Review of Austria 1999
Motormouth lives up to his own publicityArticle is written by and copyright (c) 1999 David Cunliffe, Warrington, UK - all rights reserved.
by David Cunliffe
Eddie Irvine's mouth has been working overtime since his team leader, Michael Schumacher, crashed himself out of the Championship two weeks ago. The Northern Irishman's popularity has suffered, at least in Germany and Italy, as a consequence. But a superb win in Austria, aided by Ferrari's brilliant race strategy and the McLarens tripping over each other, will earn forgiveness from the tifosi, the Ferrari faithful who can forget much after a victory by one of their favourite red cars.
Winning might have been more of a problem for Eddie though had David Coulthard not tapped Mika Hakkinen into a spin at the second corner on lap 1. The Scot's ill-judged attempt to pass his team-mate could have so easily ended in disaster for both McLarens. As it was, both escaped unscathed - at opposite ends of the field. Whilst DC stretched his lead by one second a lap from second placed man, Rubens Barrichello, Mika was staging a stunning fight back from the rear of the pack. That was but one of the highlights of an entertaining race which featured more overtaking than the average F1 season.
Other team-mates suffered from the McLaren collision too. As his Stewart co-pilot was running strongly in second, poor unlucky Johnny Herbert was visiting the pits - for four laps - to have a new rear wing fitted, the result of being collected by super-sub, Mika Salo. Mika II, standing in at Ferrari for Michael Schumacher, had failed to slow sufficiently when the field took action to avoid Mika I, and had used Herbert's Stewart-Ford as a secondary braking device. Salo also had to pit a couple of laps later to have a new front wing fitted, a much quicker process but sufficient to drop him behind all but Herbert. Both ran to the end of the race, neither collected any points but at least Herbert gained some satisfaction from both finishing and putting in the second fastest lap of the entire race.
The other Brit featured even less. After his strong showing at Silverstone, Damon Hill struggled at the A1-Ring. A very encouraging fastest time on Friday turned to dust in his hands on both Saturday and Sunday. Another race best forgotten on the road to retirement. It was once again left to team-mate Frentzen to uphold the Jordan honours with a solid fourth place - three more points towards Eddie Jordan's target of third place in the Constructors' Championship. Local boy, Alex Wurz, came in fifth to claim his best result of a poor season for Benetton, and Pedro Diniz took the last point for Sauber.
Up front, none of this was of much interest. Coulthard pulled out a 13s lead over Barrichello; Irvine appeared to be struggling to keep up with the Stewart in third. But, as became clear later, that was because ace Ferrari strategist, Ross Brawn, was now using his formidable intellect to help his team's erstwhile No2. Irvine's car was running on heavy - enough fuel to last 44 laps. After race leader DC pitted just past the half way mark in this 71 lap race, Eddie emulated his former team No1 and put in some storming laps. Coupled with a quick stop by the team, this was sufficient to put the Ferrari out in first place when he returned to the track after his single stop. Has the student become the master?
There was drama yet to come. Not only was Mika Hakkinen putting in one of the best drives of his career, climbing through the field with some daring moves, but DC was about to try and stage a last minute minute come back. With four laps to go, he was right on Irvine's gearbox. Could he pass and retake the lead? No, but he had a damn good try. Irvine fended off Coulthard's best efforts, took the 10 points and staked his claim to a place in the Ferrari hall of fame.
Eddie leaves Austria only two points behind Hakkinen in the Drivers' Championship, single-handedly maintaining Ferrari's two point lead in the Constructors'. If he keeps this up, everyone will start to believe his self-publicity. Next, the F1 circus travels to the heart of Schumi territory for the German GP in one week's time - will the fire crackers fly for Eddie? Unlikely. It's also pretty certain that the irony of Irvine possibly becoming Ferrari's first World Champion for 20 years will be lost on that most partisan of crowds...
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.