Sepang, Malaysia, October 17, 1999 - In spite of a strong showing in practice and qualifying for today's first Malaysian Grand Prix, neither British American Racing driver could complete the race. Ricardo Zonta was forced out on lap seven by a ...
Sepang, Malaysia, October 17, 1999 - In spite of a strong showing in practice and qualifying for today's first Malaysian Grand Prix, neither British American Racing driver could complete the race. Ricardo Zonta was forced out on lap seven by a water leak that would lead to engine failure, while Jacques Villeneuve drove an attacking race, even surviving a high-speed spin on lap 37, until stopped by hydraulic system failure on lap 49 while lying ninth. The story on the day, over and above the sultry Malaysian heat that plagued all three days at Sepang, was the McLaren-Ferrari war that was won by the Italian team in convincing fashion on the track, only to be lost in post-race scrutineering.
Irishman Eddie Irvine took first place after team-mate Michael Schumacher handed him the lead shortly before race end, and Ferrari finished one-two, moving ahead of McLaren in both the Drivers' and Constructors' world championships. Both men dutifully accepted their accolades and enjoyed a post-race champagne shower on the podium before the Stewards sprayed another kind of cold shower on the Italian racing stable, disqualification of the team for a technical infringement.
Two hours after the race, FIA Technical Delegate Jonathan Bauer issued a statement that said both Ferrari 399s had failed post-race scrutineering of a wing deflector measurement. "In my opinion, neither car complies with Article 3.12.1 of the 1999 Formula One Regulations," the statement read.
The wing deflectors are part of the bodywork that face the ground; the infringement means that the upper parts of the deflector panels did not fit within the reference, or step plane which the FIA uses to meaure parts.
Under FIA regulations, Ferrari had 15 minutes after the decision was rendered to post an official protest, which it did. Should the disqualification stand, Mika Hakkinen is awarded first place and automatically wins his second consecutive Drivers' World Championship, with 72 points, 12 better than runner-up Irvine, with only one race remaining. As well, McLaren would successfully defend its Constructors'World Championship, with 120 points on the season, 18 more than Ferrari, and the latter unable to make up the difference with only one race left.
JACQUES VILLENEUVE - Retired Lap 49 My start went really well. I was next to Rubens Barrichello (Stewart) in the first turn but, unfortunately, I braked a bit too early, was blocked on the inside and lost all the positions I had gained. It was a difficult race, but the car was quite fast on old tyres so perhaps we should have gone for a one-stop strategy. Just before my second stop, Alexander Wurz (Benetton) got it wrong in the fast corner but didn't see me coming and sent me off the track. It wasn't his fault, although he apologised after the race. I was lucky to be able to keep going after the spin.
RICARDO ZONTA - Retired Lap 7 At the first corner I followed Jacques, and when I saw the first-lap shunt (Damon Hill-Jordan), I went wide to avoid it but lost maybe a couple of positions there. Then I attacked Pedro Diniz (Sauber) and went to overtake him but I was a bit too cautious and braked too early not to hit him. Race conditions were hard, the car was oversteering in the fast corners and was very difficult to drive. One corner before I stopped, the engine noise sounded different and then I came to the next corner, locked my rear wheels and spun off. I had a water leak and this caused the engine to fail.
CRAIG POLLOCK, Chairman & CEO, British American Racing "After a generally reliable weekend, it was very disappointing that we encountered problems during the race. We'd hoped that all our efforts would result in a point today, but we still have a double chance in two weeks in Suzuka. The hard work and determination from everybody in the team is intact and we just have to keep up our hopes."