Review of Germany 1999
Eddie assumes the mantleArticle is written by and copyright (c) 1999 David Cunliffe, Warrington, UK - all rights reserved.
by David Cunliffe
Two in a row. After victory in Austria last week, Eddie Irvine, with a little help from his replacement as Ferrari No2, Mika Salo, won at Hockenheim today to resume his early season lead in the Championship. The difference between then and now though is that Eddie looks increasingly like a serious challenger for the title, whilst the team's erstwhile saviour, Michael Schumacher, is sidelined for several races. And with Salo following dutifully in Eddie's wake to make it a 1-2, Ferrari also look like a much better bet for the constructors' title than they did just one week ago.
It started badly for Eddie though. He fell from fifth on the grid to sixth in the race. Team-mate Salo wasn't following the script at that stage. Not only had he qualified one place higher than his team leader but he also made a storming start, grabbing second place and holding it for lap after lap. Coulthard was then third, Frentzen was fourth and Barrichello briefly held fifth until his hydraulics packed up on lap 5.
At least Barrichello's team-mate, Johnny Herbert, had some good luck this race. The unluckiest man in F1 was nearly taken out at the first corner when Villeneuve, who has still not finished since he joined BAR, collected the Sauber of Pedro Diniz and both ploughed into the gravel trap. Riding his luck, Johnny drove brilliantly from 17th on the grid up to fifth when, bad luck kicking in again, his gearbox failed with five laps to go.
Damon Hill retired early (from the race, but the rumours are starting again), after an entertaining battle with Herbert. The former World Champion decided that his brakes weren't up to the job, much to the evident surprise of his team who later said that the telemetry showed no problems. Team-mate Frentzen certainly had no trouble with his brakes. Is it Damon who is no longer up to the job?
McLaren started the race well but it all ended in tears. Hakkinen took an early lead and looked strong until the pitstops, when the disasters began. A debacle with the refueling rig led to a 24.3s stop for the Finn, dropping him to fourth behind Frentzen. But worse was soon to come when Mika's left rear tyre exploded at over 210mph at the entrance to the stadium section of the track. 100,000 Ferrari fanatics were delighted to see their team's greatest rival out of the race with no points. More objective observers were delighted to see Hakkinen out of the car with no damage to his limbs, after a nasty looking collision with the tyre barriers.
As for David Coulthard, the best that can be said is that at least he didn't punt his team-mate out of contention this week. He apparently tried to punt the other Mika out though, tangling with Salo's Ferrari early in the race at one of the chicanes. The passing move was never on and it ended with the McLaren's front wing endplate off. The resulting pitstop dropped DC down the field. A 10s stop-go penalty later, for shortcutting the same chicane to pass the surprisingly competitive Prost of Olivier Panis, dropped him back again. Two points for fifth, and the fastest lap of the race, was little compensation for McLaren. Just as well for David that the team had already announced that both drivers are being retained for next year...
Jordan consolidated their third place with with Frentzen's fourth podium finish this season. Ralf Schumacher put on another impressive drive for Williams to take fourth, and Panis claimed the final point for Prost. But it was Ferrari's day, the Scuderia taking a perfect 16 points and jumping to an 18 point lead in the chase for the constructors' title.
Eddie Irvine has waited a long time to assume the mantle of Ferrari No1 - three and a half seasons, give or take a race. In all that time, he's had to pay second fiddle to the man who believed that destiny was calling him. Michael Schumacher, and the whole team at Maranello felt that he was going to be the man who would become the first Ferrari World Champion since 1979. Like the dutiful No2 he was, Eddie had to defer time and again to the German when team orders required it. It was payback time - at the German's home GP of all places - when Irvine received the benefit of team orders for the first time since he donned the red racing suit.
It was a bittersweet victory though. Mindful of the times when team orders cost him points, Irvine gave the winner's trophy to Salo whose race it would have been without such orders. But at least the Northern Irishman now knows for sure that he's the Ferrari No1. Is it he for whom destiny beckons...?
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.