The lights went on for the last race of the season, and those at the front had been hanging around for a long time awaiting for the grid to form... For HÃ¤kkinen it was obviously far too long, as he jumped the start, stopped, restarted but still...
The lights went on for the last race of the season, and those at the front had been hanging around for a long time awaiting for the grid to form... For Häkkinen it was obviously far too long, as he jumped the start, stopped, restarted but still took the first corner from Schumacher, with Coulthard coming through into a very impressive second. Further down the pack, there was drama, as the Arrows of de la Rosa and the Prost of Heidfeld became entwined, and out of the race went one Prost, with the Arrows to follow suit shortly after. The most impressive start, however, had to go to Button, who in the first couple of corners went from 16th to 10th. The safety car came out...
The stewards had also noticed the jump start, and notice went out that Car No 1 (Häkkinen) was under investigation. Häkkinen let Coulthard through, and shortly after the two Ferraris went prancing through too... Word came through, Häkkinen was to receive a stop/go penalty.
Whilst Häkkinen was having his penalty, the team did a quick visual inspection of the car, and rejoined the race in last place. Frentzen was also having a rotten race, and by lap 6 was into the pits. By lap 8 he was out of the race with power steering problems. His team mate was also having a rotten time, and was in for his second stop by lap 10. There wasn't much drama at the front, other than a brief off-track moment for Coulthard that would have consequences soon...
On lap 16, Salo came in for a stop, with Alesi soon to follow... Then Coulthard. Why? There were a number of theories, the key ones being higher than usual tyre wear across the whole field, compared to last year, and also debris in his radiators from his cross-country moment. Jenson Button's impressive drive was over with an off and a massive cloud of smoke. Alex Wurz, who was having a majorly impressive drive, pitted from 3rd place and was out again in 6.4 seconds. Häkkinen was now in 11th place... Villeneuve joined the pit fun, with Zonta doing likewise a lap later, and Schumacher having to react to Coulthard's early stop, it was quicker, and Schumacher had the race lead. Then Barrichello a lap later - whose stop was a little untidy, and overshot slightly.
By lap 26, the field was Schumacher, Coulthard, Barrichello, Herbert, Verstappen, Wurz with Villeneuve, Häkkinen, Irvine, Zonta, Fisichella and Salo to complete the top 12. Herbert came in for his 1 stop, but it was not a good stop at 19.7 seconds due to problems with the fuel rig not wanting to disengage. Ralf Schumacher also made his stop in 11.2s, whilst Verstappen did a 10.4s.
As the race progressed, Häkkinen well and truly has the bit between his teeth, and charged after Villeneuve, with a wonderful bit of driving where both drivers had the position, gave in, gained and finally it was Häkkinen that gained the place. Fisichella finally made his 1-stopper, with Häkkinen stopping a little later, dropping from 3rd to 8th.
Coulthard was getting closer and closer to Schumacher and for the last section of the race it was *the* question - would Coulthard get it... Coulthard pitted and was out in 7.4s, with a gap of only a little over a second to Schumacher. Ferrari again had to react - and react they did in style, taking 6.6s and keeping the lead. For Coulthard this was not the end of the story, as he charged and continued to push hard to try and gain the lead and some semblance of honour for McLaren. Barrichello also likewise pitted, but had a dose of misfortune, not getting away well, and ensuring Coulthard had a clear run.
In the last few laps, Zonta went off in a huge cloud of smoke and gravel. On the replays it became clear the Honda had let go in a big way, and this pitched the Brazilian off the track. Herbert, however, was the most unlucky, with huge rear-suspension failure pitching his car off the track, and into the wall. The Briton had to be helped out of the car, and was taken to the hospital for x-rays on his highly-troubled legs.
At the front, Coulthard didn't let go of the tail of Schumacher, but it wasn't enough. He took the win from Coulthard, with Barrichello in 3rd. The only down side to the win was the dreadful red wigs that the Ferrari team chose to sport...
Stephen M Baines http://www.motorsport.org.uk