Canadian GP 1998: Pack 'er up, boys

Well, I picked a heck of a race to finally work out a live stream option (apologies for dragging my feet on that front, should be sorted for future viewing sessions). As the cars lined up in Montreal yet another front row lockout for Mclaren greeted us, yet the start did not follow the script, neither where the Channel 9 commentators when they pointed out to us that the Circuit de Gilles Villeneuve is on an island surround by water. (As opposed to........)

Not only was Michael Schumacher able to split the Mclarens off the line, but a huge shunt between Jarno Trulli, Alexander Wurz and Jean Alesi sees the race called to a stop and a restart is ordered. Drivers frantically scurry back to the pits to jump in the spare car (far out, remember spare cars?) which seems so illogical and unnecessary now. Apart from the cost of shipping an extra car around the world to every race, it takes up valuable garage space and imagine if you are Mark Webber having to jump in a car set up for Sebastian Vettel? My knees hurt just thinking about it.

Anyway, after the unplanned tea-break we got back to racing and with Mika regained his P2 position for the restart, but worst of all for Schumacher he fell behind Fisichella's Benetton in third place. I hope Mika felt conflicted about it, and it seems the karma police left a few gremlins in his engine because he retired from the race soon after. Issues elsewhere on the track prompted a safety car (I hope you're picking up on the theme of today's race) but nothing serious enough to prompt another restart - man, if they did that I couldn't even.  Just as fortune favours the brave so too does attacking the driver in front of you at the earliest possible opportunity with Schumacher apparently waking Fisichella from a deep and comfortable slumber on the resumption of the race.

Through the early stints it was game-on between Schumacher and Coulthard, both hopeful of a win in Canada to revive their championship push. Elsewhere on the track Villeneuve and Frentzen were squabbling for position, and with Williams sitting so low in the constructors' championship it was hoped that they'd take a few swings at other. Without really being able to identify exactly why, I've always had a fondness for Heinz-Harald Frentzen; he had a perpetuating underdog aura that drew me in, and certainly a charisma that Jacques simply never possessed. 

Then Mclaren's gremlins jumped up and bit Coulthard right on the proverbials when a throttle linkage failure saw him fall from the lead at a rate of knots, the Scot driving his car head first into the garage in the universal signal for "pack 'er up, boys." I'm far from an expert when it comes to Formula One cars, but having your throttle linked to the car does seem to be rather an important element. When interviewed Coulthard explained that he was gutted with the retirement after having taken pole position for the race and then, although being heavily pressured by Schumacher, was primed for a comfortable victory on a one-stop strategy as opposed to Michael's two-stops. 

Back on track, an off-track excursion for Pedro Diniz saw him drag large clumps of astroturf from off-track on to the track... and that's as viable an excuse as any for another safety car. This time Schumacher uses the SC for cover and pulls into his garage to take service, emerging right into the path of Frentzen and worrying him off the road. It's unclear whether Schumacher actually pushed him off the road or simply took all of the racing line and banished him onto the grass, but either way Frentzen was out of the race and a furious Frank Williams stormed off the stewards to lodge a complaint. Shortly after the german driver was slapped with a 10 sec stop-and-go penalty and post-race the regulations were reviewed leading to the pitlane exit lines with which Lewis Hamilton has recently become acquainted.

At the end of the safety car period, Fisichella lead the pack but came under immense pressure from Villeneuve coming into turn 1. Without a genuine hope of victory in front of his home crowd this was as close as Jacques would come to leading the race that day, and with a rush of blood he gave it full beans on the outside of the first corner, leaving him with far too much speed and eventually running across the turf at the second corner and surrendering several places. 

Fisichella momentarily inherited the lead from Schumacher as he pitstops played themselves out, but in a prolonged and surely exhausting sprint to the finish Schumacher was able to complete both his ten second penalty and a second pit stop with a few seconds in his pocket to take a reasonably comfortable victory. Without spoiling any future races this may not be his last win this season.

On the topic of spoilers, it's difficult to avoid them completely. Any engaged F1 fan these days is bombarded with "On this day in 1998..." or "20 years ago at the Canadian GP...", and while I realise I'm doing exactly that by producing these little race recaps, I nonetheless find myself drawn into the racing just as much as with live events. I generally despise watching current races the following day, especially when I know the result, but something about watching these old races flicks a switch in my brain that activates a reality distortion field and I am right back there in 1998, presumably in my fluro pants and with that weird, Swingers-esque hairstyle I was trying to pull off. 

Next race... ahh, scenic Magny-Cour in France, and don't forget that I'll tweet out a link if you want to stream the race with me.

^ Rod