With the F1 Drivers' Championship already decided by a Michael Schumacher victory at the Japanese Grand Prix, what remained now for the Malaysian Grand Prix was the battle for the Constructors' Championship. With McLaren 13 points adrift of ...
With the F1 Drivers' Championship already decided by a Michael Schumacher victory at the Japanese Grand Prix, what remained now for the Malaysian Grand Prix was the battle for the Constructors' Championship.
With McLaren 13 points adrift of Ferrari, it was never going to be easy - it would have taken a McLaren 1-2, and no more than a fourth place for the Maranello team. And Schumacher clearly had other plans ...
At the start, with the starting lights coming on one by one, Schumacher was sitting comfortably in the pole position. Beside him, though, Mika Hakkinen's McLaren-Mercedes crept perceptibly forward, but then stopped as the lights came on full.
As the lights went out, Hakkinen launched his McLaren into yet another lightning start, and despite Schumacher moving over to the right side of the track, he comfortably claimed the first corner as his.
His teammate, David Coulthard, also took advantage of Schumacher's struggle, and pulled abreast of the German at the corner, barely holding him off to take second place behind his teammate. Rubens Barrichello followed the three to make it McLaren- McLaren- Ferrari- Ferrari at the beginning of the race.
Hakkinen's lead was to prove short-lived, though. As team McLaren realized that he would be penalized for a jump start, they requested him to let Coulthard through to the lead. Hakkinen complied, and the Ferraris also followed through into second and third as the Finn pulled into the pits for a ten-second stop-and-go penalty.
"I did not have a very good start and struggled to get off the line," said Schumacher. "I was third as David out-braked me around the outside. He was pulling away, and I was concerned, because I could not go any faster."
Coulthard was definitely going strongly at the front, and pulled away from the Ferraris, adding half a second or a second to his lead on each lap. But the aggressive driving had a cost associated with it: after twelve laps, Coulthard went wide at the exit of Turn Six, doing the lawnmower routine over Malaysian grass.
And a lawnmower routine it was: the Scot ended up filling his sidepods with grass clippings, blocking the radiators and raising the engine temperature. The only way out was an early pit stop, and Coulthard pulled in on lap 17, handing the Grand Prix lead to its usual owner this year: Michael Schumacher.
By this point, Hakkinen had recovered from the dead last position in the field, after his penalty, to a fight for 11th place, but he was clearly out of podium contention, unless some sort of misfortune were to strike the front runners.
And this truly was not a year for mistakes by either Ferrari or Schumacher. A flawless single stop strategy ensured that Schumacher stayed out in front of Coulthard, as the McLaren had to make two fuel stops.
Toward the closing stages of the race, Coulthard made it look good, pushing the McLaren's front wing nearly under the red rear wing. But it was all for naught: there was no way on earth that the newly crowned three-time Champion would let this race slip through his fingers.
"I was stuck behind Michael, but I was putting him under as much pressure as I could without getting into the dirty air created by his car," recalled Coulthard. "If he had made a mistake I would have got past him, but unfortunately he didn't and I had to settle for second."
At the checkered flag, Coulthard was within a second of a victory, but it might as well been a minute, as Schumacher was clearly in control.
That victory, in itself, was enough to claim the Constructors' Championship for Ferrari, with a final margin of 18 points over McLaren. The Ferrari victory celebrations carried over from Japan, with much of the team decked out in bright red wigs at the parc ferme and the podium ceremony.
Barrichello was well back, some 18 seconds adrift of his teammate, but still nearly 17 seconds ahead of Hakkinen, who had made an impressive recovery, clawing through nearly the entire field.
Despite having to deal with heavy traffic and make some 15 passes, Hakkinen's speed after the penalty turned out to be a match for the two front runners. His final gap of 35 seconds was only slightly higher than the time he lost during the penalty, and he also set the fastest lap of the race - 1:38.543 - in the process.
Behind the usual top four was Jacques Villeneuve, the Canadian having put in yet another solid drive in the improving BAR-Honda. His teammate, Ricardo Zonta, had a yet another Honda engine expire in his final drive for the team, but the former World Champion's points tied BAR with Benetton in the Constructors' points - only to have the latter claim fourth place by the virtue of Giancarlo Fisichella's podium finishes early in the season.
So ends another Formula One season, with Schumacher taking his long-awaited Driver's Championship for Ferrari, and a Constructors' one to boot. Hakkinen and McLaren put up a good fight, but it was not to be enough to prevent a third Schumacher championship.
2001 promises much, with major changes (with the exception of Ferrari and McLaren): Michelin returns to F1, driver changes in nearly every team save the top two, and the promise of powerful new engines (Renault for Benetton, Ferrari for Prost, AMT for Arrows and Honda for Jordan). Will these be enough to scramble the order for 2001? Stay tuned for the Australian Grand Prix to find out ...