European GP 2000

European GP, 2000

THE Eifel Mountains in the wet is the perfect setting for a Wagnerian opera. Thunderous noise rattles the grandstands and sliding along at the front of a cloud of spray, comes the Red Baron as a vast chorus of red-capped fans cheers him on to victory. It was a close run thing but the fact that Mika Hakkinen and Michael Schumacher picked the same strategy decided the issue. To beat Michael you have to do something different. Now if Hakkinen had pitted a lap or two earlier...

The idea of uniting Europe is a curious one, based more on fear than on logic. If the warring tribes of Europe can be united with one another, the idealists of the 1950s said, future generations will not have to suffer the disasters and privations of the then very recent past.

It is an admirable idea. A perfect world of blue skies, cotton wool clouds and bright yellow flowers. But creating the United States of Europe is not the work of a moment because while Americans are happy to be "Irish Americans" or "Polish Americans" you rarely hear of a English Frenchman or a French German. The nations of Europe have little in common and much in opposition. Let us not forget that the French and the British fought a war that lasted one hundred years and the Germans invaded France three times in 70 years.

But the experiment goes on. We all pretend to be good Europeans and to like one another while retaining deep-seated prejudices which we dare not speak in the modern world for fear that the European economic subsidies will be cut off...

The European Grand Prix pre-dates the European Union but it is just as mad a concept in the modern age because the Formula 1 world is quietly at war with the European authorities. It would be more honest to say that really the European Grand Prix is just an excuse to give the Germans an extra Formula 1 race but one cannot call it the North German GP because otherwise the French will complain (although the Monaco GP is really only a second French race) and the Italians would whine because they want two races (despite the fact that we all know where the San Marino GP really takes place). In fact the only major European nation which is really doing it wrong (as usual) is Great Britain which can barely manage one GP when really there should be one at Silverstone (the Scottish GP) and one at Brands Hatch.

Being European is only useful if you are a racing driver with mongrel parentage. This means that you can get money from different divisions of Marlboro in silly little countries in which no-one else wanted the available sponsorship.

Such people have largely been swept up and put into the F1 dustpan nowadays and we know from where everyone comes. And everyone knows that the Schumacher Brothers come from Germany. On Thursday they tried to convince everyone that they really love each other still, despite their race track spat in Spain the other day. No-one was convinced but it all sounded like good PR and it kept everyone in the newspapers and we all know that this is really all that matters in the cynical world of Formula 1.

All that matters that is, apart from pure speed because drivers may be nice chaps and hugely talented but the only thing that matters is the result and the men who produce them are stars and the men who do not are wallpaper.

And after an exciting rain-interrupted qualifying session David Coulthard was where it really matters: on pole position. And Michael Schumacher was not. Michael had a face like a thunder cloud and had blown two chances of taking pole position but in front of a television camera he said that everything was perfect and that it was all going according to plan. "I am quite happy," he said. And we all believed him because we all like fairy tales.

David Coulthard really was happy and, bless him, he does not try to pretend how he feels. The fact that no driver has won from pole position since Hungary last year gave DC a target to aim for.

Mika Hakkinen was in third place on the grid and admitted that he was not very satisfied with that. "I haven't felt 100% comfortable with the car throughout the weekend," he admitted. "We have made a lot of progress but the car is still not performing at its optimum level."

With the McLaren and the Ferrari so finely balanced this year, race engineering has become very important and David now seems to be getting the upper hand of Hakkinen on a more regular basis.

Rubens Barrichello was fourth once again and he said he was "happy" as well. Perhaps they should change the name of Maranello to Happyville, Italy. Frankly, to be happy to be second is an indication that the team is either full of hot air (the most likely explanation) or that they are a bunch of losers, which, as Michael Schumacher has often proved in the past, is not the case at all. So it must just be hot air. You would think by the way they behave at Ferrari that the truth is an unpleasant social disease. In the press room it would be hard to find anyone who believes anything that the people at Ferrari say and there must be a moral in that somewhere.

Fifth fastest went to Ralf Schumacher and he was "satisfied" with that. It was a good effort for BMW in the team's first year in F1. We did not expect them to be this good. "Ralf's fifth position reflects our present performance level," said Gerhard Berger.

Jenson Button was three-tenths of a second slower than Ralf but such is the competition at the moment that this meant that he was down in 11th place on the grid. Jenson complained that he never managed to get a clear lap and having lost most of the morning session with a spin he was at a slight disadvantage. He had been fastest of all on Friday.

Sixth on the grid was Jarno Trulli in his Jordan. "The car felt really good," he said. "It is just a shame we did not finish even higher. We were certainly capable of it. The car had more potential but the weather conditions meant I could not realize it."

Heinz-Harald Frentzen reckoned that he could have done really well but he ended up 10th. "The words 'would' or 'could' do not get me a good grid position," said Heinz. "It is very frustrating." Frentzen's problems were caused mainly by traffic.

Seventh place on the grid was rather a surprise in the form of Giancarlo Fisichella who was having a good day with the Benetton although the Roman was angry with Ralf Schumacher who slowed him down when he was trying to go for a final flying lap. As a result Fisichella, Jacques Villeneuve and Ricardo Zonta all failed to get to the start-finish line to start their final flying laps. The cynics might suggest that Ralf did it deliberately given that Fisichella and Villeneuve were both in a position to bump him from fifth place on the grid but it is hard to imagine that one of those nice Schumacher Brothers (who get on so well together) would do such a thing.

Alexander Wurz was 15th on the grid, doing very little to bolster his sliding position within the Benetton team. Wurz had the good grace to admit that he had not done very well.

In fact Wurz was originally 15th on the grid but Nick Heidfeld had originally been 14th. This was the first time we have seen anything vaguely interesting from Heidfeld this year and he was (obviously) "very happy" until the FIA men put his car on the scales and discovered that it was two kilograms under the minimum weight limit. Rules are rules and so he was out. The Prost team admitted that it was a mistake. There had been some new parts which made the car go faster but the team needs to buy a new calculator because when it was all added up the total was not quite enough.

Jean Alesi was 18th but he had to use the spare car after his own car's electronic management system had lunched a gearbox. The spare was set up for Heidfeld and Alesi went rushing off and promptly spun off. He then went back to the pits, jumped into the race car again and rushed off, the gearbox turning itself into metallic muesli. Beneath all the disasters, however, there were signs (finally) that progress is being made at Prost.

Eighth position on the grid (which was about right) was pretty much business as usual for Eddie Irvine's Jaguar. "I'm not too despondent - I'm in the hunt," said Eddie.

The same could not be said (again) for Johnny Herbert. He was 17th on the grid (rising to 16th in the post-Heidfeld world) and he was "thoroughly disappointed".

Ninth was a frustrated Villeneuve who failed to get a final qualifying run due to Ralf Schumacher driving around rather slowly in the final minutes of the session. "I'm not very happy," he said. "We're quicker than our quickest lap in qualifying showed. Someone at the front chose to slow everybody behind and prevent them from having a chance to improve their times."

It was a similar story for Ricardo Zonta. But he ended up a disastrous 19th on the grid as a result.

The Arrows team produced the usual 12th and 13th on the grid which was a pretty dull performance. Pedro de la Rosa beat Jos Verstappen by a tenth of a second.

Sauber had a really dull day as well with Pedro Diniz 15th and Mika Salo 19th. Both drivers missed their final flying laps.

All this left the two Minardis in their habitual location on the back of the grid with Marc Gene faster than Gaston Mazzacane. "There is not much to say about this qualifying," said Gene. Well at least he wasn't "happy" about it...

THE weather forecast for Sunday had never been very good but then again any weather forecasting in the Eifel mountains is pretty much a waste of time because it can be pouring down on one side of a grandstand and there will be girls in bikinis on the other side. So when it rains you never know whether or not to pit because around the next corner it could be dry.

Making a good start at the Ring is not quite as vital as at some other tracks since it is possible to overtake, so it is not just a question of following each other around like the carriages of a train. If a car is measurably quicker than another it will go ahead.

But the start of any F1 race is still vital and this time Coulthard made a poor start and Hakkinen made a blinder. "I enjoy getting away fast like that," he said. "I was happy to do it because the disappointment I had in qualifying was fixed."

Hakkinen made sure that Schumacher was not able to get ahead. The German later complained about the move but given his own behavior in the past he has no right to paint himself as a saint. If he is willing to give out such treatment, he must expect it back. The two cars touched but there was no damage.

Coulthard was less content to be third. "I missed the lights," he said. "Probably because I was too slow to react." Almost immediately he came under pressure from Barrichello.

Behind the big four came Villeneuve, who had made an amazing start (again) to go from ninth on the grid to fifth in the first turn. In part this was due to the fact that on the run down to the first corner others were not having a good time. Ralf Schumacher had decided to go with full tanks and the car was a handful. Irvine came off the line like a snail in a big hurry and had to work hard not to be bounced back more places than he was. Trulli and Fisichella were hurtling down to the first corner when they tangled wheels. Trulli's suspension broke and the car fish-tailed in a very hairy fashion. "I was lucky to keep driving," he said. "Otherwise it would have been very dangerous."

Fisichella's car was not really damaged and so he was able to keep going but Villeneuve had already passed him. Also making a good start were the two Arrows cars which dived into the first corner and elbowed Frentzen off the track, which enabled the pair and Wurz to get ahead. Diniz also took to the dirt as did Alesi behind him. In all the rough and tumble there were winners and losers. Frentzen was a loser and so was Button.

At the front Hakkinen was in control but Schumacher was in a hurry. Behind them Coulthard obviously had a problem and was dropping back, keeping Barrichello behind him.

"At the end of the first lap my car developed a problem," David explained. "I was struggling with the rear for the rest of the race. I had to concentrate on keeping it on the track. I don't know what it was but I suspect it was mechanical rather than aerodynamic."

The gap between Hakkinen and Schumacher remained about half a second. They traded best times but kept within a tenth of one another, pulling quickly away so that by lap 10 they were nearly four seconds clear of Coulthard and Barrichello. And then Michael pounced! On lap 11 as the first drops of rain fell, Michael pulled out from behind Hakkinen and sailed past as they dived down to the chicane behind the paddock. Moments later the rains came stronger. For the next couple of laps no-one was sure whether to stop or go. The first to take the risk was Herbert. He had nothing to lose as he was down in 17th place. He was in and out and by the time the others had followed he had gone up to ninth. It was two more laps before McLaren brought in Coulthard. He was still able to vault from fourth - he had been pushed back by Barrichello as the rain intensified and the McLaren became more of a handful - up to second place.

"Obviously none of the frontrunners wanted to take the risk of coming in to the pits for rain tires and finding that they were slower," Michael said. "Then some drivers started to come in for rain tires, and as soon as we saw they were faster we went straight in too."

Schumacher was not helped by a slow pit stop but he still emerged just ahead of Coulthard. By the end of the lap he was 4.9secs ahead. Hakkinen was another five seconds behind him. "I lost valuable time at the first pit stop," Mika said, "because there was a problem with the right rear tire."

Hakkinen quickly caught and overtook Coulthard and tried to close the gap to the Ferrari but it drifted out to nearly 20secs by the time Michael came into the pits in the mid-race. Hakkinen went ahead and for a few laps he was able to build his lead as he was running with a light tank of gas while Schumacher struggled with a heavier car. On lap 45 Hakkinen came in. He was not far enough ahead to stay in the lead and so Schumacher was ahead by just over 10secs. Schumacher started to build up the lead as Hakkinen struggled with his heavy car but then the Finn began to close in. The two men were going in and out of traffic and towards the end the gap came down to just under five seconds, but then he was stuck in traffic and all hope vanished. "I would certainly have got very close," Mika said, "but Michael could have pushed harder."

And so Hakkinen backed off in the last couple of laps and finished 13 seconds behind. It was not the true picture but there was no reason to push.

Behind him the battle between Coulthard and Barrichello raged. Rubens stopped a lap after his team mate which was too late and he lost a lot of time and ended up dropping to ninth place. The Ferrari men decided to give him a light fuel load to try to make up the lost time and he charged up to fourth again passing Verstappen, Irvine, de la Rosa and Fisichella. He then had to pit but as three of the four men behind him had by then wiped themselves out, he had no-one to pass before his third stop on lap 51. He charged up onto Coulthard's tail at the end but there was no way he could pass.

"Maybe I should have been on the podium," he said. Maybe.

Fifth place went in the end to Fisichella which was quite a good effort. He recovered from his brush with Trulli to run seventh and then got ahead of the struggling Ralf Schumacher. His next target was Villeneuve and he got him when the Canadian made a mistake. Fisichella pitted on the same lap as Schumacher and Hakkinen, which was probably too late, and so made up no places, although he was able to pass de la Rosa soon afterwards. Towards the end of his stint he was overtaken by Barrichello and when he stopped again he dropped to sixth. With de la Rosa having to stop again as well, Fisichella was able to get back to fifth.

"I knew the best I could expect was fifth place if both the McLarens and the Ferraris finished," he said.

Wurz's race was not too bad (for a change) but he lost the benefit of a good start by spinning at one point, which dropped him right back. He then found himself stuck behind Herbert and Button and could do nothing until Button lost out when the leaders came through to lap them. He then made a daft challenge on poor old Johnny Herbert and dumped them both in a gravel trap. "I am sorry for Johnny," Wurz said, "but that is racing."

After the race Johnny sounded as though he did not care too much. Perhaps he really did not care. Perhaps he should care a little more. Racing drivers should be angry young men not resigned to fate. Irvine dropped back in the early laps but then managed to get ahead of the struggling Ralf Schumacher. He stopped two laps after Herbert but it was enough to make up some places and run sixth until Barrichello went steaming by, but then he got into a fight with Verstappen and we all knew it would end in tears. Jos got ahead but Irvine did not lift and so the two collided and they went off, taking Ralf Schumacher with them. Eddie rejoined but the rear wing fluttered off like confetti from a bride's bottom and Eddie ended up sitting in a gravel trap. The rear wing is reported to have landed somewhere in Belgium.

Verstappen's race was also over within a matter of moments. He managed a few more corners when the rear went out and he went spinning off into the tires and removed a number of components which will have to be stuck back on again at some point.

de la Rosa came home in sixth place to give the Orange Arrows people a ray of sunshine after a series of very gloomy races. He drove a good race, getting ahead of Verstappen and then making short work of Irvine and Ralf Schumacher. He pitted on the same lap as Coulthard, which was the right thing to do, and so emerged in fourth when everyone was back on the circuit again. Fisichella caught and passed him and he then fell behind Barrichello as well but when both men pitted again, Pedro went back up to third before he stopped again on lap 48. That dropped him to sixth.

Seventh place should have gone to Herbert but Wurz nailed him and it would then have gone to Button if he had not made a hole in the front of the car by bashing Herbert from behind while making a wild lunge to pass the green man ahead. Jenson managed to keep going after that and did not even lose a place but rainwater snuck in the front of the car and caused an electrical failure which cut his engine with three laps to go.

After the hurly-burly was done at the start Jenson had been running 13th. When the rains came the Williams team left Ralf Schumacher out too long and when Button needed to come in he could not because his team mate was already there. This meant that he did not pit until five laps after Herbert had been the first to switch from dry to wet tires. The result was that Herbert made up places and Jenson was back in 15th. He kept going while those around him fell away and eventually found himself up with Herbert. It was a learning race.

Ralf Schumacher also had a pretty disappointing time. The one-stop strategy made the car very hard to handle and he dropped back from fifth on the grid to ninth before the rains came. Staying out too long added to the problem and so he drifted back to 10th and that meant that, when Irvine and Verstappen went and had their accident, he became the victim.

"I saw the accident coming," he said, "but I expected them to slide off onto the inside. I could not avoid hitting Irvine's car."

When Button stopped, seventh place went to Pedro Diniz. He had two spins along the way which was not bad considering he was last to pit in the early laps. The position was more down to survival than anything else. Salo looked to be doing all right after stopping nice and early in the rain storm but then a driveshaft broke and he ended up in the gravel.

Mazzacane finished eighth which was the result of a race without too much in the way of drama. Marc Gene did a better job early on but then spun and ultimately went out with a throttle failure.

The only other man running at the finish was Alesi and he was a bit disappointed after a typically aggressive Alesi race. He pitted a little too late and then had a gearbox problem and so pitted again. The pitlane speed limiter did not work and so Jean was soon back in again for a stop-go penalty. By the time he had done all that everyone else had gone home.

Of the teams who failed to get a car home, pride of place went to Jordan which lost Trulli on the first lap and Frentzen, who went on the third lap, laying a smokescreen which would have hidden a battleship if one had happened to have been passing at the time.

And so to BAR. After Villeneuve's great start, it was downhill all the way. He made a mistake and Fisichella got ahead. The team then called him in too late and he dropped from sixth to 13th. He was bounced up as others went awry and was running seventh when he came in and retired with an engine problem. Zonta's race was less of a thrill. He was stuck behind Herbert early on and then started to have gearchange troubles and had a spin. He eventually spun off again on lap 52.

Michael Schumacher Ferrari  67 1h42m00.307  1m17.667 
Mika Hakkinen McLaren-Mercedes  67 13.821  1m17.785 
David Coulthard McLaren-Mercedes  66 1 Lap  1m17.529 
Rubens Barrichello Ferrari  66 1 Lap  1m18.227 
11 Giancarlo Fisichella Benetton-Supertec  66 1 Lap  1m18.697 
18 Pedro de la Rosa Arrows-Supertec  66 1 Lap  1m19.024 12 
16 Pedro Diniz Sauber-Petronas  65 2 Laps  1m19.422 15 
21 Gaston Mazzacane Minardi-Ford  65 2 Laps  1m21.015 21 
14 Jean Alesi Prost-Peugeot  65 2 Laps  1m19.651 17 
10 10 Jenson Button Williams-BMW  62 5 Laps  1m18.887 11 
11 Johnny Herbert Jaguar-Cosworth  61 6 Laps  1m19.638 16 
12 12 Alexander Wurz Benetton-Supertec  61 6 Laps  1m19.378 14 
23 Ricardo Zonta BAR-Honda  51 Spin 1m19.766 18 
20 Marc Gene Minardi-Ford  47 Throttle 1m20.162 20 
22 Jacques Villeneuve BAR-Honda  46 Engine 1m18.742 
Ralf Schumacher Williams-BMW  29 Accident 1m18.515 
Eddie Irvine Jaguar-Cosworth  29 Accident 1m18.703 
19 Jos Verstappen Arrows-Supertec  29 Accident 1m19.190 13 
17 Mika Salo Sauber-Petronas  27 Driveshaft/ Spin 1m19.814 19 
Heinz-Harald Frentzen Jordan-Mugen Honda  Engine 1m18.830 10 
Jarno Trulli Jordan-Mugen Honda  Accident 1m18.612 
dq 15 Nick Heidfeld Prost-Peugeot   Underweight 1m19.147