Brazilian GP 2000
MARCH 26, 2000
Brazilian GP, 2000
MICHAEL SCHUMACHER won a second consecutive victory by winning the Brazilian Grand Prix. It looked like a dominant victory but it was never really clear whether he would have won if Mika Hakkinen's McLaren had not broken down again. The two cars were on different pit stop strategies and so direct comparison was still impossible. David Coulthard finished second, struggling with gearbox troubles. He was later excluded for a technical infringement which McLaren said had been caused by the horribly bumpy Interlagos circuit. The Stewards did not agree...
The first races in Sao Paulo took place in 1936 and they were so popular that when two years later a couple of property developers began building on a huge tract of land to the south of the city they decided to stick a race track on a small parcel of land which was deemed unfit for housing because of the dangers of landslides. And so, as they had road-making machines available, they decided to build a racing circuit. Rather than spend money on a track designer, they took the design from Roosevelt Field racing circuit in New York and plonked it down in the natural bowl they had available.
The new Interlagos (which means "between lakes") was ready in time for its first race on May 12 1940, although the whole event was overshadowed somewhat by the redefining of borders that was going on that day in Europe where German armies were pouring into Holland and Belgium.
It was lousy timing for the Brazilians.
The original owners off-loaded the circuit on the city in 1950 but then nothing much happened to it until 1966 when the first work was done on the track. It was not long before a youngster named Emerson Fittipaldi was making a name for himself in Formula 1 and that led to Brazil getting a Formula 1 race in 1973. The event has been in the World Championship ever since then, at Interlagos (1973-80) and then at Rio de Janeiro (1981-89) before it returned to Interlagos in 1990. When the F1 circus returned to the old autodromo it had been shortened and upgraded but the work was still going on as the teams unpacked.
Ten years later it was much the same story. Interlagos had finally got down to doing some serious upgrading work with the whole track having been resurfaced since last year. In the finest traditions of South American planning they were still finishing the work when the first F1 people came stumbling off the planes from Australia.
You can paint the place and resurface the track but you cannot make a Rolls Royce out of Austin Seven parts. Interlagos remains a rather curious fixture in modern F1. It is an exciting (but extremely bumpy and rudimentary) track but the city has about as much glamor as a dustbin in Bombay (or Mumbai as you are now required to call it). The truth is that Formula 1 only goes to Sao Paulo because it has to go somewhere in South America and nowhere else is willing or able to pay. There are other countries with ambitions but the races become uneconomical because of the need to bribe corrupt local officials to provide the necessary clearances and services. Brazil is trying hard to stamp out corruption. Or so they say. When you opened the official program this year you were greeted, as always, by a photograph of a local dignitary and a spiel about how good F1 is for the city/region/country. In Brazil this year the man in the photograph spent most of the race weekend trying to avoid court officials who were pursuing him, trying to hand over papers suspending him from office because of an investigation into allegations made against him by a scorned ex-wife. It was just the kind of image that F1 is trying to avoid.
But despite all this the people in F1 have learned one thing. You do what Bernie tells you to do and you get rich and so everyone goes every year to Sao Paulo and puts up with the place which no-one likes (apart from those who seek earthy contentment in the brothels that lurk in darkened corners). Most people drink as many caipirinhas as it takes to anaesthetize them to the surroundings and stumble through the weekend waiting for the planes to go home.
Most of the time is spent at the race track and there is always plenty to keep one busy and this year was no exception. The McLaren-Ferrari battle continued (on and off the track) and everyone else tried to get their cars sorted out. In the end, however, the slap-happy Brazilian organization destroyed what looked like being an exciting qualifying session. Three times during the official session the red flags had to be shown because the wind and the passage of cars was causing advertising signs, which were hanging over the track, to tear clear of their mountings and fall onto the circuit. One fell into the path of Jean Alesi and the Prost demolished it. It was fortunate that the sign was made only of laminated cardboard. Eventually it was decided to take down all the signs but by the time that had been done the rains came and qualifying was over.
So the grid was a bit of a mish-mash although there was no big surprise on the front row where Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard were one and two, separated by a tenth of a second, the Finn as always just a smidgen of an iota ahead. There was then a gap of three-tenths back to Michael Schumacher and a tenth between the German and Rubens Barrichello in the second Ferrari. Brazil was happy. Rubinho was doing well.
Whether that would have been the order if the session had reached its conclusion one will never know but there was a vague feeling that Ferrari might have done a little better. It was ironic, therefore, that the falling sponsorship hoardings were all in Marlboro colors, Ferrari's major sponsor.
Hakkinen was cool and relaxed. "It was a complicated qualifying," he said. "but I think I could have been even quicker if the session had not been disrupted." Everyone said the same.
"It does make me angry what happened," said Michael Schumacher. "But I'm sure it was not done on purpose. What does surprise me is that we have been here for one and a half days and it only happens now."
The Ferrari driver was clearly having to push very hard to keep up with the McLarens and this explained a very bouncy moment when Michael went off on his second run and had to switch into the spare. Schumacher said he was confident for the race and with the weather forecast looking unsettled on Sunday he was well-placed to take the fight to the West cars.
The Benetton team was without Rocco Benetton and in his place came Flavio Briatore, sometime team boss and professional celebrity. His presence had absolutely nothing to do with the team's leap forward in performance but it was a typical piece of Briatore luck. It made him look good. If the session had run its course Fisichella would probably have been behind at least one BAR and probably a Jordan as well. But it didn't, so he wasn't and the official timesheet is the only thing that matters. This was bad news for Alexander Wurz who was right back in 13th place after each of his flying laps was ruined by a yellow or a red flag. "I know I could have been in the top six or seven," he said. Ah, if only...
Irvine's performance in the Jaguar was a bit of a surprise given the continuing technical problems which afflicted the team on Friday and Saturday morning. Irvine was fairly happy although he did point out that the car did have "a few handling issues".
Johnny Herbert was in the wrong place at the wrong time as usual and so ended up down in 17th position on the grid having not managed to get a good time sorted out before the rains came.
Jordan was again frustrated by events. Frentzen felt that he should have been up with the Ferraris but the tumbling hoardings and the rain made it impossible. Jarno Trulli had to accept a little more of the blame, having spun off on his first flying lap at the start of the session. He then jogged back to the pits and took off in the spare car. Electronic problems meant that the car ran into gearbox trouble and he was unable to go out and do a proper time. So he was down in 12th place.
BAR did another pretty solid job which is good to see after all the rubbish last year. There is no doubt that the cars benefitted from the problems of others but a result is a result and this was a good one.
"It's great!" said Zonta, who missed his first home GP last year when a suspension failure stuffed him into the wall and left him limping for several months. Here was a chance to make up for the disappointment of 1999.
Sitting between the two BARs was the real sensation of qualifying - Jenson Button. And it was not a fluke. In fact Jenson reckoned that he might have gone quicker if he had been able to have a last run. Given that he was only a tenth slower than Fisichella he might have been as high as fifth on the grid. As usual he was as cool as a cucumber in Greenland.
"I am sure I would have gone quicker if it had not rained at the end," he said. "I was in sixth place when most of the drivers had done six or seven laps, and it would have been great to stay there, but I have to be pleased with my performance. My best lap did not feel that special. I was just trying to get used to the track really."
And that was the most impressive thing about Button's job on Saturday afternoon. It was his first visit to Interlagos and only his second Grand Prix. On Friday he had problems with a leaking oil cooler and then an engine failure. On Saturday morning he had another engine failure. At the time Ralf Schumacher was saying that he was pretty happy with his car and was reckoning that he would be able to qualify around 10th on the grid. Jenson did not look like being a threat.
Button went out early in the qualifying session and on his first run he went fourth fastest. Bang!
Schumacher is used to being the rising star in F1 and his brow was somewhat furrowed when he found that after three runs without disruption he could not get closer than a tenth of Button. In the paddock teams are already beginning to slip business cards in the direction of Williams's new boy. Ralf ended up 11th on the grid.
In the unofficial sessions the Arrows cars always go well. On Friday Pedro de la Rosa was fifth and Jos Verstappen seventh. On Saturday morning Jos was eighth and Pedro 11th. And then, just as happened in Melbourne, when it came to official qualifying, the cars failed to live up to the apparent promise. Jos was 14th and Pedro 16th. The cynics in the F1 paddock were asking if perhaps this was going to develop into a pattern. It is not unknown for cars to run fast in every session except the ones that matter. The Arrows drivers repeated that the cars were quicker than in Australia. Then again it would have been hard to look worse. Alesi ended up 15th on the grid with Nick Heidfeld 19th. Alesi said that the car will get better and better as it gets more developed and he is probably right because the cars were late arriving and did not do much pre-season testing. The Peugeot engines continue to fail rather too often and it was not good to see Alesi lose a rear wing in the warm-up on Sunday but the team is making progress.
The two Minardis were more or less where one would expect to see them with Gene ahead of the troubled Heidfeld (who had a string of technical problems in practice and qualifying). The team knows that it can only do so much and tries to achieve the best level of performance it can within those restrictions. The car is quite useful but lacks horsepower and Gene has shown constant promise. Gaston Mazzacane is rather less convincing at the moment and going off did nothing to help his chances. He was 21st on the grid.
In fact this became 20th when Sauber announced that it was pulling out of the event because of structural failures of the rear wings on both Mika Salo and Pedro Diniz's cars. Salo had a fairly big accident as a result of this failure while Diniz avoided hitting anything. Whatever the case the team had no explanation for the failures and so did the only acceptable thing and withdrew. Peter Sauber said that there was "no alternative". It was sad to see but an honest decision.
COME Sunday morning the F1 circus was surprised to see crowds bigger than anything from the old days when Ayrton Senna was king at Interlagos. Was it the Ferrari effect? Or was it that F1 has grown so much since Ayrton departed? Whatever the case it was a sell out and with Hakkinen and Schumacher separated by 0.005s in the warm-up everyone looked ahead to an exciting day at the races. The weather was going to be difficult to judge...
The warm-up session had seen Wurz in trouble with his anti-stall device while he was trying to make a practice start and, as the cars got ready to go away from the pre-grid, the Austrian driver was again stationary. It was very clearly not his weekend. The stalled Benetton did not help Alesi and Herbert who found themselves stuck behind while the rest of the grid went away as normal. Both were able get back to their correct places on the grid but Wurz went into the pits and had to start from there. A few laps later his engine cooked itself.
When the lights went out Hakkinen and Schumacher both made good starts but Coulthard had a little too much wheelspin and came off the line rather slowly. In a flash Schumacher was ahead of him and looking for a way to get ahead of Hakkinen. Michael is always forceful in the early laps of a race but this time he looked a little more aggressive than normal. It looked, in fact, as though he was needing to get ahead and that suggested that he must be on a two-stop strategy.
"In order for the strategy to work," Jean Todt admitted later, "we had to make a good start to quickly get past those in front of us. It worked."
At the end of the first lap Michael went to pass Mika at the first corner and he made it. He put the hammer down and by the end of the second lap was already 1.9 seconds ahead. It was confirmation of the strategy. As Hakkinen was unable to keep up it was fairly clear that he was on a one-stop strategy. Barrichello was able to scramble ahead of Coulthard at the start of the second lap but then Rubens made a mistake and David went ahead again. Rubens recovered and by the end of the lap was again ahead. That was odd. How had he done that? Or did David have a problem? In fact he had lost third gear (and thus first and second as well) and that meant that he was in trouble in the low speed corners. He had also lost his radio communication with the team. "I thought my team was finally not speaking to me," he said, "but then I figured out that the radio was not working."
With David out of the way and Schumacher disappearing into the distance at the front, Hakkinen and Barrichello were soon providing the fireworks as Rubens tried to figure out how to get ahead to make the most of his two-stop strategy. It took him until the start of lap 15 before he finally nailed the McLaren and set off after Schumacher who was nearly 17secs ahead by then. By lap 20 Michael had 20 seconds on the McLarens when he peeled off into the pitlane. It was not a surprise. He got out of the pits ahead of Coulthard in third place. We expected him to begin to close on Hakkinen but it did not happen. Barrichello led for only two laps before he too came in but he was not far enough ahead of Coulthard to avoid dropping behind the Scotsman. He didn't make much progress and on lap 27 the second Ferrari began to trail smoke. The crowds heaved a sigh of disappointment and Rubens did too.
With Barrichello gone all eyes were on the gap between Hakkinen and Schumacher. If the strategy was going to work Michael needed to be catching Mika fast. Very fast. He was not and in fact the Finn was edging away. The Ferrari challenge was fading.
And then on lap 30 Hakkinen came into the pits. It seemed strange but then it was clear he was travelling at less than his normal speed. The Mercedes-Benz engine had gone wrong again (but of course it is an Ilmor when that happens).
"Obviously the word disappointed cannot describe how I feel," said Hakkinen. "We have been quick throughout the weekend so I am not happy to leave Brazil without any points."
Even without the tire problem, the Ferrari strategy would probably not have worked if Hakkinen had kept going. Once he was gone Michael was not under threat. Coulthard did what he could but he was never going to be able to catch up. Even when Michael ran into trouble in the closing laps with an oil pressure problem he was never really threatened.
"I was driving quite slowly," said Michael, trying to gloss over it. In the end he got away with it. You take the wins when they come to you and Michael did exactly that, but do not start thinking that the Ferraris are dominant. They are not. Schumacher may have won the first two races but we have yet to see which is the faster car.
Coulthard closed up to within four and half seconds by the finish. It looked like a drab result but when it became clear what he had to overcome to get there, the drive took on a new stature.
The race at the front was one thing. The battle of the chasers quite another. At the start it was Irvine who led, having made a good start. On lap 16 he was pushed back by Trulli's Jordan, the Italian going fast because of his two-stop strategy. On lap 21 Irvine crashed. The logic of the accident was beyond most of the people in the paddock.
"Thinking I was slower than I actually was, I was pushing harder than I should have been," he explained.
If Eddie's lack of understanding of his own speed was a bizarre reason for retirement, Johnny Herbert's story was rather more mundane. He circulated in the midfield and retired with a gearbox problem after 50 laps.
Trulli did not remain fifth for long because he was on a two-stop strategy and so he pitted on lap 28. This dropped him to seventh but he rose back up the order to be fourth when he pitted again on lap 56. He dropped to fifth and finished there, just behind his team mate Frentzen who had chosen a more conventional one-stop strategy, which proved to be half a minute faster.
When Trulli stopped for the first time, his position was taken briefly by Verstappen's Arrows. The Dutchman stopped on lap 35 and so what had become third place fell to Fisichella, who drove a full 50 laps before making his one and only pit stop. He was able to rejoin without losing a position and he came home third after a very good weekend.
"It was very difficult at the start of the race," he admitted, "because the strategy meant that the car had a very heavy fuel load and was very hard to drive. After about 15 laps the handling and the level of grip were much better so I was able to keep pushing right up to the end."
It was a great effort.
Rounding off the top six was Ralf Schumacher. He had started the race in the T-car which was fitted with a slightly less powerful engine than the latest versions of the BMW V10. Neither Williams driver did very well at the start, Ralf being overtaken by Verstappen and Trulli, while Button was swamped and ended the first lap in 13th position, four places down from his grid position.
"It was a bit hectic right after the start," explained the 20-year-old. "My start was probably the worst I have ever made."
It was clear early on that both Williams-BMWs were running a one-stop strategy and they went eventually to 44 and 45 laps, a distance exceeded only by Fisichella. By the time they stopped they were running fifth and sixth, with Button sitting merrily on Schumacher's tail as the pair attacked Trulli's Jordan. Button pitted first and had the misfortune to emerge just behind Verstappen's Arrows. Schumacher stopped on the next lap and emerged just ahead of Verstappen. The difference was only a few meters but Button was stuck behind the Arrows for 12 laps before he pulled off a very neat overtaking manoeuvre. "That was really impressive," reported BMW boss Gerhard Berger after the race.
By then Ralf was too far up the road to catch and so Jenson settled for seventh place. A wise head on young shoulders. Ralf ended the day lucky to have picked up a point because such a result did not seem very likely when they lined up on the grid.
The two Arrows-Supertecs finished eighth and ninth which doesn't really give a fair picture of what was a very impressive performance - and final confirmation that the Arrows is a good car. Verstappen started 14th and was 11th at the end of the first lap. He then overtook Villeneuve, Zonta, Frentzen and Fisichella to climb up to third place in the mid-race. He stopped on lap 35 and dropped to 10th but as the two-stoppers came in again he rose back up the order to seventh. The strategy flattered the Arrows a little because it was running lighter than most of the other one-stoppers but you do not overtake as many cars as Verstappen did and not have a good car. De la Rosa made less spectacular progress than Verstappen but he was up to sixth when he pitted on lap 37. Towards the end of the race both drivers seemed to run out of steam as they got tired. De la Rosa had a spectacular off but managed to keep going and the pair finished eighth and ninth on the road.
Zonta came home 10th for BAR. Neither car looked very competitive early on and the pair dropped back in the early stages. On the sixteenth lap Villeneuve retired as a result of a gearbox problem which had been plaguing him from the start. Zonta had a similar problem (and a long pit stop) but he managed to keep going and made it to the finish.
After the celebrations and the crowds had drifted off, word came from the scrutineering bay that all was not well. Initially the FIA said that five of the top six cars had problems with their wooden floors having been worn away because of the bumpy Interlagos surface. The cars were later declared to be legal but Coulthard was thrown out because one of the front wing endplates was 7mm lower than it was legally allowed to be. McLaren said that the problem had been caused by structural damage caused by "the heavy amount of bottoming and vibration induced by the nature of the Sao Paulo circuit". This argument was rejected by the FIA stewards but McLaren appealed the decision.
|3||5||Heinz-Harald Frentzen||Jordan-Mugen Honda||71||42.268||1m15.455||7|
|4||6||Jarno Trulli||Jordan-Mugen Honda||71||1m12.780||1m15.627||12|
|5||9||Ralf Schumacher||Williams-BMW||70||1 Lap||1m15.561||11|
|6||10||Jenson Button||Williams-BMW||70||1 Lap||1m15.490||9|
|7||19||Jos Verstappen||Arrows-Supertec||70||1 Lap||1m15.704||14|
|8||18||Pedro de la Rosa||Arrows-Supertec||70||1 Lap||1m16.002||16|
|9||23||Ricardo Zonta||BAR-Honda||69||2 Laps||1m15.484||8|
|10||21||Gaston Mazzacane||Minardi-Ford||69||2 Laps||1m17.512||21|