By Kristian Steenstrup - Motorsport.com Despite difficult track conditions and a late race spin Michael Schumacher stamped his authority on the US GP and renewed his chances for the Word Championship with a dominate display at the SAP US GP in...
By Kristian Steenstrup - Motorsport.com
Despite difficult track conditions and a late race spin Michael Schumacher stamped his authority on the US GP and renewed his chances for the Word Championship with a dominate display at the SAP US GP in Indianapolis. He was definitely lucky that the usually reliable McLaren of Mika Hakkinen failed though as Mika looked faster when he was running. Ferrari red was the color of the day as a very relieved Rubens Barrichello overcame a poor early position to gain second place behind Michael Schumacher. Third was the Jordan of Heinz-Harald Frenzten who battled for position throughout the whole race with various protagonists, finally besting Jacques Villeneuve by half a second. Third position being in doubt right to the end. The race was held in front of the biggest Formula One crowd of all time at around 250,000. The two tier grandstand along the main straight making an impressive site as the cars run clockwise around what is normally turn one and back down the main straight for the parade lap.
The grid is formed on a wet but drying track. It was damp enough for the top contenders Mika Hakinnen, David Coulthard and Michael Schumacher to front with wet weather tires. At the start David Coulthard got away best, but maybe too well as within a couple of laps there was announcement of a jump start investigation. BY lap 8 he would be back in the pits for a 10-second penalty and effectively out of contention. At the end of lap 1 Coulthard leads, Schumacher 2nd, Hakkinen 3rd, Barrichello 4th, Trulli 5th, and Button 6th. In the opening lap mayhem Jenson Button and Jarno Trulli come together lightly and go onto the grass. Both must pit however and Button changes to dry weather tires. Michael Schumacher was all over the gearbox of Coulthard's West McLaren though in the opening laps and fast enough to pass Coulthard (even though he likely knows at that time that Coulthard will be in for a penalty).
On lap 10 Marc Gene overtakes David Coulthard who has pitted again for dry tires and fuel to try and go on to an advantageous strategy. There is no settled pattern for the race in these early laps as the rain comes down a little more and teams such as Minardi find themselves in an unfamiliar position. Mazzacane has moved into 4th place, but Michael Schumacher is stretching his lead during this time.
Lap 11 : Schumacher 1st, Frentzen 2nd, Diniz 3rd, Mazzacane 4th, Hakkinen 5th, and Villeneuve 6th.
On the next lap Mazzacane gets to third place, but that is short lived as cars including his come into the pits for dry tires. Button has posted fastest lap so clearly dry tires are becoming the thing to have. Michael Schumacher still leads on wet tires though, lapping faster than the entire field until lap 15 when he comes in for dry weather tires and some fuel. By this stage he has a 43-second lead which is almost unbelievable given we are only 15 laps into the race. After a seven-second pit stop Michael is back out into the lead on a combination of new and 'used' tires to maximize his grip on the still drying circuit.
While Ralf Schumacher is fastest at this time his Williams BMW teammate Jenson Button retires with an apparent engine failure. Ralf's brother meanwhile continues to lead impressively from Hakinnen, Ralf, Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Jos Verstappen, and Pedro Diniz. Coulthard has recovered to 14 Th place but it will be a long afternoon for the Scotsman. The most impressive mover at this stage is Johnny Herbert. Possibly motivated by the prospect of auditioning in front of the US fans, sponsors and journalists he hopes to be engaging with next year he is putting on an aggressive display of driving. Attacking Pedro Diniz for 6th place he shadows him for a couple of laps looking for an opening down the long wide straight. Finally Herbert is through when Diniz runs wide at turn 10. By lap 19 Michael is 19 seconds up on Hakkinen who appears to be closing on the leader by over 1 second a lap. Ralf is third from Frenzten in fourth. By lap 21 Mika has the lead down to 6.3 seconds.
Herbert has now moved on to the tail of Jos Verstappen challenging for 5th place but the real action is at the front as Mika brings the gap down and down. Michael Schumacher is clearly trying hard but struggling to keep pace. His car moves from understeer to oversteer on the damp sections of track as Mika draws closer. But then on lap 25 there is disaster for Mika. The McLaren is on fire and Mika coasts into pit road with flames and smoke coming from the back left of the car. Possibly this is due to an oil or hydraulic leak, but his race is over. He casually stands up in the cockpit, exits and unhurriedly replaces his steering wheel as the flames get higher at the back and start to come from the hot air vents at the back of the side pods. Without a backwards glance Mika acknowledges the respectful applause of the crowd and walks away from the fire marshals who are putting the fire out, and no doubt pondering his world championship hopes now.
On lap 26 it is now a German 1-2-3 with Michael, Ralf, and Frenzten followed by Verstappen, Herbert, Villeneuve and Barrichello. Quickly though Herbert is into the pits but in an unfortunate incident runs into one of his pit crew damaging his front wing in the process. By the time the wing is replaced and car serviced it has been a 22-second pit stop and Johnny is back out in 17th and last position.
By lap 34 the race see Coulthard working hard to get past Pedro de La Rosa for 8th place. De La Rosa's Arrows seems to have plenty of straight-line speed and the McLaren maybe running a lot more wing. So even on the straight the Mercedes power of Coulthard is not enough. Verstappen in the other Arrows is out soon after with a spin that sees him hit the fence on the outside of turn 9.
The leaders on lap 36 are Michael, Ralf, Frenzten, Jacques Villeneuve, and Rubens Barrichello recovering from a poor early stop strategy and Pedro Diniz in the Sauber. Coulthard finally gets past de La Rosa, not on the straight but on the infield area giving confirmation of the very different setups on the cars. As an indication of this De La Rosa is credit on the timing equipment with having the fastest straight line speed at an amazing 331 km/h (206 mph). This in a car running a relatively large amount of wing and still set up to negotiate the tight infield areas.
Michael still leads and sets fastest lap but an indication of what might have been is that David Coulthard has now passed Diniz for 6th. If he and Mika had not had problems the Ferrari may not be having such an easy time of it. Ralf Schumacher meanwhile goes off momentarily and then pits in relatively long 11.3 seconds. It will be the beginning of the end for Ralf as he returns many times to the pits with a mysterious ailment (maybe leaking pneumatic pressure) that eventually causes his retirement.
A tremendous battle has formed for second place with Frentzen narrowly leading Villeneuve and Barrichello. But on the tight right hairpin in the infield Villeneuve hooks the kerb with his inside front and loops the car without damage. Rubens is quick to react and avoid the Canadian but Jacques is angry with himself as he smokes the tires to straight then car and do all the work again to catch Frenzten and Rubens. We now have Michael with a 41-second lead from Frenzten, Rubens Barrichello, Villeneuve, Coulthard, and Diniz. But on lap 40 Coulthard pits giving Diniz back the position. A short time later Ralf pits 6ht position and returns in 12th but the biggest forward mover is Villeneuve who is clearly catching Barrichello again.
On lap 50 Michael pits again giving up 45-second lead but is stationary for only 7.7 seconds. The game of cat and mouse takes a new turn on lap 57 when the Ferrari team bluffs Jordan into a pit stop. The send their mechanics out and Jordan immediately calls in Frenzten. But Barrichello is not pitting, Ferrari just wanted to get a clear track and as Frentzen is stationary the Ferrari mechanics go back into their garage. But the bluff works and Rubens picks up valuable seconds with a clear track before his 7.4-second pit stop three laps later.
WE now have Michael from Rubens, Frenzten, Villeneuve (who is chasing hard), Coulthard by himself and Pedro Diniz. Ricardo Zonta is 7th and clearly has his sight set on another point for BAR to equal their best result of 4th and 6th scored in Melbourne this year. When Pedro Diniz has to make his final pitstop the goal is reached and now the BAR team has two cars in the points.
The positions are mostly steady now except for the gains of Villeneuve. On lap 65 he is finally close enough to draft Frenzten on the straight but his passing move at the end nearly ends in tears as he dives to the inside very early and ambitiously, locks a wheel and sails on forwards past the corner over the grass in a move reminiscent of Canada at turn one last year. He is now 3 seconds behind but does not give up. For the 4 laps leading to 69 he is .7 seconds a lap faster and gets to within a second of Frenzten again.
Near disaster for the Ferrari camp on lap 69 as Michael hooks a wheel over the kerb where Villeneuve spun earlier and with the same results. Michael had been backing off the pace too much and had lost concentration he said later. There is no damage and even though he lost 11 seconds on that lap he still maintains a 15- second lead over his team mate Rubens Barrichello. Jacques is still catching Frenzten at .3 seconds a lap though and ill not give up until after they cross the line. He fails to get 3rd by less that .5
The final result is Michael Schumacher from Rubens Barrichello, Heinz-Harald Frenzten, Jacques Villeneuve, David Couthard, and Ricardo Zonta. Once the McLaren team had their problems Michael only had himself to beat and no doubt made German race sponsor SAP very happy. It would have been interesting to have seen the Williams team stay reliable since they and McLaren may have been fast enough to challenge Ferrari at this track. Michael now leads the world championship with 88 points from Mika Hakinnen on 80 with two races to go.