark McLaren cloud, when he was holding a good position looking set to challenge Michael Shumacher for the first position. Coulthard's pitstop changed his good situation around horribly, when he was called back for a ten second stop/go penalty for speeding in the pitlane.

One man's pain was another's gain. Ralf Schumacher who had a brilliant start pulling away from brother Michael looked set to lead the race from start to finish. His tyres did well on his first stint, but like Coulthard, his first pitstop put and end to his aspirations. A bad pitstop gave brother Michael the two second edge he needed. It appeared that the left rear wheel of the Williams gave problems while doing the routine pitstop. If this wasn't enough, the scrubbed tyres for the second stint was a total disaster and left Ralf further behind, while teammate Juan Pablo Montoya on the harder compounds were catching up with him and looking set to challenge Michael. The Colombian was flying and edging closer to the front runners, clearly showing that his choice was paying off and that he was ready for a podium finish.

It was Michael who capitalised on errors and mechanical glitches at McLaren and Williams. The Italian outfit had all their ducks in a row, by doing faultless pitstops and Michael driving a brilliant race. Rubens Barrichello started eighth on the grid and dashed through the order in spectacular fashion to take third on the podium. Coulthard tried his best to overtake Barrichello and it looked like his efforts were going to pay off when he managed to overtake Barrichello. Barrichello went wide around the hairpin and Coulthard took the chance and passed him, but on the straight it was the Ferrari that held the advantage regaining third position.

Sharing in the frustration of Häkkinen was Pedro de la Rosa who had a disastrous start to the warm-up with his Jaguar slowing down, forcing him to go off onto the grass. Though all was lost, De la Rosa still participated in the race, while teammate Eddie Irvine was dueling Olivier Panis in the BAR for position. Irvine pulled a daring maneuver on Panis at Lycée diving to the inside of him. Panis kept a clear mind and let Irvine through to avoid a collision. Next up was Heinz-Herald Frentzen. Irvine challenged him through a chicane and got ahead when Frentzen had nowhere to go and was forced to take a shortcut pulling getting the advantage on Irvine. This was against a race rule that stipulates; if a driver takes a shortcut and gains a position they will be penalised. To avoid a penalty Frentzen let Irvine go through a few meters further.

1997 World Champion, Jacques Villeneuve joined Häkkinen when his car lost momentum and he parked the BAR at Estoril in the gravel. It appeared to be some sort of electrical problem. The dejection was clearly seen in his body language as he sauntered off towards his pit garage. On what was wrong he responded: "I'm not sure what happened. I was wondering if there's any button I could press." Montoya who was on a charge also fell prey to mechanical failure when his dreams of a podium finish literally went up in smoke by means of a blown engine. When asked what happened Montoya responded: "Yeah, was a bit of an engine problem". Just when it looked that Irvine was going somewhere he too had a premature end to his stint, when his engine blew and he was forced out of the race. Smoke of a different kind though was Jean Alesi doing a doughnut after the race was over to the delight of his home crowd.

While for others pitstops didn't go so well, the most impressive one of the day was clearly that of Minardi replacing a nosecone in just over 11 seconds, which was just less than a second better than Ralf's first pitstop. It usually takes up to 17 seconds to do this sort of replacement. Well done Minardi!!!

Kimi Raikkonen and Nick Heidfeld in the Saubers had a good day with both cars finishing and them fighting for position. A disappointment was Jos Verstappen who usually comes from nowhere and features in the top eight, while teammate Enrique Bernoldi was forced out with some sort of mechanical failure.

Unlike previous years it was Ferrari who stood smiling in victory with both drivers doing a sterling job. McLaren's season is beginning to cast doubt on the once powerful team. They will be going back to the drawing board to see what they can do differently for their home Grand Prix at Silverstone.

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Ferrari , Sauber , McLaren , Williams , Minardi