Before the start talk had been of Schumacher taking the lead, and keeping Hakkinen behind to aid Irvine and Ferrari. He never got the chance, as Hakkinen made a storming start and took the lead from Schumacher. His start wasn't quite as storming...
Before the start talk had been of Schumacher taking the lead, and keeping Hakkinen behind to aid Irvine and Ferrari. He never got the chance, as Hakkinen made a storming start and took the lead from Schumacher. His start wasn't quite as storming as Olivier Panis, in his last Grand Prix, who unbelievably made his way up to 3rd. Eddie Irvine managed to get the leap on Coulthard and to 4th, Whilst Frentzen dropped back to 6th. For Alex Zanardi, his awful season continued, with him retiring before even completing a single lap.
Mika pulled away from Michael Schumacher by a fairly constant 0.7 to 0.9 seconds a lap. Panis, meanwhile, was being no slouch, but found himself doing the job that had been expected of Coulthard - keeping Irvine nicely behind the top places. There is, of course, no connection between Panis signing as McLaren's test driver and his new found role in the race.
By lap 5, Jarno Trulli was out of the race with engine problems. The whole field kept position, with no movement of places through to 18, other than for those who dropped out of the race. By lap 9, Fisichella had dropped back from his 16th place to 19th place, and battling with Takagi for 18th place. In the top 6, Coulthard was on the tail of Irvine and shadowing him every which way he went. On lap 14, Hill had an off and went off the track at Spoon, he managed to get past the gravel and onto the grass, and followed it around to get back onto the track. It would, however, prove to be a decisive moment for the Briton, as he pitted and rejoined the race. He pootled around in 19th place, before retiring once and for all - his heart no longer in the game.
At the end of lap 17, Olivier Panis pitted from 3rd position, and was turned around in 6.8s. McLaren suddenly weren't that happy, as Bernie's digital camera crew had zoomed in on a piece of paper that showed how much fuel was going into Mika's car - 60kg. Was there now to be a change of strategy at McLaren, as the whole of the pitlane now knew what they were going to do... Michael was losing ground to Mika rapidly - some .9s a lap - and had to do something, surely. McLaren, however, had the upper hand, and brought Mika in and turned him around in 8.8 seconds. This proved to be a brilliant move on McLaren's part, as he was just about to hit a heavy clump of traffic. By pitting early, he avoided it. Michael Schumacher didn't - meaning that even with a full load, Mika had 1.3 seconds a lap on the Ferrari. Meanwhile, star of the early part of the race, Panis pulled into the pits again, and retired.
Schumacher pitted for his stop, and to get him out of the traffic. McLaren reacted instantly, and brought in Coulthard for his stop. Ferrari were now unable to react, as they didn't have time to pull in Irvine and get the pit ready. McLaren had ceased the initiative, and it worked, as that one extra lap necessary proved to be decisive. The time that Coulthard gained was just enough to make the place on him.
23: Hakkinen, M Schumacher, Coulthard, Irvine, Frentzen, R Schumacher Herbert, Alesi, Villeneuve, Barrichello, Wurz, Diniz
Coulthard was now doing the job that Schumacher did in the previous race - backing the opposition into traffic. He tried hard to push Irvine into the path of Frentzen and Ralf, however neither seemed especially keen to get involved in such things. The gap to Hakkinen from 3rd was now some 38 seconds...
Just into the 30s, and Frentzen pitted for his second stop, as it was clear it was the only way to deal with the McLaren-Ferrari pair. Irvine and Ralf followed a lap later, leaving Coulthard to now attempt to pull away from the group again. Irvine did, however, manage to rejoin ahead of Frentzen and Alesi.
33: Hakkinen, M Schumacher, Coulthard, Herbert, Irvine, Alesi, Frentzen
McLaren's game plan was now out of the window - Coulthard had an off, and lost his front nose. His pit stop cost him 15.7 seconds in the pit, plus the slow lap getting back. He was able, however, to make a surprising entry to McLaren's game when he rejoined - he rejoined just ahead of Michael on the track, but a lap adrift. He held him up for several corners, and helped Mika to extend his lead from 6 seconds to 9 seconds. In the process, David lost a place to the Stewart of Barrichello, but that mattered little - the game was to help his team.
Michael Schumacher pitted ahead of Mika this time, followed a lap later by Mika. Both pitted in almost identical times, but with the gap at a whole pit straight and some, it mattered little. Mika had a comfortable lead over the German. Irvine was in 3rd, but even if Schumi gave him the place it wouldn't get him the championship. He needed the McLaren of Mika to fail, or for Irvine to find the best part of a whole lap in the last 10 laps to get the lead. The championship was as good as lost for Irvine. Michael Schumacher started to edge out a gap from Hakkinen - was he giving up? Or was he trying to put Hakkinen under no pressure at all, which is when Hakkinen had been making his mistakes?
On lap 50, with just a few of laps to go, Fisichella's Benetton blew up rather nicely, and a couple of laps later someone else had a very smokey moment. On the track itself, nothing much happened, positions stayed static, and Hakkinen coasted to victory, and with it just enough to take the drivers championship from Irvine, whilst Ferrari had just enough to take the constructors.
1. Hakkinen 2. M Schumacher 3. Irvine 4. Frentzen 5. R Schumacher 6. Alesi --
Stephen M Baines http://www.motorsport.org.uk