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7th March 1999

Review of Melbourne 1999

Eddie Breaks his Duck

by David Cunliffe

All the pre-season prognostications came to nought in Melbourne. In a race of high attrition, both McLarens failed to finish and the other fancied contender for the 1999 title, Michael Schumacher, trailed home outside the points in last place. But the mechanical gremlins spared the German's Ferrari team-mate, Eddie Irvine, who drove an excellent race to claim his first ever F1 victory. After having swapped seats at Jordan and Williams, Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Ralf Schumacher both followed Eddie home to score points on their new team debuts.

Reliability was a factor for most of the teams in a race which finished early for 14 of the 22 starters. It looked distinctly unpromising for both the McLaren drivers even before they lined up on the grid. Their mechanics struggled to complete last minute repairs and, in the panic to get Mika Hakkinen out of the pits before the pitlane closed, someone forgot to disconnect the umbilical telemetry cable from his car. As it was attached to the overhead gantry in the garage, it nearly brought the house down...

The problems continued as the cars lined up on the grid after the parade lap. Both Stewart-Fords expired simultaneously in a plume of white smoke and the race was aborted. With only one spare car - set up for Rubens Barrichello - that was the end of Johnny Herbert's race. It was doubly disappointing for the team, which had been competitive all weekend. Though the Brazilian had qualified an amazing fourth he now had to face the restart from the pitlane.

Parade lap two began with Mika Hakkinen failing to get away before being passed by half the grid. Even worse for Michael Schumacher: the whole field had screamed past, with the exception of Arrows driver Tora Tagaki, by the time the Ferrari finally pulled away. Mika was allowed to reclaim his pole position but Michael had to start from the back. Mutterings were heard during the race about a possible appeal from Ferrari...

Alesi failed to get away at the second start, Damon Hill was punted off by Trulli a few corners in and, by the end of the first lap, there were already three retirements. At that stage though, the McLarens looked invincible as Hakkinen and Coulthard quickly pulled out a lead over the third placed Ferrari of Eddie Irvine. The Northern Irishman's team-mate began to carve through the field from the back, but Schumacher looked uncharacteristically subdued and his progress from the back was not as spectacular as at Suzuka four months earlier.

Then the gremlins struck again. First they hit David Coulthard who suffered a terminal hydraulic failure. Next it was Jacques Villeneuve's turn as his dual liveried BAR, then running strongly in 8th position, suffered a terrifying repeat of the wing failures encountered by several teams in pre-season testing. As the Canadian spun at high speed, narrowly missing the track-side concrete walls, his tail wing was deposited in the middle of the track. Cue the Safety Car, which allowed the debris to be cleared and closed up the field, to the distinct advantage of second placed Eddie Irvine whose deficit to Hakkinen was eliminated at a stroke.

On the restart, Hakkinen slowed as he approached the green lights over the start/finish line. The rest of the leading group bunched, fearing disqualification if they overtook before the line, then shot past as the World Champion's McLaren stuttered away. An unscheduled pitstop failed to cure the problem and that was it - no points for the all conquering team of 1998.

The attrition continued a few laps later when F1 returnee, Alessandro Zanardi, cannoned off the walls and deposited his front wing on the track. Out came the Safety Car again. Rubens Barrichello dashed into the pits just as it was announced that he was "under investigation by the stewards for an incident", which was later identified as passing [Michael Schumacher] under yellow flags. The subsequent 10s stop/go penalty deprived Rubens of 4th place but, after the drive of the race, he still brought the Stewart-Ford home 5th, behind Fisichella's Benetton - encouraging results for both teams. One of the two Spanish debutants, Pedro de la Rosa, put on a fine display to finish 6th and score a point for Arrows.

Michael Schumacher was further detained by a puncture, a damaged front wing and transmission problems (finally remedied by replacing the steering wheel) and, despite putting in several fastest laps, could finish only 8th. But Eddie Irvine, finally freed from team orders, drove serenely on without any problems to take his first win for Ferrari. He now heads the World Championship. Enjoy it while you can Eddie...

Pos Driver / Team Laps Time/reason




1 E. Irvine
Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro
57 1:35:01.659
2 H. Frentzen
B & H Jordan Mugen Honda
57 +1.026
3 R. Schumacher
Winfield Williams
57 +7.012
4 G. Fisichella
Mild Seven Benetton Playlife
57 +33.418
5 R. Barrichello
Stewart Ford
57 +54.697
6 P. de la Rosa
Zepter Arrows
57 +1:24.316
7 T. Takagi
Zepter Arrows
57 +1:26.288
8 M. Schumacher
Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro
56 - 1 lap
R R. Zonta
British American Racing
48 Overheated
R L. Badoer
Fondmetal Minardi Ford
42 Gearbox
R A. Wurz
Mild Seven Benetton Playlife
28 Spin
R P. Diniz
Red Bull Sauber Petronas
27 Gearbox
R M. Gene
Fondmetal Minardi Ford
25 Spin
R J. Trulli
Gauloises Prost Peugeot
25 Spin
R O. Panis
Gauloises Prost Peugeot
23 Locked
wheelnut
R M. Hakkinen
West McLaren Mercedes
21 Throttle
linkage
R A. Zanardi
Winfield Williams
20 Accident
R J. Villeneuve
British American Racing
13 Accident
R D. Coulthard
West McLaren Mercedes
13 Hydraulics
R D. Hill
B & H Jordan Mugen Honda
0 Accident
R J. Alesi
Red Bull Sauber Petronas
0 Gearbox
R J. Herbert
Stewart Ford
0 Overheated

Fastest lap: M Schumacher


Article is written by and copyright (c) 1999 David Cunliffe, Warrington, UK - all rights reserved.

David Cunliffe has been following F1 for over twenty years and is a fan of any skillful and sporting driver who's a true racer. He produces a number of F1 related websites.


Interested in reading more by this author?


Articles by David Cunliffe
Review of Japan 1999 - Honours Even
Review of Malaysia 1999 - The Barge-board controversy
Review of Europe 1999 - Tears all round...
Review of Italy 1999 - Tears at Bedtime
Review of Hungary 1999 - McLaren back on top
Review of Germany 1999 - Eddie Assumes the Mantle
Review of Austria 1999 - Motormouth lives up to his own Publicity
Review of Britain 1999 - Triumph and Tragedy
Review of Canada 1999 - Dreams and Nightmares
Review of Spain 1999 - Swings and Roundabouts
Review of Monaco 1999 - Red Whitewash
Review of San Marino 1999 - Tifosi Heaven
Review of Brazil 1999 - The Championship Race is On...
Review of Melbourne 1999 - Eddie Breaks his Duck

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