by Tom Haapanen, motorsport.com BARCELONA, SPAIN (2000-05-07) -- The smile of Lady Luck had been long awaited at the McLaren garage, but it finally shone on the Woking team this sunny afternoon in Spain. With Mika Hakkinen in hot pursuit ...
by Tom Haapanen, motorsport.com
BARCELONA, SPAIN (2000-05-07) -- The smile of Lady Luck had been long awaited at the McLaren garage, but it finally shone on the Woking team this sunny afternoon in Spain. With Mika Hakkinen in hot pursuit of Michael Schumacher, but unable to make the pass on the narrow circuit, the first set of pit stops ultimately sealed the result of the race.
But that was all yet to come. At the start, with the long front straight ahead, Hakkinen and Schumacher raced wheel to wheel to the first corner, but Schumacher's pole position paid off: Hakkinen was left with the outside line and had to settle into second.
Behind them, the start of the day belonged to Michael's brother Ralf, passing Coulthard and Barrichello to take third by the first corner, followed by Coulthard and Barrichello. The pack followed behind, but in mid-field, Pedro de la Rosa touches Jean Alesi, causing both drivers to have to abandon the race.
Schumacher set the early pace, pulling out a lead of over three seconds over Hakkinen, while the two had a much larger gap to the next cluster of Ralf Schumacher, Coulthard and Barrichello. However, as the first pit stops approached, Hakkinen started pushing his limits to get closer to the Ferrari and have the opportunity to get past during the stops.
As Schumacher sat in the pits, getting new rubber and fuel, the lollipop went up, giving the German the sign to get on his way. But the sign was ultimately premature: the refueling was not yet complete. As Schumacher took off in a cloud of tire smoke, the lollipop man frantically dropped his sign down again, but to no avail.
The refueler -- and chief mechanic -- Nigel Pitney was knocked down as the Ferrari launched out of the pits. While the car appeared unaffected, Pitney was eventually carried off on a stretcher. Although he turned out to not have any broken bones or other serious injuries, Ferrari had to turn to their backup man for the remaining pit stops.
Schumacher's pit stop turned out quickly -- as expected, with the earlier- than-intended lollipop display. So it was still Hakkinen and Schumacher after the stops, but in the next group Barrichello had a lightning stop to move to fourth behind Ralf Schumacher's Williams. Jacques Villeneuve's sixth position wasn't to last, however, as he experienced a hydraulic system failure just after his stop.
The second stretch was not highly eventful, but Hakkinen was breathing down Schumacher's neck as the German stopped the second time. And here is where the first stop came to haunt Ferrari. Pitney's backup man was clearly not as experienced, and could not get the fuel nozzle on cleanly. During the frantic work to refuel the car, Hakkinen came into pits, refueled and exited clearly in the lead.
Having been within a second before the stops, Hakkinen had a solid seven- second stop, while Schumacher sat stationary for over eighteen, giving the Finn a ten-second lead. Meanwhile, Coulthard had not only regained his position ahead of Barrichello, but also succeeded in wresting third from Ralf Schumacher on the first corner after the pits.
Things then went from bad to worse for Schumacher. Not only was Hakkinen able to pull away, but Coulthard behan catching him hand over fist. Only four laps after the stops, the Scot was all over the Ferrari's rear wing, looking for a place to get by. He eventually pulled off the pass of the race: on the start-finish straight, he drafted Schumacher to pull within inches. As the two-time champion pulled to the inside to protect the racing line, Coulthard deked to the outside, and pulled past on some terrific late braking.
Schumacher continued to move backwards through the field, with a problem that was eventually traced back to a slow leak from on of his tires. On the 50th lap, it was his brother, followed closely by Barrichello. Once Ralf got under his older brother's rear wing, he attempted a sequence of passing moves, but there was no love lost here, as the two brothers fought wheel to wheel.
While Ralf was finally making the pass on Michael, Barrichello sneaked through on the inside of the battling brothers to take fourth -- and Michael immediately turned into the pits for a set of new tires. Was this a case of helping a teammate over a brother? We may never know ...
As the race wound down, Hakkinen was clearly playing things safe to ensure that he finished the race. Coulthard was catching him, but nowhere near quickly enough, while Barrichello and Ralf Schumacher followed, now with a near-ten-second gaps. Brother Michael was back in fifth after his unplanned stop, followed by Jenson Button. Alas, the second Williams was not to last, the BMW engine exploding just four laps from the end, handing the final points-paying position to Heinz-Harald Frentzen.
And so it finished. Hakkinen took his first victory of the season -- though the third consecutive one in Barcelona -- followed by his teammate. The McLaren 1-2, especially combined with Schumacher's poor finish, changes the complexion of the championship. The fight is on, with Hakkinen and Coulthard now only 14 and 16 points behind Schumacher, with twelve races to go yet.
So Hakkinen won the battle in Spain -- but who shall win the war?
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