THIS WEEK IN FORD RACING Tuesday, April 13, 1999 FIA Formula One Championship There was joy and, ultimately, disappointment for Stewart-Ford in Brazil when Rubens Barrichello claimed third place on the grid, led his home Grand Prix for 23...
THIS WEEK IN FORD RACING Tuesday, April 13, 1999
FIA Formula One Championship
There was joy and, ultimately, disappointment for Stewart-Ford in Brazil when Rubens Barrichello claimed third place on the grid, led his home Grand Prix for 23 laps and then retired with engine failure. Johnny Herbert had been forced to stop with hydraulic failure while holding a strong seventh place on lap 15.
'Leading the race took me back to my Formula Three days,' said Rubens. 'I made a good start and I was running at a good pace until the first stop. I lost a bit of consistency with the second set of tyres and I was probably not running well enough to win but good enough to be on the podium. I think we showed that we can race up at the front today.'
The team's performance was no surprise. Stewart-Ford came to Brazil in an upbeat mood following a successful run of testing during the five-week gap following the opening race of the season in Melbourne.
'A lot of work has been done since the Australian Grand Prix,' said Martin Whitaker, Director, Ford Racing Europe. 'We have made several modifications to the engines to overcome various problems and our competitiveness was confirmed by a three-day test in Barcelona where we were fastest. The test also illustrated that there is still some way to go with respect to engine reliability. We suffered several similar failures which, although difficult to prove conclusively, look like they were related to a manufacturing problem which tipped an already difficult area of the engine over the edge.'
Progress on the first day of practice was hampered by intermittent showers which meant drivers could only run on dry weather tyres during the second 60-minute session, Barrichello setting sixth fastest time, Herbert 13th after losing time with a hydraulics problem.
'I'm happy with the way the car is running, particularly on heavy fuel tanks,' said Barrichello. 'I'm pleased with the improvements we were able to make during the day. The weather was typical of Interlagos so to be in the top six at the end of the session means we are in pretty good shape.'
Barrichello proved his point by qualifying in a magnificent third place after what he described as 'the lap of my life'. Third fastest after his first and second flying laps, Barrichello saw his time bettered by Michael Schumacher's Ferrari. Confident that he could improve, Rubens went out for his final run and, with a stunning lap, regained third place.
'I feel fantastic!' said Barrichello. 'The car felt great throughout the session and it's nice for me to come to my home circuit and perform well in front of my fans. What I achieved today is a credit to the team and shows that Melbourne was no fluke.'
Herbert claimed 10th place, the Englishman saying he didn't do as well as he should have done. But he was confident for the race because the car felt good with a full load of fuel. Despite Barrichello's very best efforts, the fight for pole position turned out to be an in-house battle at McLaren, Mika Hakkinen winning the honour by 0.147 seconds from David Coulthard. Barrichello was a further half second behind the Scotsman but almost three tenths of a second ahead of Schumacher's Ferrari.
During the five-week break, Ford Cosworth made modifications to the oil and fuel systems on the VJM 2 specification engines used by Minardi -Ford in Brazil. Neither Stephane Sarrazin (standing in for Luca Badoer, injured during testing) nor Marc Gene experienced engine trouble on their way to 17th and 20th fastest times respectively. Jacques Villeneuve was moved to the back of the grid from 16th place when the fuel sample taken after practice did not conform with the official sample submitted by the BAR-Supertec team at the beginning of the season. When Coulthard stalled at the start, Barrichello was able to move into second place, the Brazilian taking the lead three laps later when Hakkinen experienced a momentary problem with the gearbox on his McLaren. Barrichello looked completely under control as he extended his lead to almost four seconds before making his first of two planned pit stops on lap 27 of the 72-lap race.
With the McLaren and Ferrari teams scheduled to stop just once, it was unlikely that the Stewart-Ford would regain the lead but that became academic on lap 43 when the engine failed as Barrichello held a comfortable third place. 'Despite the disappointment of the failures on both cars, the whole team should leave Brazil with a real sense of accomplishment,' said Martin Whitaker. 'Throughout practice we demonstrated that Melbourne was no fluke and now we have passed another significant milestone - that of leading a Grand Prix on merit. Rubens drove superbly and Johnny had every chance of being in the points. The evidence of the weekend shows that podium finishes and perhaps even a win are within reach this year.'
The race was won by Hakkinen, who took the lead from Schumacher during the pit stops, Frentzen's Jordan-Honda claiming third place despite running out of fuel on the last lap. Gene brought his Minardi-Ford home in ninth place, the last runner from the 21 starters. Sarrazin crashed out while running ahead of his Minardi team-mate on lap 31.
The SF3's next run will be at Jerez for an official three day test on April 22nd - 24th, before the third round of the FIA Formula One World Championship, the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola, Italy, on May 2nd.