by Tom Haapanen/motorsport.com The gods of Monaco give to Formula One drivers, and the gods of Monaco take away ... and their chosen recipients are not always the ones that one would expect. In this year's race, Michael Schumacher had the...
by Tom Haapanen/motorsport.com
The gods of Monaco give to Formula One drivers, and the gods of Monaco take away ... and their chosen recipients are not always the ones that one would expect.
In this year's race, Michael Schumacher had the victory signed, sealed and delivered -- partly thanks to some of his competitors' misfortunes -- until the dice rolled against him for a change. As he limped around the track with one wheel of the Ferrari off the ground, David Coulthard sped by, thanking his luck for a chance to cruise to victory at the most famous of all Formula One races.
But to get this point, first the race had to start -- and that was somewhat of a challenge in itself. As the field found its way to the grid after the formation lap, the marshals began to frantically wave yellow flags: Alexander Wurz had stalled his Benetton, and the start was aborted.
Things went from sublime to ridiculous at the start, then, as a software problem triggered red flags shortly after the second start. The flags didn't seem to be enough, though, as Jenson Button bumped Pedro de la Rosa's Arrows at the Loews hairpin, causing a four-car pile-up at the extremely tight corner.
While others managed to jog back to the pits for a third start, de la Rosa was unable to get a car prepared, and failed to take what turned out to be the third and ultimately final start.
At the front of the grid, neither Coulthard nor Mika Hakkinen succeeded in improving their grid positions; the only significant change was Rubens Barrichello falling backward by two places.
So as the race got under way, Schumacher was able to drive against the clock, while Jarno Trulli held Coulthard at bay, and Hakkinen was being held up by Heinz-Harald Frentzen in the second Jordan. With the extreme tightness of the Monagasque streets, there was not much either McLaren driver could do about the yellow cars in front of them, despite repeated attempts at nudging alongside.
So Schumacher was pulling away at an average of a second per lap, clearly dominating the priceedings, to the frustration of the silver McLarens. But the luck of Hakkinen, who had already suffered badly from yellow flags during qualifying, was about to get worse yet. As the TV director focused on the McLaren, it was clearly limping along, and the McLaren had to crawl back to the pits for some attention.
He would rejoin after the pit crew repaired a brake pedal, but in a lowly 12th position, a lap down to Schumacher -- and, worse, ten points down to his main rival. His car seemed to be back to normal, but only after all was lost at Monaco. Or was it?
At the front, Coulthard was finally released to pursue the leading Ferrari as Trulli's gearbox failed, forcing the Jordan to pull off to the side of the track.
A few moments later, Ralf Schumacher appeared to make a small mistake at Ste Devote -- but not small enough to stay away from the barriers. As the Williams'nose crashed into the armco, the tub shattered sufficiently for the carbon fiber to cut into his right leg. While he walked out of his car, he did end up requiring stitches after being taken to the hospital.
His brother's single pit stop went in the usual Ferrari clockwork fashion, though, and things seems to be progress in a reather predictable fashion toward a parade finish, with Schumacher and Coulthard followed by Frentzen and by Barrichello, who had now inherited fourth place after the misfortunes of Hakkinen, Ralf Schumacher, Trulli and Jean Alesi.
But only a few laps after that pit stop, the millions watching worldwide saw the Ferrari limping around the track in a rather unbalanced stance. An exhaust pipe had cracked, and had overheated a suspension component.
Even after this, the gods were not quite finished yet. With only eight laps left, Frentzen, too, found the barrier at Ste Devote to be rather unyielding, as he added his Jordan to the miniature Parc Ferme accumulating behind the barriers.
In the meantime, Hakkinen had been pushing to get back into points, and had made it past Jacques Villeneuve's BAR into seventh place. He quickly reeled in Mika Salo's Sauber, which was holding onto the final points-paying position. However, that point was nothing to scoff at for Salo, either, and he was not about to just step aside for his compatriot.
In the end, the Clash of the Mikas defused rather quickly, as this time it was Hakkinen's gearbox that began causing problems. As Hakkinen dropped back, Coulthard rapidly lapped his teammate, and it was only Frentzen's retirement that, in the end, gave Hakkinen a consolation point.
So this was Coulthard's day, as he accepted his trophy from Prince Rainier. With a clear ten points' gain on Schumacher, he is most definitely in the title hunt. And while it was not the best of days for Hakkinen, he did, in the end, narrow the gap to the German by a point.
The championsip is clearly not yet over. Now it will be time to see who can raise his game the first North American visit of the F1 circus, to the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve in Montreal.