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Hakkinen gains nail-biting win in Belgium

A gritty overtaking move by championship leader Mika Hakkinen with five laps remaining earned the Finn a nail-biting victory over nearest rival Michael Schumacher at the Belgian Grand Prix.

The narrow 1.1-second win gave Hakkinen his first-ever win at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit and allowed him to move six points clear of the German in the drivers' championship.

Hakkinen initially failed to get past the Ferrari of Schumacher in the closing laps but took advantage when the leading pair had to get past the BAR of Ricardo Zonta.

Schumacher had led the race for much of the 44-laps after benefiting from a Hakkinen mistake on lap 13 when the McLaren driver spun at Stavelot and went onto the grass while in the lead. The German quickly opened up a 7.6-second lead as he consistently lapped quicker than his rivals.

But after the final round of pit-stops, Hakkinen used his greater straight-line speed advantage to catch Schumacher and gain his fourth victory of the season.

BMW-Williams driver Ralf Schumacher secured his second podium finish of the season in third, ahead of David Coulthard and the impressive Briton Jenson Button. Jordan's Heinz-Harald Frentzen claimed the final points-scoring spot in sixth.

Any chance of a first-corner pile-up in the wet conditions were averted with a safety-car start as drivers decided that the surface water on the track was too dangerous.

Third-placed Button pushed immediately and was the center of attention in the opening laps. The BMW-Williams driver briefly overtook Jordan driver Jarno Trulli at La Source on the third lap before the Italian took advantage of Button's wide line out of the corner.

Ferrari driver Schumacher then moved ahead of Button on the same lap and passed Trulli for second place on the next lap. Button clipped the Jordan as he also attempted to get round Trulli, forcing the Italian out of the race.

While the trio battled in the opening stages, pole-sitter Hakkinen moved 11 seconds clear of Schumacher on lap five and was able to come in on the next lap for slick tires and still regain his lead.

Dutchman Jos Verstappen hit Pedro de la Rosa's Arrows at the Bus Stop chicane on the ninth lap as Italian Giancarlo Fisichella was forced out with an electrical problem, following on from his spectacular crash in the morning warm-up.

Schumacher then took the lead on lap 13 and came in at the halfway point for a 11.3-second pit-stop. He exited the pit-lane in third position but took in enough fuel to finish the race.

Team-mate Rubens Barrichello ran out of fuel and finished just yards away from his pit-garage on lap 33, and Prost's problems continued when Jean Alesi was also forced out as he pulled off the track.

In the latter stages, Coulthard overtook Button at Les Combes with eight laps remaining to secure fourth spot, but the Scot's chances of landing a maiden title now look slim.

MCLAREN-MERCEDES: Hakkinen set to investigate Schumacher defensive moves

Belgian Grand Prix winner Mika Hakkinen insisted that he will look at a video of the incident when Michael Schumacher seemed to illegally defend his lead late in the race.

Hakkinen said that, despite winning the race, he wanted to see whether Schumacher broke the rules when defending his lead at Les Combes on lap 39. The rules state that a driver can move once when defending his position, but not more, as Schumacher appeared to do.

Hakkinen overtook Schumacher at the same position on the track a lap later.

"It is better to look at the video and understand it properly," said Hakkinen. "But I did think that something strange was going on and that it was not fair. I am cool about it now. I'm not really complaining.

"It was very exciting, very dramatic and it was a great feeling for me to win. I had a real fight with Michael and it was a fantastic move for me to go into the lead the way I did."

Hakkinen overtook Schumacher after deciding to pass British American Racing's Ricardo Zonta on the inside of Les Combes, after Schumacher had gone outside of Zonta.

He added: "The passing move was something different, wasn't it! I was quicker than Michael through La Source and Eau Rouge and up the hill in seventh gear. I had the tow from the backmarker and when Michael went left I went right and... well, that was it."

Coulthard unhappy after team's decision ruined his race

David Coulthard said that he was disappointed to lose out once again when he and McLaren team-mate Mika Hakkinen needed to pit at the same time.

Coulthard was left out on the Spa-Francorchamps circuit for an extra lap on wet tyres early in the race as Hakkinen, and the majority of the rest of the field came in for slick tyres as the track dried.

After the Scot eventually pitted he lost five places as he dropped to seventh and his chances of winning the race effectively disappeared.

McLaren's decision to pit Hakkinen first mirrored a decision at the German Grand Prix when an intruder on the Hockenheim track forced the safety car out and all the teams took the opportunity to make a pit-stop.

"This was Hockenheim revisited," said Coulthard. "It was a team decision that was made, which includes me, but obviously I don't have the benefit of seeing what times the others were lapping in.

"In this situation therefore, I do rely on the information that I'm getting from the engineers. I haven't benefitted from any of these calls at all and it is unfortunate.

"I'm very disappointed. It was obviously going to be a very difficult race from my grid position to win. I still think I'm in with a chance of the championship and I'm not giving up yet."

FERRARI: Schumacher remains optimistic

Michael Schumacher remained optimistic after the Belgian Grand Prix despite being outpaced by Mika Hakkinen at Spa.

Schumacher capitalized in the 44-lap race to take the lead when Hakkinen half-spun on lap 13, but lost the lead and the race when the Finn powered past him four laps from the finish.

"Hakkinen was simply much faster," said Schumacher. "We do not feel we have lost the championship. Everyone is still pushing very hard and I picked up six points. The championship is still alive."

Schumacher said that he was driving through the wet parts of the track to cool his tires throughout the race and also adjusted his front wing during one of his pit-stops.

He added: "For the last few laps I was happy to see the backmarkers in front of me because Hakkinen had more straight line speed and I thought they would help me. But it was not enough.

"As for the passing move, usually there is only room for two cars on the track, but Mika made an outstanding move. If he had not done it there, he would have probably done it later."

Schumacher's Ferrari team-mate Rubens Barrichello was forced to retire after 32 laps. The Brazilian had a fuel pressure problem and broke down in the pit-lane. He was pushed to his garage by mechanics, but failed to re-start.

Barrichello said: "We decided to change strategy half-way through the race, and it was the right decision. After my second stop I was going well, but on the exact lap when I was supposed to come in again the engine cut out because of a drop in fuel pressure."

WILLIAMS-BMW: Ralf Schumacher insists he was going for a win in Belgium

After equalling his best performance of the season, Ralf Schumacher insisted that he was going for a win in the Belgian Grand Prix.

Schumacher finished third in his BMW-Williams, just as he did in the opening race in Australia in March, and said that his team are now undoubtedly the third best team in the championship - behind Ferrari and McLaren.

"We were working on trying to get a win," said Schumacher. "I think we were close to winning in race conditions, but we saw that Mika was outstandingly quick compared to everybody else.

"I think we are definitely the third team in the world championship and we will try to stay there and get more podium and points finishes."

Schumacher backed the decision to start under the safety car and praised his team for helping to create a good set-up for the 44-lap race.

He added: "It was the right decision to start under the safety car. We were prepared for the rain, so we had a medium set-up which I must say was good. We were quick, but I had a problem and thought I might not finish. It was an exciting couple of laps."

Button -- It was one of my worst races!

Jenson Button admitted that he considered the Belgian Grand Prix to be one of his worst races in Formula One -- despite finishing in fifth spot after an impressive weekend.

Button looked impressive at the start but lost two places after contact with second-placed Jarno Trulli and was disappointed with his overall performance after starting third on the grid.

Button said: "It would have been nice to have been in the top three but I am disappointed because I moved down the field at the start. It was a bad race for me, if not the worst.

"The car was working well at the start, but when I tried to pass Jarno I went in a bit late.

"Michael (Schumacher) made the gap but Jarno and I touched. If I had waited one more lap maybe I could have overtaken.

"For the rest of the race I tried to forget the clash, and I am now looking forward to the next one."

BENETTON-SUPERTEC: Fisichella continues nightmare weekend

Italian Giancarlo Fisichella continued his nightmare weekend as he was forced out on the ninth lap with an electrical problem -- after a spectacular crash in the morning warm-up.

Fisichella said: "At the beginning of the race I was being careful with the car and not pushing too hard while the track was wet.

"Once we changed to dry tires I was able to push more but then I got some sort of electrical problem and lost power at the Bus Stop chicane.

"I am sorry for Jos Verstappen who was caught behind me when this happened. After qualifying in one run on Saturday and my big crash this morning this has been a disastrous weekend for me."

Team-mate Alexander Wurz finished a lap down in 13th spot, but insisted he could have finished further up the standings if not for a pit-stop problem for Fisichella.

"Starting from 19th on the grid it was always going to be difficult," Wurz said. "On my first stop I had to wait behind Giancarlo and there was some sort of problem with his stop so I lost a lot of places."

BAR-Honda: Understeer forces Villeneuve out of the points

Former world champion Jacques Villeneuve was hampered with understeer problems as the Canadian finished the Belgian Grand Prix in seventh position, much to his disappointment.

The British American Racing driver had high hopes going into Sunday's race but was left frustrated after struggling with his car throughout the 44-lap race.

Villeneuve said: "It was a very boring race from my perspective. The car had terrible understeer today and I don't know why.

"We had oversteer all weekend, mostly on old tires, and yet today the car was only good for the first part of the race. We raced hard the whole time, but were just one place off the points."

The Canadian's team-mate Ricardo Zonta also had a troublesome race, finishing 12th, and also said the car was struggling from the opening moments and was just pleased to have finished the race.

Zonta said: "I was fighting the car the whole race and couldn't really make any progress, so I just concentrated on trying to be consistent.

"I'm pleased to have finished the race because at least it shows the car is reliable, but we are disappointed we didn't achieve a better result."

The Brazilian played a part in the final outcome of the race which saw Mika Hakkinen overtake Michael Schumacher for the lead, and ten championship points, as they passed Zonta along the way.

Zonta concluded: "Near the end of the race I saw Schumacher and Hakkinen in my mirrors as I was going through Eau Rouge, so I slowed on the following straight and stayed in the middle of the track. It was an amazing view as they went past me on either side of my car."

JORDAN-MUGEN HONDA: Trulli refuses to criticize Button for Spa exit

Jarno Trulli refused to place excessive blame on Jenson Button after the BMW-Williams driver clipped his Jordan and forced him out of the Belgian Grand Prix on lap four.

Trulli was running second, under pressure from Button, when the Briton clipped the rear of his car at La Source and sent him into a spin. Trulli attempted to recover, but stalled his engine.

"I think it was just a misunderstanding," said Trulli. "Jenson thought there was enough room and there wasn't - he hit me and my engine stopped so I couldn't do anything."

Trulli's team-mate Heinz-Harald Frentzen went on to score one championship point for Jordan with a sixth-place finish. The German said: "It's good to have finished in the points, but I would have liked more.

"The race ran without incident, but I had a good fight with David Coulthard and Rubens Barrichello, and otherwise simply drove the race."

SAUBER-PETRONAS: Sauber tactics nearly pay off

Sauber driver Pedro Diniz admitted that his team's decision to start the race on grooved tires nearly paid off as the Brazilian finished 11th in the Belgian Grand Prix.

Diniz remained fairly happy with his performance on the Spa track despite damaging the nose cone of his Sauber in the early stages of the race.

"Our decision to start on grooved tires was a good one," said Diniz, "but unfortunately the track was just a little too damp in the opening laps.

"After that I was able to get going strongly, although the nose was damaged in the early traffic. It was always going to be difficult when you start so far back, but I had a good race."

His Finnish team-mate Mika Salo, who will be moving to Toyota at the end of the season, was also delighted with the result, despite only finishing ninth.

Salo said: "I think the result was as good as we could have expected. With few of the leading cars dropping out it was always going to be difficult to score points.

"I don't understand why we struggled so much in practice and qualifying, especially as I was flat-out through Eau Rouge every lap, even with full tanks!"

ARROWS-SUPERTEC: Arrows drivers have races to forget

Arrows drivers Pedro de la Rosa and Jos Verstappen both insisted they had races to forget after disappointing performances in the Belgian Grand Prix.

Verstappen finished 15th, while De la Rosa was 16th, but both drivers had steering problems as the Arrows' only competition came at the back of the grid with the Minardi duo of Marc Gene and Gaston Mazzacane.

"This really is one to forget," said De la Rosa. "After my pit-stop the rear just snapped out and the steering felt heavy so I had to come in again one lap later. I then found out that I had a rear puncture."

Verstappen added: "I am happy to go home and forget about this. The balance was difficult to drive with and there was a lot of oversteer. We also had to change the front wing because I drove into the back of Giancarlo Fisichella when he stopped on the circuit. The car was just difficult to drive."

JAGUAR-COSWORTH: Herbert on points trail after encouraging Belgian performance

Johnny Herbert is on the trail of championship points for Jaguar after an encouraging performance in the Belgian Grand Prix culminated in a ninth-place finish.

Herbert, who has announced that he will leave Jaguar at the end of this season, finished higher than his team-mate Eddie Irvine for only the third time this season at Spa.

"I still want to bring points to the team before the year is out," said Herbert. "If I'd qualified better for this race I could have scored points here, but it was still enjoyable."

Irvine finished two places behind Herbert in 10th and said that a balance problem with his R1 car once the track had dried hindered his chances of a strong finish.

"The balance of the car was good in the warm-up and I thought if it stayed wet it could be interesting," said Irvine. "But once we changed to grooved tires the balance went."

PROST-PEUGEOT: Alesi believes he has proved his loyalty to Prost

Jean Alesi believes that he proved his loyalty to Prost by trying his hardest to secure a good result for the team at the Belgian Grand Prix.

At one stage in the 44-lap race Alesi ran fourth after coming in for slick tires before any of his rivals.

Even though the Frenchman's race was again ruined by reliability problems with his Prost, after 32 laps, he insisted his commitment to the team is still 100 per cent.

"What is important in our present situation is that I showed how much I am willing to bring a good result to the team," said Alesi. "There are still four races to go, and I'm sure if we apply ourselves we can get a good result.

"All we need is to work and believe. At least this race brought a lot of oxygen to the team."

Alesi's team-mate Nick Heidfeld also retired from the race, with engine failure after just eight laps.

Heidfeld said: "After my first pit-stop I blipped the throttle, but I did not wait long enough for the revs to come down, and the first gear broke. I could have gone on like this, but since we have a common oil circuit for gearbox and engine, a few laps later the engine broke."

Team boss Alain Prost was once again frustrated as he watched both his cars retire for the sixth time this season. Prost said: "Every time we've been in a position to score points this season our reliability has let us down."

MINARDI FONDMETAL: Minardi continue to make slow progress

The Minardi team continue to make slow progress after both Marc Gene and Gaston Mazzacane finished the Belgian Grand Prix.

Gene was more than happy with his 14th position after having trouble with his car throughout the morning warm-up session.

The Spaniard said: "The race outcome was more than favorable to me considering that this morning after the warm-up I was really worried because I was not happy with the car's behavior.

"I did not expect to be competitive today so I felt content with the race I drove. I am especially pleased with the job my team did in letting me be at an advantage after the pitstop."

But Argentine driver Mazzacane was disappointed with his car and struggled throughout the race, claiming seventh position.

Mazzacane said: "I am disappointed because my car was competitive today and I could have got a better result if the clutch potentiometer did not break on lap 27."

"It is sad that we could not have done better and that these problems prevented me from driving a good race."

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