The Formula One circus arrived at Hungaroring, near the cities of Buda and Pest, with a black cloud hanging over Team Benetton, and with their ...
The Formula One circus arrived at Hungaroring, near the cities of Buda and Pest, with a black cloud hanging over Team Benetton, and with their #1 driver Michael Schumacher anxious to clear the air.
Once again, the you German ace was at the front of the grid, accompanied by his championship challenger, Damon Hill in the first Williams-Renault. Behind them, the Ferraris were further back than in Germany, and suspended Mika Hakkinen had been replaced in the #7 McLaren by Philippe Alliot, getting his first chance at a McLaren this season.
Unlike the German race, the start went off cleanly, with Schumacher fighting off Hill's excellent start to take the lead at the first corner. Behind them, Coulthard was nipping on the heels of his teammate in the second Williams, while Berger got the #28 Ferrari cleanly into fourth place, followed by Martin Brundle in a McLaren-Peugeot.
Behind them, the start-line mayhem was postponed by a few turns, as the two Jordans, Eddie Irvine and Rubens Barrichello, battled for fifth position, followed by Ukyo Katayama's Tyrrell-Yamaha. Going into turn three, the Brazilian attempted to force his way past his teammate on the inside, but there was no track to be had, and Barrichello crashed into Irvine, taking out both Jordans as well as Katayama behind them. The resemblance to the Barrichello-Hakkinen crash at Silverstone was remarkable, but the stewards looked the other way.
That wasn't the only incident ignored by the stewards, though -- in the midlle of the field, Olivier Panis anticipated the appearance of the green light by a large fraction of a second, and was nearly a car-length out of his grid position by the time the light actually changed. This type of a transgression has typically merited a time penalty in the past, but it seems that none of the stewards were paying attention.
So at the end of the first lap it was Schumacher, Hill, Coulthard, Berger, Brundle and now Panis, who was benefiting from the clean sweep of the Jordans. While Hill was keeping up with Schumacher's pace, the rest of the field was falling back quickly, with the leading duo stretching out the gap at nearly a second a lap.
Further back, Alesi, fighting back from a 13th position on the grid, was making good progress. By the 12th lap, he was breathing down Panis' neck, looking for a past a very wide Ligier. Finally, two laps later, he pulled off a stunning pass of the his compatriot at the hairpin, and claiming the final points position.
In the first round of pit stops, the only significant event was the delay Alliot experienced in leaving -- a delay that turned out to be permanent, as the McLaren mechnics wheeled his car back into the garage, with a yet another blown Peugeot engine.
Refueling was uneventful all race, with all teams using the FIA-mandated filters on their refueling equipment. Many teams took precautions, though, having seen the spectacular fire engulf Jos Verstappen's Benetton-Ford at Hockenheim, with mechanics wearing either helmets or fire-retardant balaclavas. Verstappen hadn't suffered any serious injuries in the incident and was racing at Hungary as well.
As the race progressed, the front of the field was unusually parade-like -- at least in comparison to recent Grands Prix -- but a little further back Mark Blundell overtook Panis for seventh position, while Gianni Morbidelli and Andrea de Cesaris collided, taking both cars out of the race.
As the race neared its conclusion, Scumacher's position at the lead was secure. Behind him, though, there was due to be some shuffling yet. Alesi's gearbox gave up the ghost on the 59th lap, and on the next lap Coulthard spun his Williams into a gravel trap -- only the second spin on race day, but one of dozens during the weekend. These two retirements elevated Verstappen, who had been working his way through the field behind Alesi, to 5th and Blundell to 6th.
That wasn't all, though -- Berger's Ferrari engine blew five laps from the end, moving Brundle to a potential posium position should the Peugeot engine last until the end. In the dying laps, though, the McLaren mechanics put out a pitboard to him, asking him to reduce the revs on the engine to make it last to the end.
Benetton and Schumacher made the best tactical move of the day, though, by allowing Verstappen to unlap himself with only one lap to go. As the events turned out, Brundle's alternator failed on the final lap, cutting out the engine, and Verstappen was able to cruise past the stricken McLaren into his first podium -- and his first World Championship points -- in the second Benetton. The reactions of Schumacher and team manager Flavio Briatore to the young Dutchman's 3rd place were quite clear; it appears that JJ Lehto now has to abandon all hope of reclaiming his seat from Verstappen this year.
So in the end it was Hill in a Benetton sandwich, followed by the unfortu- nate Martin Brundle in the McLaren -- or should the adjective "unfortunate" be reserved strictly for Johnny Herbert, whose Lotus was failed by electrical problems this time -- and the fighting pair of Blundell and Panis. Panis had gone all out in the dying laps to pass the Tyrrell, but not even the assistance of Erik Comas, a lap behind but just in front of Blundell on the track, had been enough to find him a way past.
And so the Formula One entourage moves on to the beauty of Spa, but with the black clouds of the Schumacher suspension and future hearing of Benetton on the fuel system still hanging overhead. But Schumacher was happy at the finish to have shown that he can win, and win decisively, without launch control and without refueling modifications. And he certainly did prove his point...
-- [ /tom haapanen -- email@example.com -- software metrics inc -- waterloo, ont ] [ "there is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance." -- socrates ]