Before the race started, Button's race was not going well, with a problem getting away for the formation lap, and having to start from the back of the pack. At the proper start, Coulthard got away well, keeping Schumacher behind, but HÃ¤kkinen...
Before the race started, Button's race was not going well, with a problem getting away for the formation lap, and having to start from the back of the pack. At the proper start, Coulthard got away well, keeping Schumacher behind, but Häkkinen had an even better start and was into the lead. Schumacher's race was not going well by the first corner, as he moved over on Fisichella, then more, and pushed Fisichella and off went the Ferrari and out of the race... Barrichello was not going to be able to do much, so it looked, as he was way down the back of the field. It was now Häkkinen leading Coulthard, with Trulli 3rd, Pedro de la Rosa 4th, with the Jaguar's of Irvine and Herbert behind.
Herbert soon made the place on Irvine, whilst Verstappen then also joined in, and was pushing Irvine hard for his 6th place, and eventually took him. Barrichello had made a storming start, and was now pushing Irvine also for position. The Ferrari only just edged past, but just is quite enough. On lap 6, Barrichello took Verstappen for 6th place, and then made very short work of Herbert for 5th. Verstappen then decided to try and extract revenge and his place, by making a bold move on Herbert.
Frentzen also made short work of the Jaguar of Irvine, and was soon to the rear of Verstappen, and made short work of the Arrows - which was running at a major disadvantage when it lost it's engine cover. Frentzen then continued his charge, and took Herbert for 6th place, whilst Barrichello took Pedro de la Rosa for 4th place. Herbert's race was now over, as he pulled off the track. Barrichello continued his charge, and was up onto the tail of Trulli, but running a two-stop strategy, rather than the 1-stopper that most others were running. Barrichello managed to get by getting a good tow in the slip stream.
Barrichello continued his charge, and was the star of the early stages of the race, and was making inroads into the McLaren lead. The mechanics were ready for a Ferrari - clearly Barrichello's - and so he dropped down the field behind the Jordans and an Arrows. Frentzen made his stop, and overshot his slot slightly, making his stop a little messy. Frentzen rejoined the race just ahead of Verstappen, who battled hard to make the position, but he kept it together long enough for his tyres to come up to temperature, and positions returned to normal. Villeneuve was also pushing hard, taking Irvine for 8th, and then having to battle to keep him behind. Verstappen made his pit stop, and had new tyres, fuel and a new engine cover.
There then followed a totally bizarre incident, when a man wandered onto the circuit, wrapped in a rain coat, and onto the track, and over the track. The safety car had to come out, and the whole field bunched up whilst nothing happened for ages to collect the man. Eventually they pick him up, but not before everyone decides to pit. Häkkinen pitted first, but Coulthard didn't follow apparently due to pit instructions, and so had to follow the safety car, and dropped down the pecking order... When he finally made his stop, and rejoined, he was down from a good second to a 6th. Not good news. The safety car finally came in, and the race restarted.
With the safety car coming in, the position was Häkkinen, Trulli, Barrichello, de la Rosa, Frentzen, Coulthard, Ralf Schumacher, Villeneuve, Zonta, Verstappen, Salo and Wurz.
Häkkinen sped away, catching Trulli unaware, and into the lead. Barrichello woke Trulli up by challenging him for second place. Ralf Schumacher was soon seen spinning, and Verstappen had to go off road to avoid him - the reason was eventually spotted as Zonta nudging him. Diniz and Alesi then had a major off, with the Prost removing its corners, and the Sauber being stranded on the track. Diniz appeared to be responsible for the incident, by moving in on Alesi. The safety car was back out again to allow clearing the track, and then back in. Just as soon as that happened, Wurz spun out of the race on the pit straight, possibly by being nudged by another car.
The race was about to warm up, as the brollies went up around part of the circuit, and that was the problem - there was torrential rain in one part of the circuit, whilst the rest was bone dry. It was a tough call, but the Ferrari mechanics were out almost immediately, and remained out for several laps without the Brazilian pitting, and now having the lead. Coulthard made a position on Frentzen in a very late breaking manoeuvre. The Minardi of Gene had a major engine blow, and off he went, whilst Irvine spun off the track as well.
Villeneuve and Zonta had been looking like an accident waiting to happen, and soon it did, as Zonta nerfed the rear of Villeneuve prompting him in a major spinfest. He managed to rejoin the race. Häkkinen and Trulli pitted, whilst Coulthard and Frentzen didn't, Barrichello likewise kept out on slicks as the race became a circuit of two parts, with the amusing spectacle of cars overtaking and being overtaken depending where they were on the circuit. Some parts of the circuit were good to watch as a Jordan fan, others as a McLaren fan...
Coulthard was being pushed very hard by Frentzen. Trulli was soon into the pits, having been awarded a 10 second stop/go penalty. Frentzen was lining up Coulthard on the start-finish line. Frentzen was soon very strong in the Stadium section, and Coulthard on more than one occasion almost lost position. Coulthard finally pitted for wets, but Frentzen stayed out, as did Barrichello who now had a commanding lead in the race. Zonta was out after deciding to French kiss a wall... Häkkinen and Frentzen battled hard, and the pair took in turns to lead each other. It was to be for nought for the Jordan, as it pulled off on the pit straight. Verstappen was also out backwards in the Stadium section. It was soon to be followed by Nick Heidfeld, and Trulli had an off over the chicanes. Jenson Button, now running 5th, managed to get by Salo to 4th place by the end of the race.
1. Barrichello 2. Häkkinen 3. Coulthard 4. Button 5. Salo 6. de la Rosa
-- Stephen M Baines http://www.motorsport.org.uk
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