Hungarian GP 1998: The last of the late breakers

So I've really enjoyed revisiting the 1998 season, and I know the batshit crazy Belgian Grand Prix is up next, so to some degree I thought this race would just be something to tolerate, to plough through so that I can get to the "good one" but it turned out I was wrong! And what's more, the best performance of the race came from one of the drivers I admire the least. 

Coulthard was asked on the grid whether his championship push was over and if he was mostly playing "rear gunner" for Hakkinen, to which he laughingly admitted he was. Locking out the front row it was looking like a repeat of so many races we've seen already from this season at the usually lacklustre Hungaroring. 

Early on there was some talk that Eddie Irvine might have been one-stopping in the race, with the idea of holding up the Mclaren drivers after their first pitstop and pushing them back to within striking range of Michael Schumacher, although this theory proved futile when Irvine not only pitted early, but was the first of the front runners to take service. It was also thought that a discussion between Ron Dennis and the Jordan pitwall was to ensure Ralph Schumacher wasn't going to be used as a pawn in the battle between his brother and Mika, but it wouldn't have been the first time someone in the F1 media circle floated a paranoid theory.

Strangely, Damon Hill predicted that Ferrari may have the edge at this race considering the weather conditions and their superior tyre performance. Not only this but Hungary had always treated Damon very well, the former world champion having finished on the podium at every previous visit (and only missing out this time because of that pesky Candian, you know the one).

Backmarkers were playing a huge part in keeping the front runners close, DC would bravely battle through as if his face was painted blue and white, meanwhile Schumacher would just muscle his way through behind him without losing any time. Despite his best efforts, Schumacher couldn't find a way past DC and with 60 laps to go inspiration struck at Scuderia.

Ferrari strategist Ross Brawn, who would go on to win the constructors' championship with a car of his namesake, pulled Schumacher in for an early second stop and found some clear air for primary car and switched Michael to a three stop strategy. Mclaren were completely perplexed about what was happening and stopped both of their cars shortly after as a precautionary measure, but Schumacher was able to put in some blistering laps on a lighter fuel load and with fresh tyres to easily take the lead and stop again without too much trouble.

In Mclaren-land, Mika suddenly started losing speed and the fact that Coulthard was given strict orders to support his wingman at all costs became apparent when he too slowed down. Realising that Schumacher was romping toward a likely race win, Mika pulled over and unleashed DC to no avail. In the end, Coulthard was fortunate to hang on to 2nd place, most likely the best result he was going to get that day, while Mika struggled to keep his car in the points eventually hanging on to 6th place.

Not only did Ralph Schumacher unlap himself against Hakkinen in the end, but big brother Michael lapped the Mclaren in the dying moments of the race to add insult to injury. 

So that was the podium, in the end, was not unlike the 1997 race with Schumacher, Coulthard and Villenueve receiving trophies from a chicken... so that's fun.

Post-race Schumacher admitted that it was tough to pull off the strategy and it required 60 laps of qualifying pace. Perhaps I found it so exciting because it illustrated the advantages of giving drivers the freedom to push like crazy and drive the wheels off their car to make something magical happen in the race - it goes without saying that we don't see that in the modern era.

We leave Hungary with only 7 points separating championship leaders Hakkinen and Schumacher. "You've seen how the scene can change in Formula One," says Murray Walker, prophetically, "it's changed today and could change again in two week's time in Belgium."

I can't wait.