Monaco GP 2000

Monaco GP, 2000

MICHAEL SCHUMACHER may consider that he was robbed at Monaco in 2000 but, as the winner David Coulthard pointed out, to finish first you do have to finish. Michael's Ferrari cracked an exhaust and the heat destroyed the car's rear suspension. When it went Michael was about half a minute ahead, but it went and that was the end of that. And thank goodness it was because the result has breathed life into the World Championship once again. If Schumacher had won it would have been five wins in seven races and a massive lead over his rivals. Coulthard's victory leapfrogged him ahead of Mika Hakkinen and took him to within 12 points of Schumacher. Things are getting interesting...

It is a little known fact that the first motor sporting event after World War II took place at Monte Carlo before the war in Asia had even ended. The fighting in Europe had been stopped for some months and the Continent was beginning to sort itself out as refugees headed for home and large number of soldiers were beginning to get bored. And so it was that an American officer came up with the idea of holding a "regularity trial" for the Jeeps and GMC trucks of the 36th American Infantry Division on the old Monaco Grand Prix circuit on August 5, 1945.

Even then Monaco was known for motor racing. People with clipboards will tell you that in the minds of the general public from Valparaiso to Ulam Bator there are only three motor races: the Monaco GP, the Indianapolis 500 and Le Mans 24 Hours. Others may have elevated claims but those are the big three venues of motorsport and it is a sign of the times that this year Formula 1 is going to two of them (the second being the US Grand Prix at Indianapolis). Grand Prix racing is booming. You can almost smell the money in the paddock and in the harbor the motorboats are getting bigger and bigger and bigger. Every man you meet on a yacht seems to be an investment banker, or a friend of one. The world of high finance has suddenly woken up to Formula 1 and everyone is scrabbling to get hold of some of the available dosh. It is hard to remember a weekend when there were so many rumors of teams being sold.

That was in the paddock. Out in the town Monaco had not much changed. The place was taken over by pirates in 1297 and some of the genetic make-up from the old days has trickled down through the centuries. There is no race in the world which squeezes so much money out of the people who take part. Last year the FIA funded an economic study of the Grand Prix races of Europe and it concluded that Monaco made more money than anywhere else in direct income. The average figure was $44.53m. Monaco made $71.49m. This was achieved by the fact that the city hoteliers have agreed to insist on a six-night minimum charge for every hotel room when in fact the meeting lasts only from Thursday to Sunday, and so, if you want to stay anywhere close to the Principality, you have to pay through the nose. Eat in any restaurant on the Wednesday and you will get a different menu to the one you get on Saturday. Everything goes up in price...

Perhaps once it was a place of genteel people but not today. The yachts are inhabited by loud men with gold chains and wide collars and gum-chewing blondes are never far away. Classy it is not but wealthy it certainly is. Amazingly so.

This is where most of the Grand Prix drivers live between races and tests. It provides them with a nice place to live, low taxation, easy access to executive jets and vast white motorboats. Almost everyone speaks English and there is never a shortage of good looking young ladies who always seem to congregate where money can be found. And if they are in short supply, one can always get hold of some cheap dodgy marine diesel from Libya and fire up the thousands of horsepower and motor expensively across the Bay of Angels to the fleshpots of St. Tropez without fear that the paparazzi will find out what is going on in the master bedroom.

It may be a nice place to live but there are not many people in the F1 circus who think it is a nice place to work. The facilities are dreadful but F1 is willing to make an exception because Monaco is such an important race. This is the one that pays the bills.

The racing itself is as it has always been on the streets of Monaco: mind-boggling. You can say that overtaking is impossible and that it is boring but watching the stars threading their cars through the streets, kissing the barriers and hopping the curbs is still one of the wonders of the world. You can say that they are all mad but you cannot help but be impressed. It is madly glamorous and deeply impressive.

And when they get down to qualifying you get to see the F1 drivers at their finest. Nowhere must one be more precise or concentrate harder. A blink or a sneeze and you are in the wall and even if the speeds are lower than at other races, you can still have a big hit.

It is not so much about the cars but rather about the talent and commitment of the drivers. And so on Friday it was no big surprise to see Mika Hakkinen and Michael Schumacher fastest. David Coulthard was third quickest and Eddie Irvine was up there for a change in his Jaguar. Jean Alesi was also in the running in his Prost-Peugeot.

On Saturday morning as everyone else was getting their cars right for qualifying, Michael Schumacher was doing race testing and one could not help but feel that the Ferrari star was totally at ease and confident that he had the measure of the opposition. In the afternoon it was going to be close. Only six drivers opted for the harder tires, most keen to qualify well because of the problems overtaking in the race. The McLarens and Ferraris went for the harder rubber which was less marginal for the race. They could afford to make the choice because they knew that they would be able to qualify well. They were joined by Jenson Button in his Williams-BMW, a confident decision from one so young, and by Gaston Mazzacane who was presumably dreaming of driving through the entire field on Sunday to win the race, just as Olivier Panis did a few years ago. The tires were reckoned to make a difference of perhaps a second a lap and so some of the soft runners would look better than perhaps they really were.

Schumacher never really looked threatened for pole position and ended up two-tenths faster than his nearest rival. He was pushing hard and brushed the barriers on several occasions. "The car was not perfectly balanced on the first two runs," he said. But the third run was a good one, without traffic.

"I had some understeer which cost me one or two tenths," he admitted. But it did not matter. He was on pole position, and, better than that, Mika Hakkinen was back in fifth place on the grid. The Finn complained that every time he went out he ran into traffic and it was not until his last run that he managed to heave himself up from 17th on the grid to fifth.

Mika was slightly better off than Schumacher's Ferrari team mate Rubens Barrichello, who lined up sixth on the grid. He did not blame traffic. The car was not very good and he was struggling. "I did all I could," he said. "There are some aspects of the set-up to improve on as the car feels nervous."

Hakkinen's team mate David Coulthard was third, four-tenths slower than Schumacher but not as quick as he had hoped to be. "I must admit I was expecting to be on the front row," he said. "I was probably a bit too cautious on my first run to make sure that I got a decent time. We improved the car and I definitely had the potential to go quicker but I got caught up in traffic or yellow flags on all my subsequent runs. That is Monaco for you."

The interlopers in the front rows were the two Jordan-Mugens with Jarno Trulli a merry second and Heinz-Harald Frentzen fourth. Trulli was actually on pole after his first and third runs but he lost his final flying lap when he came up behind Irvine, who had suffered a power-steering failure, and was unable to improve. Frentzen suffered a similar fate.

"He ought to have the experience not to slow down to 30mph in the tunnel at the end of the session when his car clearly has a mechanical problem and he cannot benefit by continuing on the racing line," raved Frentzen. "This not only endangers other drivers but in this case it also ruined the final qualifying runs for Jarno and me."

Still, second and fourth was a good effort for Jordan, which has not been as competitive as it had hoped to be so far this year. The usually ebullient Eddie Jordan was rather subdued, realizing perhaps that the tire situation did not favor his men for race day. "Let's wait and see the result of the race before we celebrate too much," he said.

If the top six was scrambled but otherwise fairly predictable, seventh position on the grid was a huge surprise for we are not used to seeing Prost-Peugeots in the top 10. But then again Jean Alesi is a star and the team has been making progress, despite internal ructions. More impressive still was the fact that he had done it in the spare car after his own had electrical problems. "Jean drove a quite fantastic lap," said Alain Prost.

The same could not be said for Nick Heidfeld who has been a big disappointment this year and continues to be so. He stuffed his car heavily into the wall at La Rascasse on Thursday and then went off again on Saturday morning, was pushed by a marshal and was then not allowed to continue. You can blame the marshal, of course, but if Heidfeld had not gone off... He was 18th on the grid.

Giancarlo Fisichella was eighth on the grid and complained that the car was much more nervous on Saturday than it had been on Thursday. Alex Wurz, a man under pressure if ever there was one, crashed on his final qualifying run and ended up 12th on the grid, explaining that he would have done better if he had not crashed. A very sensible comment.

The BMW Williams team did not look to be doing very well with Ralf Schumacher ninth and Jenson Button 14th but one cannot expect too much. Just watching the car in action one could appreciate that the BMW engine is very peaky and hard to handle particularly on a street track like Monaco. Ralf lost a lot of time on Thursday morning when he crashed at Portier and was never really happy with his car. He was another victim of Irvine in the final moments of qualifying. Button did a remarkable job for a newcomer (Patrick Head reckoned that Jenson was "amazingly quick" on Thursday) but he lost his best lap on Saturday because of Wurz's accident and so was 14th, but with hard tires he was less than a second slower than his team mate. Perhaps the risk in qualifying would pay off in the race.

Jaguar flattered on Thursday but deceived on Saturday when Irvine and Johnny Herbert ended up 10th and 11th. Both drivers were disappointed and reckoned that they should have been in the top six. "It's nice to be close to Eddie," said Herbert, "but we'd rather be higher up the grid. We are still very up and down in our performances so we are going to have to work hard on finding consistency."

It was not a great day for Sauber - but then it rarely is at the moment. Mika Salo was 13th on the grid with Pedro Diniz 19th. Pedro had a crash on Thursday which did not help his cause and he admitted that he was not very keen on the way the car was behaving on Saturday. Salo blamed traffic for his position and reckoned that on pure pace the car ought to have been in the top 10.

Arrows was not very impressive either with Jos Verstappen 15th and Pedro de la Rosa 16th. Verstappen struggled with handling but failed to find more grip while de la Rosa crashed and had to go for the spare car. When he set off on his final flying lap the gearbox made a nasty screeching noise and he went into the pits. The team said the cars could have been higher up the grid (bla, bla, bla).

The Lucky Strike BAR-Honda team was not looking very lucky and Jacques Villeneuve was down in 17th on the grid and Ricardo Zonta was 20th. Given the number of boats with British American Tobacco VIPs on them this was not a very good effort. Villeneuve lost an engine on his first run, ran a mile back to the pits and set off in the spare. He hit traffic, then had a spin, was stopped for a weight check and ran out of time. Zonta had a less exciting time but struggled to find downforce.

At the back as usual were the two Minardis with both drivers smacking walls in the course of the qualifying session. The nice thing about being a Minardi driver is that you can make such mistakes and still not lose places because whatever you do you are always on the back row of the grid. In the circumstances Mazzacane's choice of the harder tires for the race was really quite intelligent.

IN the morning warm-up the two Ferraris were first and second with Barrichello just faster than Schumacher while Ralf Schumacher was third quickest in his spare car. Button was also quick, setting the seventh fastest time. There was drama in the closing seconds of the session when de la Rosa smashed his Arrows into the wall at Tabac.

As the cars set off for the final parade lap Diniz was left sitting on the pre-grid. The Sauber team finally got him going but he was going to have to start at the back of the field. Before that could happen, however, Wurz suffered an engine failure and the start had to be aborted. This meant that Wurz would not be able to start although the team worked to convert the spare car for Wurz just in case the race was stopped, because if that happened he would be able to start the new race. Wurz's problem was good news for Diniz as he was able to take up his normal position on the grid.

At the start Schumacher got away well and was well ahead of Trulli when they arrived at Ste Devote. Coulthard was behind the Jordan and behind them came Frentzen and Hakkinen. As the frontrunners raced up the hill there was suddenly an indication that the race was being stopped, but the red flag was only shown at the start-finish line and on the television screens, not around the circuit. There had been a glitch in the FIA software.

So the race went on and at the Grand Hotel Hairpin (otherwise known as Loews) there was trouble, as there often is: to begin with Hakkinen sliced ahead of Frentzen in a lovely move to grab fourth, but moments later the main pack arrived with Pedro de la Rosa trying to get around the outside of Jenson Button. It was not really on because there was only so much steering lock that Button could apply and so inevitably the Williams tipped the rear of the Arrows into a spin. The car curled across the road in front of Button and those behind clonked into one another or came to a dead stop. The car park included two Minardis, two BARs, Diniz's Sauber and Heidfeld's Prost. Villeneuve and Mazzacane were able to get going again and motored down to the pits while Diniz, Zonta and Heidfeld set off to run back to the pits.

"I was standing there wondering where everyone had gone," said Button, "and then I realized that I needed to get back in a hurry and so I started running back with Pedro. The others were about two hundred meters ahead. Poor old Marc Gene, who had hurt his foot slightly in qualifying, had to hop and hobble.

In such circumstances the pitlane closes 10 minutes after a red flag is shown and drivers returning after that time have to restart from the pits. Thus the foot running Grand Prix became important and in the pitlane the quick preparation of spares cars was also essential. Diniz won the running race and as Sauber had managed to get the spare out quickly he motored around to get on to the grid. Zonta was able to do the same and Villeneuve parked his original car because it had a damaged diffuser and took to the second spare. He too made it before the pitlane closed. Wurz, Button, Gene and Heidfeld did not make it and de la Rosa arrived back but the spare car had still not been rebuilt from the morning shunt and so he was out of the race. "The only positive thing we can take from this is to forget about it," he said.

And so finally we had the remains of a grid again. There were four cars lined up in the pitlane: Wurz, Button, Gene and Heidfeld. Off they went again with Schumacher again getting ahead of Trulli with Coulthard third, Frentzen fourth and Hakkinen fifth. Sixth place went to Ralf Schumacher who made a good start to charge up the dusty outside and dive into the order. He was fortunate that Jean Alesi gave him space because a younger driver might not have bothered to let him in and there would have been another crash. Jean was thus seventh ahead of Barrichello, Fisichella and Herbert.

It was the perfect situation for Schumacher because it was very quickly clear that Trulli could not match the pace of the Ferrari. The gap grew massively and it was not until Trulli stopped with a gearbox problem on lap 37 that the gap - by then out to 36 seconds - began to come down as Coulthard charged to try to make up ground, but basically it was a waste of time and he knew it. You do not give Schumacher a half a minute lead and expect to beat him. But, as Coulthard said later, he had no sympathy for Michael when the Ferrari star suffered a broken suspension on lap 55 because who was to say that Schumacher had not pushed his car too hard.

"Clearly McLaren built a car that was more than strong enough to go the distance for me," said David later. "I don't know what Mika's problem was today but it's a great day for my side of the garage."

Hakkinen's race was frustrating as he was stuck behind Frentzen but then on lap 36 he suddenly slowed with a problem. There was something blocking the brake pedal of the McLaren and it took the team a long time to understand the problem. Eventually an inspection hatch was opened and radio cables which had been causing the problem were rearranged but by the time Mika rejoined he was a million miles behind. He chased back as he was bound to do and looked towards the end of the race to be in a position to take fifth place from Mika Salo but then with a couple of laps to go he lost sixth and seventh gears and had to motor to the flag. He took one point but it might have been more.

Schumacher's problem was not caused by a blow to a wall as it may have appeared. In fact he had a cracked exhaust and that overheated the carbon suspension at the left rear of the car. It collapsed and that was that. Michael drove the car round trying to salvage something but the car was shot. "Obviously I am disappointed," said Michael. "but there was nothing I could do about it."

Barrichello had a rather better day when all was said and done. Although he was only eighth early on he kept going while all around him failed and the result was second place. "Having started from where I did I spent the race catching up," he admitted. "But it is good to be back on the podium again."

The Jordan challenge was blunted early on when Trulli went out but Frentzen survived and was running a safe second in the closing laps when he made a mistake and ran into the wall at Ste Devote. "It was my mistake," he admitted ruefully. "I pushed too hard and went off. There is nothing different I can say or anything I can add."

Heinz-Harald walked back to the pits, apologized to the team and felt bad. "We all make mistakes in this high-pressure business," said team boss Eddie Jordan. "It happens."

The high attrition rate meant that third place went to Fisichella but this should not really be mistaken for a return to competitiveness for the Benetton team. Fisico was ninth on the first lap and he finished third. Six men in front of him ran into trouble of one form or other. End of story. Racing is all about finishing and Fisichella managed that. That was good. The performance of the car was pretty average.

Wurz did not really impress. He started from the pits and eventually managed to overtake Mazzacane's Minardi after 11 laps. Eight laps later he crashed at Ste Devote. The car was not very good but another crash was the last thing that Wurz needed.

The high attrition rate meant that Irvine came home in fourth place to score Jaguar Racing's first World Championship points. That was something. He was on the same lap as the winner but more than a minute behind. Irvine said that it was one of the hardest races of his life.

Johnny Herbert had all the bad luck as usual. Early in the race his powersteering system began to go wrong and having made a good start and gotten ahead of Irvine he dropped behind the Ulsterman. He then realized that he needed new tires and radioed the pit three times to tell them he was coming in but the radio message was not received and so when he arrived the Jaguar mechanics were sitting around rather than poised to do things. The Keystone Cops would have been proud of them. It only took them half a minute more than usual. Johnny was by then so far behind the action that he had nothing much to do but he battled on, pitting again later to have his powersteering system reset, and he finished two laps down in ninth place.

Fifth place went to Sauber's Mika Salo and given that he started 13th this was not bad but it was not done by any overtaking maneuvers. Towards the end of the race he had to work hard to hold off his rival Mika Hakkinen but he did it and that is what counts.

After his adventures at the start(s) Diniz would have appreciated a nice quiet race. The spare was fine, he said, but on lap 31 he made a mistake at Ste Devote and broke his left rear wheel.

Villeneuve finished seventh in the BAR. "It is just a shame that one other driver didn't drop out near the end of the race," said Jacques, putting the whole thing into perspective. If you have to rely on others falling off and you are lapped by half distance and you have a Honda engine, the problem must be something else. Maybe those nice fellows at Honda could help BAR with the chassis technology.

For the early part of the race Zonta battled heartily with his team leader but he then blotted his copybook when he went off into the wall at Ste Devote. "I have learned a lot this weekend," said Zonta (a new boy at Monaco because of his injuries in Brazil last year). "If we could start it all over again, I know we could improve the set-up and therefore have a good chance of getting a better result." Yes, a fair point. I expect British American Tobacco feel the same way about their Formula 1 program.

Nick Heidfeld managed to get to the finish in his Prost but it was hardly a good reason for rejoicing. The team waffled on about finishing in the points but that was never likely after Alesi went out with a broken transmission on lap 30.

Of the rest, the performance of Arrows is best glossed over quickly. Verstappen managed to stay off the walls for 60 of the 78 laps but in the fullness of time he went the way he has often done in the past. Crunch!

Williams too ended the day with two broken cars, but the team also had a damaged driver because when Ralf Schumacher careered into the barriers at Ste Devote on lap 37, while running fourth, he got a nasty gash on his leg. It remains to be seen whether he will be able to race in Montreal because it takes time to heal such things. It may be that Bruno Junqueira will be given the chance to drive in his first Grand Prix in Canada.

Button's miserable race continued after he set off from the pitlane. He was trapped behind Wurz's Benetton and then was unable to pass Mazzacane's Minardi because his engine began to misbehave and eventually the team called him in. There was no point.

The Minardi story was soon over. Gene started from the pits, Mazzacane from the track. On lap 22 Gene went out with a gearbox failure and on lap 23 Mazzacane crashed at Ste Devote.

David Coulthard McLaren-Mercedes  78 1h49m28.213  1m19.888 
Rubens Barrichello Ferrari  78 15.889  1m20.416 
11 Giancarlo Fisichella Benetton-Supertec  78 18.522  1m20.703 
Eddie Irvine Jaguar-Cosworth  78 1m05.923  1m20.743 10 
17 Mika Salo Sauber-Petronas  78 1m20.774  1m21.561 13 
Mika Hakkinen McLaren-Mercedes  77 1 Lap  1m20.241 
22 Jacques Villeneuve BAR-Honda  77 1 Lap  1m21.848 17 
15 Nick Heidfeld Prost-Peugeot  77 1 Lap  1m22.017 18 
Johnny Herbert Jaguar-Cosworth  76 2 Laps  1m20.792 11 
10 Heinz-Harald Frentzen Jordan-Mugen Honda  70 Accident 1m19.961 
19 Jos Verstappen Arrows-Supertec  60 Accident 1m21.738 15 
Michael Schumacher Ferrari  55 Damage 1m19.475 
23 Ricardo Zonta BAR-Honda  48 Accident 1m22.324 20 
Ralf Schumacher Williams-BMW  37 Accident 1m20.742 
Jarno Trulli Jordan-Mugen Honda  36 Mechanical 1m19.746 
16 Pedro Diniz Sauber-Petronas  30 Accident 1m22.136 19 
14 Jean Alesi Prost-Peugeot  29 Transmission 1m20.494 
21 Gaston Mazzacane Minardi-Ford  22 Accident 1m23.794 22 
20 Marc Gene Minardi-Ford  21 Gearbox 1m23.721 21 
12 Alexander Wurz Benetton-Supertec  18 Accident 1m20.871 12 
10 Jenson Button Williams-BMW  16 Engine 1m21.605 14 
18 Pedro de la Rosa Arrows-Supertec  Damage 1m21.832 16