There was a shake up on the grid ahead of this week’s recap race, with both the Williams and Ferrari introducing cars with a longer wheelbase. It seemed to suit the reigning champion Jacques Villeneuve who qualified his car in P3 behind the Mclarens.
Ralph “Spare” Schumacher also shone in qualifying to get himself onto the second row. After spinning out in practice Schumacher declared that the longer wheelbase was “complete dogshit” (or so I assume) and reverted back to his old car only to spin it as well and suffer an engine problem. P9 for the German was the best he could manage on Saturday in front of his home crowd.
In front of Michael on the start grid was Alexander Wurz who was slow away, causing Schumacher to swerve violently to avoid him. It probably wasn’t the ideal start from a man looking to make up places at the start. Shortly after the sister Ferrari of Eddie Irvine left the track and Schumacher gained the position, if you were more sceptical than myself you’d suspect it was an intentional move, but it looked fairly innocuous and, as Irvine would demonstrate a number of times this weekend, keeping the Ferraris on the black stuff seemed harder than it looked.
At the front Coulthard was hanging on to the back of Hakkinen but surprisingly neither could pull out a gap on Spare Schumacher who’s Jordan seemed to have come to life. His early pace was explained by an early pitstop during which the Jordan team essentially filled his tank suggesting his car was practically running on fumes off the start line. It highlights the kind of strategy that teams could pull if refuelling were introduced, but frankly I've always felt that it’s a huge additional cost, promotes the sport as eco-unfriendly and it's downright dangerous.
Off the pace and out of position it seemed that there was little the Ferraris could do to claw their way back through the field, especially on the straights. Wurz, on the other hand, had no problem cruising up behind his advisories and picking them off, albeit for the minor placings and after a mishap as the lights went off. Wurz outbraking and snapping up Jarno Trulli was one of the rare highlights from the mid-field (that got televised at least) along with Jos “the boss” Verstappen who made life very difficult for his Stewart Ford teammate Rubens Barrichello, wasting some of the Brazilian’s new tyre advantage. Clearly Max inherited some of his old man’s tenacity and self-entitlement!
Of the main championship contenders, it was Schumacher who pitted first (probably because like his brother, he was running light for fuel at the start in the hope of gaining places). Ahead of their pitstop DC was also closing the gap on Hakkinen at the front, and it looked like whichever driver had the cleanest pitstop would end up winning the race.
In the end it was Hakkinen that emerged in front of DC, but it wouldn’t but the last time DC’s massive jawline filled Mika’s mirrors. Some tense conversations played out on the Mclaren pitwall and the whisper was that Mika’s car was borderline on fuel to finish the race, perhaps they’d calculated wrong or under-filled him to ensure his maintained his lead? Furthermore, the Williams of Jacques Villeneuve was closing in fast as we cut to commercial.
“So don’t go anywhere, we’ll be back right after this.”
Sometimes in Formula 1 you return from a commercial break and everything has changed. So it was here, with the Mclaren’s holding station (presumably after informing their drivers to hold station) and the threat from Jacques was all but extinguished (presumably after Williams informed him that if he did anything to screw up their only podium finish so far this season they’d take him to the nearest tree and hang him up by his nuts).
And so they cruised across the line without issue and the Germans in the grandstands who hoped to see one of their own on the podium in person started booking tickets to Hungary for the next race!