Mika Hakkinen (McLaren-Mercedes) scored only his second Formula One victory of the season when he won the United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis, penultimate round of this year's world championship. The Finn qualified second, but was forced to...
Mika Hakkinen (McLaren-Mercedes) scored only his second Formula One victory of the season when he won the United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis, penultimate round of this year's world championship. The Finn qualified second, but was forced to line up fourth on the grid. Stewards discounted his best time on Sunday because he broke through a red light when exiting the pit lane during the pre-race warm-up. It definitely wasn't his morning, because shortly after committing that error he crashed his car and damaged it substantially.
Things went better in the afternoon, however, and the punishment didn't affect him unduly. Although he ran fifth in the opening laps, his decision to run a long first stint paid off handsomely and he emerged at the head of the pack after making his one and only pit stop on lap 45 of 73.
World champion Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) and David Coulthard (McLaren-Mercedes) followed Hakkinen across the line, although Rubens Barrichello (Ferrari) was on course to finish second until his engine began to lose oil in the closing stages. It finally blew with just two laps to go.
It might have been a different story, however, had Juan Pablo Montoya (BMW WilliamsF1 Team/Michelin) not been forced to retire with an engine problem. The Colombian made a flying start from the second row of the grid and challenged the Ferraris in the opening stages. Although Barrichello, running with a light fuel load because of his two-stop strategy, made a break early on, Montoya chased and passed Schumacher and was leading the race when he came in for his only stop. His car ground to a halt soon after he rejoined, however, to dash his hopes of a second straight F1 win. His team-mate Ralf Schumacher also had a disappointing afternoon. He ran behind Montoya after the start, but spun into retirement after making the first of his two scheduled stops.
Eddie Irvine (Jaguar Racing) was consequently best of the Michelin drivers, in fifth place. The Northern Irishman drove a strong race and worked his way through the field from 14th on the grid to finish behind Jarno Trulli's Jordan-Honda. Nick Heidfeld (Sauber-Petronas) took sixth to claim the final championship point.
Five other Michelin cars finished. Giancarlo Fisichella (Benetton Renault Sport) was eighth, Jenson Button (Benetton Renault Sport) ninth, Heinz-Harald Frentzen (Prost-Acer) 10th, Pedro de la Rosa (Jaguar Racing) 11th and Tomas Enge (Prost-Acer) 14th. Spaniard de la Rosa survived a collision with BAR-Honda driver Jacques Villeneuve. Enge made it two finishes from as many starts in his F1 career, although he lost time on the opening lap when he all but stalled at the start and was last car to get away from the grid.
Neither European Minardi driver made the finish. Fernando Alonso retired with transmission failure and team-mate Alex Yoong also pulled off with a technical problem.
Following today's race, Coulthard is favourite to finish second behind Schumacher in the world championship. He is seven points clear of Barrichello with only the Japanese GP still to take place.
MICHELIN'S RACE :
Pierre Dupasquier (Motorsport Director) :
Are you disappointed to be leaving the United States without even a podium finish? "Yes and no. Yes because we weren't able to build on our promising qualifying form. No because Juan Pablo Montoya was doing a great job prior to his enforced retirement. He was challenging for victory during a weekend when we have spent all our time trying to fathom out the nuances of the Indianapolis track. As is customary, he drove a lively, spirited race. Full marks to him."
The Williams drivers started with tyres that had been scrubbed in for about 20 laps. Why? "It is not an unusual tactic. Generally, if a car has a handling problem at the beginning of a race, it is likely to get worse as the afternoon wears on and will affect the front tyres if the car understeers or the rears if it oversteers. If you start on scrubbed tyres they are likely to perform more consistently. Ultimate performance is perhaps a little reduced, but the car will be better balanced during the course of a long stint."
Did the Williams drivers' different race strategies have anything to do with tyre wear? "I don't think so. The team had a few problems during the warm-up. Their lap times weren't consistent and the chassis were not well balanced. Williams made a few set-up changes before the start without really having time to test them out on track. Opting for different race tactics was a prudent way to hedge their bets."
What was the difference between the primary (A) and option (B) tyre in race trim? "Not much in terms of performance, but I have to point out that only two drivers opted for our primary tyre in the race. In terms of wear rate, the option tyre was slightly marginal at the end of some drivers' stints, but it did its job well."
It took Montoya 15 laps to begin reeling in Michael Schumacher. Did that have anything to do with tyre performance? "Yes, basically. His tyres were holding up much better than those on the car ahead of him at that time."
You must derive a good deal of satisfaction from Eddie Irvine's fifth place... "Not half! Eddie Irvine and Jaguar did a great job in the race. You have to respect their inspired strategy and the driving of Eddie, who performed faultlessly. Our tyres allowed them to make a really late stop and that was very positive."