Review of Europe 1999
Tears all round...Article is written by and copyright (c) 1999 David Cunliffe, Warrington, UK - all rights reserved.
by David Cunliffe
At Monza two weeks ago, Mika Hakkinen cried in the woods after throwing away the race. At the Nürburgring, there were tears all over the place. Mika wasn't too happy again after only scoring two points, but he probably shed a few tears of relief as all the other main protagonists in the title race failed to score at all. There were undoubtedly tears of rage and frustration for Ferrari after the most farcical pitstop for many a year cost Irvine several places and valuable points.
But most of all, there were tears of joy at Stewart-Ford, and in the eyes of Johnny Herbert fans everywhere, as the luck of the unluckiest man in F1 changed. The plucky Brit brought the Scottish team its first and, as it has two races left before becoming Jaguar, perhaps only victory. Team-mate Barrichello came home a fighting third behind the Prost-Peugeot of Jarno Trulli, almost clinching a historic 1-2 for his team. The last point was claimed by Marc Gene for Minardi, their first points-scoring finish for several years.
After a damp and eventful qualifying, which saw Frentzen's Jordan clinch pole position, the race was damper and even more eventful. It started badly - twice. As the field tensely poised for the off, the red lights failed to go out because of was a staller towards the rear of the grid. The first five, which included the two McLarens, suffered a collective optical illusion and started, even though the lights were still red. Luckily for them, a jump start doesn't lead to a penalty when the start is aborted...
On the restart, everyone got away cleanly and Frentzen took the lead. Within a few corners, disaster struck as Hill inexplicably slowed, Wurz swerved to avoid him and tipped Diniz into a very nasty looking roll. The Sauber's roll hoop collapsed as it hit the track and the hapless Pedro continued upside down into the grass. For a few minutes, the spectators feared the worst but, eventually, Diniz was carried off, still in his seat, injured but conscious and waving to the watching cameras.
The accident saw the end of the race for both Hill and Wurz too but, surprisingly, didn't lead to a red flag. Instead, the safety car came out, and the remaining 19 cars trundled around for several laps whilst Diniz was taken to hospital and his car was removed. When racing resumed, the order was Frentzen, Hakkinen, Coulthard, Ralf Schumacher, Fisichella, Panis and Irvine. At this stage, the Stewarts of Barrichello and Herbert were 11th and 13th respectively and looked about as likely to score as, well, Marc Gene...
Frentzen was in control but couldn't pull away. The McLarens and Schumacher's Williams were bottled up behind him but never seriously challenged for the lead. Fisichella began to fall behind and held up Irvine who was obviously faster. Eventually, Ferrari's great hope forced the Italian into a mistake, passed him and quickly clawed back the gap to the Ulsterman's former No1's little brother. Further back down the field, another (thankfully less spectacular) accident claimed Zanardi after he, Zonta and Tagaki all tried to fill the same piece or tarmac.
Around lap 19 or 20, the crowd began to raise their umbrellas and it became obvious that the race was about to become even more interesting. Particularly as those umbrellas stayed down half way around the circuit. What to do? Stay on dry tyres and risk a spin? Or go for wets? McLaren thought that wets were the way to go and called Hakkinen in. Unfortunately for them, the shower skirted the circuit, the dry bits stayed dry and the wet bits soon began to develop a dry line. If the shower had been long enough, heavy enough and widespread enough, it would have been a masterstroke. It turned into a disaster.
The other leaders slowed down but stayed out. Ralf Schumacher reveled in the conditions, reminding spectators of the brilliance of his brother in the wet. Several times he attempted to pass Coulthard and eventually he made it stick. Meanwhile, Ferrari were about to go to pieces. Salo stopped first and went for wet tyres but it took the team 38s to re-boot his car and send him back out. By the time Eddie Irvine came in, the track was beginning to dry and he decided to stick with the grooved slicks. Only problem was, only three wheel men were told. The fourth man, on the right rear, had a wet tyre ready. Confusion reigned for agonisingly long seconds as mechanics desperately tried to find another dry tyre. Effectively, Irvine's challenge for points was ended by that pitstop cock up. Anyone would think they didn't want him to win the title...
Meanwhile, mid way through the race, Mika Hakkinen was way down the field, lapping at about the pace of the Minardis, and appeared to have given up. He was 13th and had been lapped by the first four: Frentzen, Schumacher, Coulthard and Fisichella. Was he crying into his helmet or did he have a mechanical problem? It was only later in the race, when he realised that he was chasing the lower points in competition with Irvine's Ferrari, did the Finn finally begin to drive like the World Champion he is supposed to be.
Frentzen stopped for tyres and fuel. The stop went smoothly but his race ended soon afterwards as his Jordan lost all drive shortly after he returned to the race. Then the rain began to fall again but, as before, it drenched only half the track. Coulthard had assumed the lead from Frentzen but he spun off on the wet half of the track. Others were having difficulties with the conditions too, but some made the most of them. Especially Stewart-Ford.
Almost unnoticed amongst all this drama, the team from Milton Keynes pulled off a strategic coup. They sent Johnny Herbert out, after his one scheduled pitstop, on wet tyres. just as the second shower to hit the circuit was at its worst. Few other cars were wet-shod, then the right choice for the conditions, at that time. Herbert, for so long the bridesmaid in the Scottish team, made the most of it, drove superbly in the difficult conditions, passed his team-mate and went up into third. Ralf Schumacher was then leading, ahead of Fisichella, but soon pitted and re-emerged behind Herbert.
As the track again began to dry, Johnny called the conditions just right and pitted for dry tyres. He regained the track in third. Fisichella was leading but soon after spun out, promoting Ralf Schumacher to the lead and Herbert to 2nd. Then the Williams had a puncture - and Johnny was leading. Shades of 1995, when his last two wins came at the expense of the elder Schumacher, then his team-mate at Benetton. But there was still a quarter of the race to run. Would he make it? The TV cameras focused on the nervous Stewarts, father and son, anxiously watching from the pit wall.
All too often this year, when Johnny Herbert has been in a good position for points, his car has let him down. This time it didn't. The car - and the weather - held. The plucky Brit made it to the end and gave the Stewart-Ford team its historic first win, to the obvious delight of Jackie Stewart, his son Paul (tears of joy in full flow) and the whole team . The lap few laps saw a thrilling dice between Jarno Trulli and the other Stewart of Rubens Barrichello but, despite several attempts to pass, the Brazilian had to settle for the bottom step of the podium.
The 14 points clinched by Stewart-Ford brought it within two points of Williams for 4th place in the Constructors' Championship. Up at the front, Mika Hakkinen sneaked into a two point lead in the race for the drivers' title. The other three at the front of that race blew it. So, there's still everything to play for. This was a race of might have beens, particularly for Frentzen and Coulthard who failed to close the gap at the front of the title. Looks like DC might have to settle for helping his team-mate for the last two races. But who knows which of the other three at the top will win it?
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.