At the start it was Hakkinen that got away best, with Fisichella making a very good start on the softer tyres, taking 3rd, whilst Frentzen - similarly on the softer tyres - also got away well and got up to 4th. Coulthard was down to 5th by the...
At the start it was Hakkinen that got away best, with Fisichella making a very good start on the softer tyres, taking 3rd, whilst Frentzen - similarly on the softer tyres - also got away well and got up to 4th. Coulthard was down to 5th by the first corner. Not a good start for the second McLaren, but not as bad as the second Ferrari. Salo started in 18th - just ahead of Badoer and de la Rosa. By the end of lap 3, Salo was behind the pair of them in 20th place...
Usually in the early stages of the race at Hungary there has been some excitement with drivers being stuck behind faster cars. It seemed that little of that was going on, the field spread out, and nobody seemed overly eager to try and get past anyone else. The top 10 was made up of Hakkinen, Irvine, Fisichella, Frentzen, Coulthard, Hill, Barrichello, Wurz, Diniz and Alesi. By lap 10, BCE must have decided the race was getting too boring, and put out the call. Coulthard started to catch Frentzen, whilst Zanardi had a cross country moment via a gravel trap and rejoined the track, only to pull into the pits and retire.
The race plodded along, and by lap 12, Salo had woken up and was trying to find a way past Pedro de la Rosa in the Arrows... Up to lap 15, and such was Hakkinen's pace that he had lapped the last runner - Takagi - and was now taking Gene and preparing to come up to Salo in the Ferrari... Pedro Diniz managed to spin at the exit of a corner, and out of the race. Eddie Irvine, meanwhile, was struggling in the traffic, and lost 2.5s to Hakkinen. Hakkinen, meanwhile, had the hammer down and lapped Salo and de la Rosa (who was still ahead of the Ferrari).
Villeneuve was brought into the pits early to try and get him ahead of those he was stuck behind on the track. Around lap 25, the pit stops started in earnest, with Takagi pitting, followed by Fisichella (who had old tyres fitted). Ralf Schumacher pitted his Williams, and appeared to have a problem with the fuel nozzle at the start of the stop, and the Jordan boys in the pitlane at the end of the stop. Irvine's garage was also ready, and the he was turned around in 8.3 seconds, rejoining in 5th place. Hill and Wurz also soon pitted, and like Fisichella had used boots fitted. On lap 30, Hakkinen pitted from the lead, and rejoined in the lead - such was the cushion that the Finn had built up.
By the end of lap 31, the order looked like this: Hakkinen, Coulthard, Irvine, Barrichello, Alesi, Fisichella, Frentzen, Hill, Wurz, Herbert, Panis, Trulli, Salo, Villeneuve, Ralf Schumacher, Zonta, Badoer and de la Rosa.
Alex Wurz had a cross country moment, and went off at the final corner. Coulthard then pitted and rejoined in 7.3 seconds, and managed to gain track position, rejoining ahead of Fisichella and Frentzen. On lap 37, Herbert pitted from 11th, and was turned around in 11.7 seconds. Panis also made a late stop, closely followed by Herbert. Clearly most teams decided to go the two stop route and few decided to take a gamble on a one stopper. Certainly none of the major teams and drivers, except for Salo...
Salo in the second Ferrari left his stop late. Very late. As late as it possibly could have been, making it through to lap 46 before stopping... The Ferrari clearly has a very big tank, and now the other teams know exactly how big. The second run of stops soon started, and Hill pitted early, rejoining behind Barrichello and Wurz. Frentzen soon followed, and did very well to rejoin ahead of Barrichello. Hill then had a trip across the Hungarian countryside at Turn 4. The Benetton of Wurz pitted and the tyres were unbelievably worn - the rear tyres looked like slicks, much as the Bridgestone boys had predicted. Fisichella then also pitted, and likewise his tyres looked gone (though, ironically, that helped them work better), only to have a problem with the engine resulting in a stall and it not restarting, despite Pat Symonds attempts to revive it.
By lap 54, much of the positions were the same as they were through the race before the stops, with Hakkinen leading Irvine, Coulthard, Alesi, Frentzen and Barrichello. Alesi pitted for his stop, and stalled, and got away - though it appeared he sped in the pit lane, and soon got a stop-go penalty - Hakkinen then also pitted, and rejoined just behind de la Rosa again. One wonders if de la Rosa thought he was many laps behind the leaders, as Hakkinen seemed to be forever rejoining just behind him on the track. Coulthard was all over the back of Irvine, and the pair pitted together. The McLaren boys appeared to just have the upper hand, but Irvine's few feet along the pit lane enabled him to nose out ahead of Coulthard. The gamble didn't quite work. Coulthard looked during the out lap, but no way through was found.
An oddity then occurred - not in the result, but the way it happened - Villeneuve pulled into the pits due to a problem with the car. The team told him to drive through, as Zonta was due in for a routine stop. Result? One BAR parked at the end of the pit lane, broken, and an upset looking Villeneuve making his way down the pit lane to the garage.
Through the next section of the race, Coulthard piled on the pressure onto Irvine. Suddenly, Irvine went off the track and over the grass at Turn 5, losing his second place to Coulthard due to him braking too late into the corner. Frentzen then started to pile on the pressure onto Irvine, and took seconds out of his advantage. For a while it looked like Frentzen would mount a challenge, but it was too much for the German to overhaul - especially at a circuit where overtaking is something of a rarity. Further back, after his stop/go penalty, Alesi was running in 9th, and took Trulli for 8th, only to then retire his Sauber with a couple of laps to go. At the front, nothing changed, and Hakkinen won from Coulthard and Irvine.
1.Hakkinen 2.Coulthard 3.Irvine 4.Frentzen 5.Barrichello 6.Hill 7.Wurz 8.Trulli 9.R Schumacher 10.Panis 11.Herbert 12.Salo 13.Zonta 14.Badoer 15.de la Rosa 16.Alesi 17.Gene
-- Stephen M Baines http://www.motorsport.org.uk