United States GP 2001
SEPTEMBER 30, 2001
United States GP, 2001
A great day for Mika...
THOSE who thought that the United States Grand Prix was going to be run with empty grandstands were proven to be wrong as Indianapolis was heaving with people. The Speedway does not give out official numbers for spectators but the experts looked around and said that the crowd had to 185,000 and one could never call that a failure ” particularly in the wake of what happened on September 11. Formula 1 was the first major international sporting event to take place in the United States since the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington and there was one banner in the grandstands which said it all: "F1 ” Thanks for coming". Victory went to Mika Hakkinen, which was a bit of a surprise but the importance of the day is that F1 has come of age in America. The race was not a flop. Now F1 has a solid base on which to build...
At the end of the day Mika Hakkinen said that it had been a good day but if you had asked him his views after the morning warm-up they would not have been quite as rosy. He had crashed his car heavily in the session and then the FIA Stewards, an unpredictable bunch had decided that after Hakkinen left the pitlane going through a red light (which he said later that he did not see because of other cars in his way) he should be penalized in a different fashion to normal. Going through a red light is a bad offence but Mika make it very clear that it was not a deliberate thing. And one believes Mika Hakkinen. But the stewards were obviously looking to be seen to be taking such things seriously and concluded that the best punishment was to take away Mika's best lap time in qualifying from the previous day. It was a bizarre decision and one which had the cynics in the Media Center rumbling about the race being fixed because the best result for F1 would have been a victory for Juan Pablo Montoya (a name known in the United States) and shoving Hakkinen back from second on the grid moved Montoya up to a position where he might be able to strike for victory.
And he tried hard. At the start he was off the line rapidly and looking for a way to pass Michael Schumacher. The Ferrari star always manages to make his car very wide in such situations and so Montoya was forced to switch to the outside and he was j-u-s-t too far behind to pull off an outside overtaking maneuver. It was close.
While this was happening behind the two leaders Barrichello was dispensing with Ralf Schumacher and so the order as they went out of the first corner was Schumacher M, Montoya, Barrichello and Schumacher R. The top six was completed by the two McLarens, Mika Hakkinen leading David Coulthard.
Everyone behaved quite well (for a change) and there was no obvious bumping and boring to make life complicated and all 22 cars went through at the end of the first lap, a rare occurrence in F1. Everyone remained well-behaved until the start of lap two. The two Saubers and Jarno Trulli's Jordan tried to negotiate Turn One side by side. This is, of course, an impossible thing to achieve and the result was that push came to shove and Kimi Raikkonen ended up without a front wing.
The corner would provide more action a lap later when the leaders arrived. Schumacher was still ahead but not making any progress and it was clear that the big threat came from Barrichello who wanted to get ahead of Montoya. The implication of this was that Rubens had decided to go for a two-stop strategy. When he sailed around the outside of Montoya in Turn One that suspicion was confirmed. Once ahead of the Williams the two Ferraris quickly began to pull away from Montoya and then, to no-one's real surprise Schumacher moved aside and let Barrichello go into the lead. That is how Ferrari operates. The speed with which Rubens left Michael behind indicated that Michael was on a one-stop strategy and so the important thing was to see how he fared against the Williams-BMWs. For much of the first stint he was three seconds ahead but as the tires faded and the fuel load lightened Montoya began to close in. What we did not know at that point was that Ralf Schumacher was already out of the game.
He was running along behind Montoya and one assumed that this meant he was on a one-stop strategy but in fact he wasrunning a two-stop plan.
"We were not sure what the tire wear would be," said Ralf, "and it became clear that Juan Pablo had the better strategy."
Indeed so. When Ralf pitted on lap 24 he dropped from fourth place to ninth and he was not seen again amongst the leaders. In the midfield he became embroiled in a fight with Nick Heidfeld's Sauber and in the end he spun off on lap 37.
"The spin was my fault," he said. "I have had many great weekends but this was not one of them."
It looked for a long time like being a great weekend for Montoya. When Barrichello went off to the pits on lap 27 the Brazilian had built up a lead of 13 seconds over Michael Schumacher. A pit stop takes about 25 and so Rubens was going to have his work cut out ” even if his team leader was there to help him. The problem for Michael was that Montoya was coming in fast and on lap 34 "Monty" jumped Michael at the first corner.
"I don't really know where he came from," Michael said. "He was a long way behind when I left Turn 11 and then I saw in my mirrors that he was right with me. I tried to make life difficult for him but at that stage thee tires were nearer the end of their life and not as good as theirs."
Michael kept going and when Montoya pitted on lap 36 he went ahead again. Montoya was lurking behind the two McLarens and Barrichello and all three were going to have to stop. It was going to be a close call. And then on lap 39 two things happened. Michael pitted and almost simultaneously Montoya's Williams rolled to a halt on the front straight.
"I think it was a hydraulic failure," he said. "It is a bit disappointing as I think we could have got a win here and that would have been brilliant. It didn't happen."
With the two Williams gone it looked as though there was nothing left to stop Ferrari but the two McLarens were still there, knocking around. Up to that point they had never really looked like potential winners, but the engines were very efficient and after Schumacher pitted Hakkinen and Coulthard were first and second and lapping fast enough to take advantage of situation. Coulthard stopped on lap 43 and fell behind Barrichello and Schumacher. But Hakkinen stayed out for another three laps and when he went into the pits he was able to get out ahead of the German. That was an important moment. Barrichello was back in the lead and about 20 seconds ahead but that was not enough of an advantage given the fact that Rubens had to stop again.
On lap 50 the strategies all unwound themselves and there was Hakkinen leading the race from Barrichello and Schumacher. Coulthard was fourth.
Barrichello tried to fight back but he knew it was hopeless. He closed to within a couple of seconds of Hakkinen and then the Ferrari began to smoke. And it got worse. The note of the engine went horribly flat and we knew that it was all just a matter of time. The V10 went boom with two laps to go and with it went Barrichello's hopes of finishing second in the World Championship. Coulthard had that sewn up. Gone too was any chance of Williams beating McLaren to the runner-up spot in the Constructors' this year.
In other words, the fat lady had sung ” which in Indiana is not a rare thing as there seem to be quite a large number of fat ladies. Going to Japan was going to be a cosmetic exercise.
Barrichello was philosophical in defeat. "I don't like the word unlucky," he said, "These things happen."
Schumacher was happy enough with his race. "It was pretty straightforward," he said. "I don't think our tire choice was right because we did not have the consistency we expected. I am happy for Mika because he won it fair and square but I am disappointed for Rubens."
Hakkinen was also happy. A win is a win and this year they have been hard to come by. "This is one of my most important victories," said Hakkinen. "Indianapolis is very special indeed."
Coulthard was happy to be third but did not really felt that he had earned it. "I was lucky to be on the podium," he said. "We have been struggling with oversteer throughout the weekend. My race was rather uneventful. I only had to look after my car and not make any mistakes."
Behind the top three there was a big gap ” 45 seconds ” to the fourth-placed Jarno Trulli. The Italian had not had an easy race. He was seventh from the start but at the end of the first lap he found himself under pressure from the two Saubers. The result was that Raikkonen was out and Heidfeld was ahead of Jarno. Trulli fought back and his one-stop strategy enabled him to get ahead of Heidfeld by the finish. Having failed to score much this year he was pretty delighted until the FIA technical men discovered that there was a problem with the "plank" under his car and Jarno's horrible season continued. He was excluded from the results. Jarno's misfortune was good news for his team mate Jean Alesi, competing in his 200th Grand Prix. Despite a bad start which dropped him from ninth on the grid to 13th at the end of the first lap. But after that he drove like the tiger that we all know he is. He overtook people rather than inherited positions and ended up seventh on the road. This became sixth when Trulli was thrown out so Jean Alesi has scored in two of the four races he has done for Jordan.
Trulli's pain was Irvine's gain and in the finest traditions of luck it all happened on the day when Ford Motor Company boss Jacques Nasser came to the races to see what was going on. Irvine had qualified 14th and he was 12th at the end of the first lap. The team strategy was to run as far as possible without a stop and then go for a quick stop. It worked well. Irvine was still around when everyone else had stopped and this meant that he was up to fifth place. He stopped on lap 52 and dropped back to seventh. This became sixth when he pulled off a nice overtaking move on Heidfeld on lap 55 and that became fifth when Barrichello retired. The exclusion of Trulli made it fourth. And that looks good. The Jaguar team was happy to take the points but the main thrust is for next year.
Pedro de la Rosa's race was a difficult one. He too made a poor start and dropped from 16th to 19th. He then tried to make up for lost ground but was stuck behind Jacques Villeneuve's recalcitrant BAR until the two men collided on lap 43 when Pedro tried to pass the BAR. It looked like he had done enough but Villeneuve closed the door and the two went off. Both rejoined and Pedro was able to keep going until he had risen to 10th place when he pitted on lap 50. He then dropped back to 12th and stayed there to the finish, although it became 11th when Trulli was thrown out.
Sauber also gained from Trulli's problems with Nick Heidfeld being promoted from seventh to sixth position. It was not really a true indication of the team's competitiveness as Heidfeld had looked good all weekend. He had qualified sixth (ahead of Coulthard) with Kimi Raikkonen 11th. But the contretemps with Trulli and Raikkonen screwed up his race and his two-stop strategy did not work as well as it did for Barrichello.
Benetton flattered only to deceive and for once Jenson Button looked like he had the measure of Giancarlo Fisichella. Jenson had qualified 10th with Fisichella 12th. Jenson made a good start but Trulli blocked his progress and he found himself behind Fisichella. He quickly reversed this situation and then took advantage of the Trulli-Sauber fun and games to move up to eighth. As the Jordans got into their stride Jenson was pushed backwards again and was 10th when he pitted. This proved to be a disaster as Jenson locked his brakes and ended up with the car sideways. The refuelling took longer than necessary and so Jenson came out in 19th position. As others pitted he rose to ninth.
Ahead of him was Fisichella who drove a similar race without the mistake in the pits. "Giancarlo and Jenson both drove strong races," said technical director Mike Gascoyne, "even if the result looks unremarkable."Unremarkable was a fitting monument to the efforts of everyone else. Prost never looked very exciting but Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Tomas Enge came home 10th and 14th on the road.
British American Racing efforts were fairly dismal with Olivier Panis qualifying 13th and Jacques Villeneuve 18th. Villeneuve went out after clonking de la Rosa and Panis trolled around to finish 11th on the road. Not very inspiring.
Arrows did the usual trick of qualifying poorly, leaping up in the early laps and then fading away. Verstappen had a spin and then retired with an engine problem. Bernoldi went round and round and finished 13th on the road.
Minardi had a dreadful day with both cars retiring: Fernando Alonso with a driveshaft failure and Alex Yoong with gearbox problems.
When all was said and done the day belonged to Mika Hakkinen and it was nice to see because the Finn has had a pretty poor year and is now edging towards his "sabbatical". It is nice to see him doing well and he will no doubt be very keen to go out with another win at Suzuka ” a track where he is always super-quick.