Spanish GP 2000

Spanish GP, 2000

FOR the third consecutive year McLaren finished 1-2 at Barcelona. Last year it was a very dull race but this year it was great fun. Michael Schumacher seemed to have things under control but it all went horribly wrong and he ended up with fifth place. David Coulthard drove an amazing race and did not let on until afterwards that he had been in real pain all weekend as a result of his aeroplane crash a few days earlier. It was heroic stuff. And the Boy Button failed to score but he would have done if the BMW had not given up on him. All in all a good day for Grand Prix racing.

It is coming up to 100 years since the first motor race was held in Catalonia. It was a pretty rough and ready affair on a track they called the Baix Penedes circuit, which was 17 miles of public road winding around in the hills behind the town of Sitges to the south of Barcelona. The roads were so bad that year that the racing was shifted to another loop of road to the north of the city which became known as the Llevant circuit. And so it went on until the early 1920s when a local racing hero with the unlikely name of Frick Armangue decided that Spain needed its own high-banked one and a quarter mile oval to keep up with Brooklands and Indianapolis. The work at Sitges-Terramar took 10 months and in October 1923 the track hosted the Spanish Grand Prix. This was in the days when men were men. If you came off on the inside in the top turn at Sitges-Terramar you went straight into a rock cliff so it was probably better to go over the top and end up in the trees. The race was won (in case you are interested) by Alberto Divo's Sunbeam after a stirring battle with Count Louis Zborowski's Miller.

Unfortunately the funding of the construction of the oval proved to be its downfall. Repayments could not be met and after the one event it was closed down. But it is still there when you fly into Barcelona airport from the south. By the 1930s the locals were ready to try again and laid out a new track on the roads of Barcelona's Montjuich Park. Another track for heroes. In 1975 Rolf Stommelen's Embassy Hill went over the barriers and four people were killed.

The Catalans went quiet for a while and then in 1991 built a brand new all-singing, all-dancing racing circuit called the Circuit de Catalunya outside the dull little Barcelona suburb of Montmelo. F1 has been coming back every year since.

It has been a Williams track six times in nine years but a Williams victory looked unlikely this time as Ferrari and McLaren continued their battle. In recent weeks the Ferrari seems to have clawed closer to the McLaren. Rubens Barrichello was on pole at Silverstone but the weather was odd and so no-one was really sure if Ferrari had got ahead. In Spain the evidence was clearer. Michael Schumacher was on pole for the first time this year. In the dying seconds of the qualifying session Mika Hakkinen gave his all in an effort to knock Schumi from pole position and he nearly did it, ending up just 0.078s slower.

You can get closer than that but it is pretty difficult.

The conditions were changing towards the end of the session with the wind slightly up and the sun coming and going and so none of the drivers reckoned they achieved what they might have done. It is always like that.

"You always feel that you could have improved a little bit here and there," said Schumacher, "but whether you could actually improve or not is another question." It was important to note that Schumacher was the only major driver to use hard tires.

Hakkinen had similar thoughts and said he did not get the opportunity to maximize the potential of the car (or words to that effect). Both drivers also said that qualifying was not that important and that all that mattered was the race so despite the exciting action on the track the post-qualifying chat was really rather boring.

The man who had been in the spotlight for most of the weekend was David Coulthard after his extraordinary aeroplane accident in France. David seemed to be pretty much his usual self which was not really a surprise. The media may be hung up on the idea of the driver needing counselling and such things but really it was all very silly. Racing drivers are tough young men and so stepping out of an aeroplane accident is really not such a big deal.

Fourth on the grid was a good effort but David was disappointed and rightly so. "My grid position is not a reflection of what we were capable of today. I am quite sure that I could have been on the front row but I had a fuel pick-up problem on my first run and I had to abandon it. Rather than going to the spare car which was set up for Mika we decided to run the car with a slightly heavier than normal fuel load."

Between the two McLarens was Barrichello's Ferrari and the Brazilian reckoned that he too had not gotten the maximum out of his car.

Behind the battle of the big boys we had the best of the rest who on this occasion was Ralf Schumacher. The Williams continues to show remarkably well this year with more than a few drivers muttering about the extraordinary performance of the Williams chassis.

"When they get a bit better engine next year they are going to win races," said one on Saturday afternoon. "The car has incredible mechanical grip."

Ralf was only two-tenths behind Coulthard and three-tenths clear of the sixth placed Jacques Villeneuve. He has a great engine and a chassis which is, at best, nervous. At worst one might call it neurotic. Imagine what might be if the Honda engine was in the back of a Williams chassis...

Schumacher was not too troubled in qualifying by Jenson Button on this occasion. "It wasn't the best qualifying I've had so far but it wasn't the worst either as I am just outside the top 10," said Button. One must remember that we are talking about a man in only his fifth Grand Prix. He may be riding the wave of success but he needs time. Barcelona is a very technical track and it takes time to learn. "Ralf is very good round here," said Jenson. Button ended up 11th but two-tenths of a second would have put him seventh or eighth. It was close in the midfield.

Villeneuve said his performance was down to a set-up which the team's development driver Patrick Lemarie had come up with. It also helped that Honda's latest engine development is a big step forward.

Ricardo Zonta was back in 17th place on the grid which was not a very good showing. He said he was not happy with the set-up and that was clearly the case. One must also say that after the accident he had in testing at Silverstone the other day any driver needs a little time to rebuild his confidence in the car.

Seventh and eighth on the grid were the two Jordan-Mugens and on this occasion Jarno Trulli was ahead of Heinz-Harald Frentzen although there was only a tenth of a second between the two of them. "One minute there was no wind, the next there was a big gust and the next minute there was a gust from the other direction," said Trulli. "I think seventh is a good result."

Frentzen reckoned that he should not have gone out early to get a clear run because the track speeded up in the final minutes of the session.

Ninth on the grid was Pedro de la Rosa in the Arrows which looked like a splendid performance for the local hero. The problem was that late on Saturday afternoon the man from the FIA who analyses fuel emerged from his mobile laboratory and whispered that the fuel in the Arrows was not legal. That was rather unfortunate because de la Rosa's sponsor is the Spanish fuel company Repsol. Everyone in the business knows the fuel run by Arrows is not Repsol at all but rather a product from France. Repsol provides money. On Saturday night the Repsol men were in a tizzy. They did not want to be associated with illegal fuel but they could not tell anyone they were not to blame.

Who was to blame? Fuel issues are always difficult. But with a fuel fingerprint system there is no argument. The fuel was wrong. Why the fuel was wrong is not the issue. One cannot imagine that an intelligent man like Tom Walkinshaw would allow anything to be added to his fuel particularly in the light of a number of unfortunate disputes in the past over the legality of his cars. This sort of thing is not good for the image. And so one must assume that somehow or other the fuel was contaminated. The team accepted that this was the case and so de la Rosa was bounced to the back of the grid. And then things got silly. Walkinshaw appealed and while a bunch of Spanish journalists got excited everyone else yawned and went off to have dinner.

On Sunday morning Arrows withdrew the appeal. Why? Who knows? In fact, who cares? Frankly such matters have no place in modern F1. It makes the sport look amateur.

Jos Verstappen qualified the second Arrows 12th, three-tenths of a second behind de la Rosa. Both Arrows drivers were using hard tires.

Qualifying 10th (but starting ninth) was Eddie Irvine in his Jaguar. The car looked like a real handful - one cruel soul said that it looked more like a dog than a cat - and so Irvine's position was a pretty good effort. Johnny Herbert was back in 15th on the grid, having lapped four-tenths slower than his team mate. Herbert admitted that he had made a small mistake on his fastest lap.

It was not a good day for Sauber with Mika Salo 13th on the grid and Pedro Diniz 16th. Diniz said he had problems with traffic, Salo said his car was perfect and that he could get no more from it. They were four-tenths apart.

Benetton's lack of performance continued with Giancarlo Fisichella 14th and Alexander Wurz 19th. The team has some excuses but no-one was very interested.

Prost's performance was equally uninspiring with Jean Alesi 18th and Nick Heidfeld 20th.

The Minardi boys were at the back as one has come to expect but the arrival of de la Rosa made the back row of the grid look very nasty. The lemon colors of the Minardi and the zesty orange of Arrows clashed horribly.

ON Sunday morning Michael Schumacher was fastest in the warm-up and Mika Hakkinen was not far behind but David Coulthard was a little further back than would have been expected. Little did we know in the paddock that at McLaren a monstrous bluff was going on. David was suffering from the serious bruising from the plane crash and with each passing day it was getting more difficult for him. But the team did not want to give anything away. Ferrari did not need to know that Coulthard was not 100% fit.

At the start Michael Schumacher was slightly slower off the line than Mika Hakkinen and as is normal he moved across to block Mika to make sure that the McLaren stayed behind. As this was going on Ralf Schumacher was making a really good start and as they headed down to the first corner the Williams was ahead of both Barrichello and Coulthard. As they all came out of the corner Ralf ran into the back of Hakkinen, pushing the Finn a little bit sideways. This meant that his brother had a decent lead by the end of the lap. Hakkinen had got everything back together and was pulling away from Ralf while Coulthard and Barrichello were stuck in his wake. There was then a gap back to Villeneuve and the two Jordans: Frentzen having got the better of Trulli. Then came Button who had made a good start, getting ahead of Irvine and almost managing to pass Trulli as well.

For the first 18 laps it looked like this was going to be another of those boring Spanish GPs. Hakkinen sat on Schumacher's tail but overtaking him was another matter. It was a similar story for Coulthard and Barrichello who were stuck behind Ralf Schumacher's Williams. There was then another gap back to Villeneuve, who was keeping the Jordans and Button bottled up.

Michael Schumacher stopped on lap 24. He had been at rest for seven seconds when he was waved away too soon. The refuelling hose was off (just) but the Ferrari refueller - the team coordinator Nigel Stepney - had not had time to pull back. As the car lit up Stepney was knocked down by the rear wheel. Stepney was taken off to the medical center but he was lucky. He got away with a sprained ankle.

Ferrari reacted quickly because a lap later Barrichello came into the pits. The team work was brilliant. With the main refueller down, the replacement Andrea Vacari took over. The team was organized and ready 30 seconds before Barrichello came in. The resulting stop took 9.3secs. It was slightly longer than normal but it was good enough to get Rubens out ahead of Coulthard (who had selected second gear as he departed his pit and so chugged away rather slowly). He was, however, still behind Ralf Schumacher.

On the next lap Hakkinen came into the pits. There were no problems but he was still behind Schumacher's Ferrari when he got back up to speed. Hakkinen looked faster now and for the next 15 laps the Finn remained right on Schumacher's tail, taking an aerodynamic buffeting but refusing to give up because he hoped that Michael might make a mistake. On lap 41 the pair came in together and we had a race in the pits. This time, however, the Ferrari pit stop went wrong. Michael was sitting there for an extra 10 seconds. Hakkinen was away in the lead and gone.

When he did rejoin it was clear that Michael had a problem because very quickly David Coulthard was on his tail. David - by now in considerable pain - had pitted on lap 39. Ralf Schumacher and Barrichello stayed out a lap longer. David's first lap out of the pits was a big effort but it was enough to get him ahead of both his rivals. And once he was ahead he was finally able to get up to full speed.

By lap 46 he was on Michael's tail. The Ferrari driver had a problem with his left rear tire and air was leaking out. At the start of 47 David made his move, trying to pass Michael on the inside going into the first corner. At the very last minute Schumacher reacted, diving across Coulthard's path. It gave David a big shock and he only narrowly avoided hitting the Ferrari. "I was very surprised at how late he made the decision and we came very close to touching each other," David said.

David was not happy but on the next lap he made quite sure of his move and overtook Michael on the outside as they braked for the first corner. There were no arguments about that one. It was a McLaren 1-2 and Michael Schumacher was now falling back towards his brother and Barrichello, who were still locked together in combat. When Ralf tried to pass his brother Michael blocked him. Ralf was pushed wide and lost momentum and in a flash Barrichello was ahead of both of them. Ralf was annoyed and tried to grab back the place. After the race there was a frosty meeting between the two brothers...

Michael then dived straight into the pits. There was no point in trying to struggle on. He could still get in and out before sixth-placed Button arrived. Two points would be better than nothing.

And so it worked out. The order was now settled at the front and Hakkinen sailed through to an important victory. "I am over the moon," he said. "It was a fabulous job and I want to congratulate my crew on some great team work."

Coulthard's second place was a major achievement and finally he could admit that he was in pain. "I do have some injury to both my sides. Driving a Grand Prix car is not the best treatment, so that has got worse each day. I am looking forward to having a few days of rest."

Barrichello was happy to pick up third place and while Ralf Schumacher might have enjoyed a podium finish, he was happy enough with fourth place.

Michael Schumacher was not happy with fifth place but there was not much he could do about it.

Button's brilliant career continued with what should have been sixth position. At the start he was trapped behind Villeneuve and the Jordans but the Williams team knew that the car was faster and so went for a change of strategy. Jenson was called in early and emerged with clear track ahead of him. He then set some very impressive lap times (he ended up with the fourth fastest lap of the race) and was able to overhaul all three cars ahead of him. It did not matter that Trulli and Villeneuve both hit trouble. Button had beaten them anyhow.

He was not going to make up the time he had lost in the early laps and so settled for a steady run to sixth place - which would have been his third points score in his first five races in F1 - but the BMW engine let him down with a few laps to go (as it did in Australia).

It is worth noting that if his engines had kept going Button would have scored a point in each of his first five F1 races. And if that has not stuffed the point down the throat of his pre-season critics nothing will.

Sixth place thus went to Frentzen who had a rather dull afternoon. Still it was a point and they have been hard to come by for Jordan this year. Trulli blew his chances at his first pit stop when he stalled and so ended up 12th when he might have been seventh.

Seventh place went to Mika Salo which was a good effort for the Finn given the rather poor performance in qualifying. He made a good start to run 10th. As he had clear road ahead of him he stayed out for a long first stint and he was able to run without too much traffic. In the closing stages he was stuck behind Frentzen but there was no way he could overtake.

Zonta came home eighth thanks to an impressive start which saw him jump from 16th on the grid to 11th at the end of the first lap.

Villeneuve ran sixth in the early laps but immediately after his first pit stop on lap 21 he went out with an "undetermined mechanical problem".

Benetton's dreary weekend continued with ninth place for Fisichella and Wurz in 10th. "Another race to forget," said Flavio Briatore.

It was a similar story down at Jaguar where Irvine finished 11th and Herbert 13th. Irvine made a poor start and ended up stuck behind cars which he felt were slower. Herbert was keeping pace with his team mate until it emerged that he had not been given enough fuel to get to the finish and so had to stop for a top up.

The Minardi team finished 14th and 15th, Gene's efforts being hobbled because he was not given enough fuel. It was not a good day for Spanish drivers and fuel...

Nor was it a good day for Alain Prost. Alesi was bonked off on the second lap by de la Rosa and Heidfeld had another day that made wallpaper look interesting. He finished 16th, three laps down.

There were 79,000 people there to watch the racing and they had a good day - and that is what F1 is all about.

Mika Hakkinen McLaren-Mercedes  65 1h33m55.390  1m21.052 
David Coulthard McLaren-Mercedes  65 16.066  1m21.422 
Rubens Barrichello Ferrari  65 29.112  1m21.416 
Ralf Schumacher Williams-BMW  65 37.311  1m21.605 
Michael Schumacher Ferrari  65 47.983  1m20.974 
Heinz-Harald Frentzen Jordan-Mugen Honda  65 1m21.925  1m22.135 
17 Mika Salo Sauber-Petronas  64 1 Lap  1m22.443 13 
23 Ricardo Zonta BAR-Honda  64 1 Lap  1m22.882 17 
11 Giancarlo Fisichella Benetton-Supertec  64 1 Lap  1m22.569 14 
10 12 Alexander Wurz Benetton-Supertec  64 1 Lap  1m23.010 19 
11 Eddie Irvine Jaguar-Cosworth  64 1 Lap  1m22.370 10 
12 Jarno Trulli Jordan-Mugen Honda  64 1 Lap  1m22.006 
13 Johnny Herbert Jaguar-Cosworth  64 1 Lap  1m22.781 15 
14 20 Marc Gene Minardi-Ford  63 2 Laps  1m23.486 21 
15 21 Gaston Mazzacane Minardi-Ford  63 2 Laps  1m24.257 22 
16 15 Nick Heidfeld Prost-Peugeot  62 3 Laps  1m23.033 20 
17 10 Jenson Button Williams-BMW  61 4 Laps  1m22.385 11 
19 Jos Verstappen Arrows-Supertec  25 Mechanical 1m22.421 12 
22 Jacques Villeneuve BAR-Honda  21 Mechanical 1m21.963 
14 Jean Alesi Prost-Peugeot  Accident 1m22.894 18 
18 Pedro de la Rosa Arrows-Supertec  Accident 1m22.185 
16 Pedro Diniz Sauber-Petronas  Spin 1m22.841 16