The tension at the start was clearly visible only for the start to be aborted, not once, but twice. The first start was aborted because of Trulli who then found himself at the back of the grid. The second - amazingly - was caused by Michael ...
The tension at the start was clearly visible only for the start to be aborted, not once, but twice. The first start was aborted because of Trulli who then found himself at the back of the grid. The second - amazingly - was caused by Michael Schumacher, who then found himself at the back of the grid.
At the third attempted start, all got away well, and Hakkinen was leading into the first corner. Irvine moved through to second, with Frentzen getting the jump on Coulthard also. Behind Coulthard were Villeneuve and Hill. Schumacher, now starting from 21st, took 4 cars by the first corner, and 9 by the end of the first lap moving up to 12th. Maybe the championship wasn't over after all...
Schumacher was scything his way through the field, making places everywhere, as everyone seemed to want to make sure they were not responsible for deciding the championship. His pace only slowed down once he came across Wurz who was harder to pass, but soon let him by. Likewise he - unsurprisingly - made short work of his brother Ralf.
By lap 5, Schumacher had a problem. Or rather 2 problems, namely Villeneuve and Hill - neither of whom have a great deal of time for the German. The three were running nose to tail in a fantastic battle. Hill would have a go at Villeneuve, Schumacher would have a go at Hill. Villeneuve would keep them all behind. It was a fantastic battle with lots going on.
A little further foward, Coulthard was battling hard with Frentzen. The only place where there was little action was 1st and 2nd, with Hakkinen and Irvine serenely going around with Irvine unable to launch any realistic attack.
The Villeneuve-Hill-Schumacher-Ralf train was now coming up on the Frentzen-Coulthard train, making a 6 way battle. Something special to see, but unfortunately pit stops were now on the way... Hill was the first to pit, whilst Ralf made an impact on the race with his engine letting go in the biggest possible way on the pit straight. Ferrari were now ready for Irvine, while Schumacher got by Villeneuve. Irvine was turned around in 7.7 seconds. Frentzen was now being assaulted by Coulthard, while Coulthard was being attacked by Schumacher. A truly remarkable turnaround for the race.
On lap 16, Schumacher pitted and rejoined the race in 7th place. Coulthard was still pushing Frentzen hard for 3rd, and one had to wonder why McLaren didn't pull the Scot in a little early to make track position. Hakkinen was next to pit and rejoined still in the lead, with Irvine a few seconds behind.
The leaders were now into the traffic, and Hakkinen had a few problems getting by the Minardi of Nakano. Irvine was having problems of his own a little while later, with Takagi, Nakano and Tuero who were involved in their own battles. McLaren were now ready for Coulthard, who was turned around in 7.8 seconds. Meanwhile, Schumacher was having a little cross-country excursion. Not what the German wanted...
The Ferrari's were clearly having problems, close ups of the car showed massive blisters on the right-front tyre. Irvine soon pitted and was turned around in 6.5 seconds, and rejoined the race just ahead of Schumacher. A little further back in the race a crash between a Tyrrell and a Minardi occurred at the chicane. A few seconds later on lap 31, Schumacher came upon the site. A few seconds after that the right rear of the Ferrari let go, and ripped off a chunk of the car. Schumacher had no choice other than to pull off and retire. The championship charge was over.
Back in the race Hill and Villeneuve pitted together from 5th and 6th, and rejoined again in the same order. Frentzen also did the same a lap later. Things now settled down and little happened. The race went serenely on, with Hakkinen controlling the race with no clear challenge.
The final bit of drama happened on the last lap, with Hill taking Frentzen on the last lap to claim 4th place. The championship was won by Hakkinen with an impressive controlled race, who won deservedly and with great style. Schumacher also was mightily impressive to have fought back from 21st to contender. If either had won today on the strength of todays clean race, justice would have been done, but at the end of the day Hakkinen did it. And deservedly so.
1.Hakkinen 2.Irvine 3.Coulthard 4.Hill 5.Frentzen 6.Villeneuve
World champion for 1998, Mika Hakkinen and West McLaren Mercedes. --
Stephen M Baines