The race started badly for Nick Heidfeld, as his car was left stranded on the grid on the formation lap. As the race started, the McLaren of Hakkinen got away very well indeed, whilst Coulthard was battling it out with both of the Ferrari's, and...
The race started badly for Nick Heidfeld, as his car was left stranded on the grid on the formation lap. As the race started, the McLaren of Hakkinen got away very well indeed, whilst Coulthard was battling it out with both of the Ferrari's, and lost, dropping down to 4th behind Barrichello. Villeneuve made a brilliant start, and was up to 5th place, whilst the Jordans of Trulli and Frentzen bogged down in 6th and 7th place. Barrichello, whilst making a better start, with help from Schumacher boxing Coulthard in, didn't keep going quite as well, and was already dropping back, and forcing the field backwards. By the end of lap 1, the gap from Schumacher to Barrichello was 4.3 seconds, and by lap 2 5.8 seconds. It was to be a frustrating time for the McLaren of Coulthard.
The race for Benetton looked it was going to be a bad one, when on lap 3, the Benetton of Fisichella was being hassled by Mazzacane. Unfortunately, the Minardi didn't keep it together quite so well whilst trying to get by at Villeneuve, and went off, but did manage to rejoin the race. Things weren't much better for Frentzen, either, who found himself going out of the race whilst under pressure from the Jaguar of Irvine. The reason for him being out was not this, however, as his Jordan was stuck in 6th gear, which made navigating the circuit rather tricky...
Jenson Button didn't have a good race, either, and had qualified near the rear of the race, and found it over rather early on on lap 6, when it appeared that the engine of his BMW WilliamsF1 seized. Marc Gene, who was close behind, went off apparently on fluids from the car.
The Arrows of Verstappen pitted, and appeared to have a problem with the left-rear of the car, where a lot of attention was paid before the wheel was changed, and repairs affected allowed the car to rejoin. Meanwhile, at the front, the McLaren-Ferrari train of Hakkinen and Schumacher continued to pull out a lead over Barrichello, and by lap 13 there was a 15.5 second gap between 2nd and 3rd. Jarno Trulli, back in 6th, was pushing Villeneuve hard for 5th place. The battle was very intense, and the pair were so caught up in their own personal battle that the cars in 7th and 8th, Eddie Irvine and Ralf Schumacher, were able to catch up.
Prost were having a rotten time, and Heidfeld found himself getting a 10 second stop/go penalty. The Jaguar of Irvine, meanwhile, had some sort of electronic problem that caused a misfire and made it slow down considerably. Gary Anderson, in the Jaguar pit, said that they "switched something off" to get rid of the misfire on Irvine's car...
McLaren were now ready for their stop, and brought in Coulthard, and turned him around in 9.3 seconds. Prost's woes continued, with Alesi's car touring around and into the pit. Ferrari were also now ready for a stop, as were McLaren. Hakkinen and Schumacher both pitted together, and Hakkinen got away first, whilst Schumacher was long-filled with fuel. The times were 7.6s and 9.9s respectively. This was to prove crucial in the race. The following lap, Barrichello was brought in for his stop, and managed to rejoin still ahead of Coulthard.
Lap 30: Hakkinen, Schumacher, Barrichello, Coulthard, Villeneuve, R Schumacher, Salo, Trulli, Irvine, Zonta, Diniz and Wurz
Coulthard was pushing the Ferrari of Barrichello hard, but never looked likely to get by. Ricardo Zonta, meanwhile, was having an off-track moment, and rejoined the track, only to have even more sideways moments. His car didn't look especially happy.
The Ferrari of Schumacher was now making progress on the McLaren of Hakkinen, and started to look more and more of a threat, as they came up to lap the tail-enders. Schumacher had a slight moment trying to avoid Diniz, which cost him 1.4 seconds. Further down, Barrichello and Coulthard were up to Mazzacane, and got by him easily. Hakkinen made his stop, and was turned around in 8.3 seconds. Trulli and Irvine pitted together, and Trulli just got out of his pit and by the Jaguar pit in a very near-hit moment.
The WilliamsF1 of Ralf Schumacher had a cross-country moment through the daisies, and then toured and pulled out of the race. Barrichello and Coulthard pitted just together. The Ferrari pit being the first in the lane, and McLaren second. The Ferrari of Barrichello started to pull out, only for the McLaren of Coulthard to force his way out ahead of Barrichello in a way that angered Ferrari, but appeared to be totally legal. Coulthard was now ahead of Barrichello, and was able to now go over 2 seconds a lap faster. The Ferrari had clearly held back the McLaren considerably.
It appeared from lap positions that Hakkinen had enough in hand to have track position on the Ferrari of Schumacher, as Schumacher came into the pit. Amazingly, Schumacher came out in the lead, some 4 seconds ahead of Hakkinen - a really remarkable in-lap and pit stop had occurred, with a 6.2 second jack time. Back on the track, Pedro de la Rosa had an off and out, with what appeared to be suspension failure. Hakkinen, now in second, was 2.4 seconds behind Schumacher and pushing hard with 10 laps to go. What followed was ten laps of nail-biting drama as the McLaren chased the Ferrari hard, and looked like it may just be possible to win. In the end, the Ferrari of Schumacher took the flag from Hakkinen, in what had been a truly cracking race.
Stephen M Baines http://www.motorsport.org.uk