Malaysian GP 2000
OCTOBER 22, 2000
Malaysian GP, 2000
ONE of the most famous cars ever built by Ferrari was the Testarossa. Translated into English this means Redhead. After the Malaysian Grand Prix Michael Schumacher, Rubens Barrichello, Ross Brawn and even Jean Todt were spotted wearing lurid red wigs to celebrate the Italian team's victory in the Constructors' Championship - to add to Michael Schumacher's World Championship won at Suzuka. It was a suitably good-natured and rather silly way to end what has not always been a good-natured season - but it was what the sport needed. A bit of fun after too much heavy-handed politicking, too much bad feeling and too much controversy. Michael Schumacher is not a saint but he is an exceptional racing driver and one would have to be very bitter and twisted not to salute a great champion...
Malaysia has been busy in recent years telling the world about its future technology. It has built vast buildings and paper-free cities are being constructed; it has an amazing airport, but as you head off from there towards downtown Kuala Lumpur there are plenty of signs indicating that for the moment at least a lot still depends of the price of palm oil. Stretching away in all directions in neat and ordered rows are oil palms in their thousands.
The vast plantations date back to the old days when the British Empire ruled the waves and the country was called Malaya. It was a hard place to live back then with hot and humid conditions, fevers and other tropical nasties. Then came independence and now comes transformation under Dr. Mahathir Mohamad. People in the West seem to think that he is some kind of totalitarian ogre but having visited Malaysia and seen what he is doing one has to be impressed. In a part of the world where most rulers are busy sending as much money as possible away to numbered accounts in Switzerland it is nice to see someone putting some money back into his country, and it is not a small amount of money. The works going on are simply vast. Mahathir may not be fully appreciated until 25 years from now and much still depends on whether his ideas are continued by his successors.
Formula 1 is an important element in Mahathir's plan to show the world that Malaysia is a country moving towards an industrialized future while also being a nice place to visit.
All of this went clean over the head of the Formula 1 circus when it turned up in Sepang to see the last Grand Prix of the 2000 season. If truth be told - for most people it was simply a question of getting it over and done with because it has been a very long season. The World Championship was over and no-one really cared who won the Constructors' title. No-one apart for a few team bosses. It was time to go home and there was a very strong end of term feeling. The Malaysians did a good job last year and had learned a few lessons as well so most things ran smoothly.
Down in the pits the Ferrari and McLaren teams were limbering up for their final battle of the year. Ferrari had a 13 point lead and so it was going to take a miracle for McLaren to take the title. A 1-2 with no Ferrari finishing above sixth place would do it. That was about as likely as The Pope dropping in for a cup of tea in the paddock, but in motor racing you never know. Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello might collide at the first corner and both retire...
Qualifying proved to be quite an interesting battle between Schumacher and Hakkinen - as one would expect. The Ferrari was a long way ahead at the end of it all, however, and in the last five minutes it looked like we might even have a Ferrari 1-2 on the grid. Then David Coulthard banged in a quick one to grab second and he was bounced back seconds later by Hakkinen. So we had the two McLarens in a Ferrari sandwich.
None of the teams had it easy. Schumacher had aborted one of his qualifying runs so as to avoid wasting tires. "The car was handling well," he said, "We have gradually improved it through the weekend. We have done a good job with it."
Mika Hakkinen was a little disappointed to be second. "You need a car to have a very stable exit, a very stable entry and to have good traction. We weren't able to get the maximum from the elements today and that's why we weren't the quickest."
Hakkinen's time was only a fraction quicker than Coulthard's best. "I don't think we have really got the car working 100 percent around this track," David explained. "We might have been quicker if we had had a better balance."
Barrichello was sick but he felt he had done a great lap and was disappointed to be beaten by the two McLarens. "I gave it my all at the end of the session to do a great lap," he said, "and I think I succeeded. It is a shame that both McLaren drivers went quicker."
So, at the front there were no real surprises but fifth place was strange indeed for there was Alexander Wurz, Benetton's scapegoat for most of the year with rumors suggesting that he did not always get the same equipment as Giancarlo Fisichella. Wurz is out of the team next year as a result, has just signed to be McLaren's test driver and suddenly he is competitive. Why? Particularly when Fisichella was down in 13th place and off the pace. Who can tell? In the past the Benetton team has often had mysterious differences between the drivers and so it was not really a surprise. The cynics said that it was obvious that the team is trying to get rid of Fisichella so that next year there will be a drive available for Jacques Villeneuve. Who knows? There was probably some political agenda involved. Team boss Flavio Briatore cannot have breakfast without a plot being hatched. Ultimately all this sort of stuff is irrelevant until the team gets a bit quicker but for Wurz it was a boost after a completely dreadful season.
"I hope this helps to put pay to rumors that have followed me this year," he said. And then he added a rather cryptic comment. "I want to thank the people who worked with me and who have supported me for the last three years in the team." The words read as though they were very carefully chosen.
Sixth on the grid was a good result for British American Racing given that fact that team bosses Craig Pollock and Adrian Reynard are now in a state of open warfare. Thankfully there were no hand grenades rolled across the garage, that will come soon in the boardroom.
Villeneuve said he was disappointed to be sixth because on his final run something went wrong with his engine, lossing him a lot of power and as a result he had to abort the lap. Villeneuve was keen to get as many points as possible to grab fourth place in the World Championship from Benetton. Jordan too was in the hunt with the three teams separated by only three points. Ricardo Zonta did not do quite as well as Villeneuve but 11th on the grid was not a bad effort at all and he reckoned he would have been faster if he had gotten his act together.
Complicating the battle for third place in the Constructors' Championship was Eddie Irvine who lined up seventh on the grid. This was a better than usual effort for the Jaguar team but Irvine was disappointed because he felt that fifth would have been possible. "I could have nailed a quicker time on the last run but I just backed off slightly at the last corner because I was conscious of needing to keep it all together," he said.
Johnny Herbert was 12th and also disappointed because he had been much faster in the morning session and had been a match for Irvine for most of the qualifying session. It was Johnny's last Grand Prix and he wanted to leave F1 with a bang. From that far back on the grid it did not look very likely.
"I could have been fifth," said Ralf, "but I made a mistake," he explained.
Button's hopes were hurt badly by an engine problem on Saturday morning when he lost a lot of time on the track. Up to then he had been a match for Ralf. At the start of his final lap he was alongside Jos Verstappen and on the run down to the first corner they slowed one another down.
Ninth and 10th on the grid were the two Jordans of Jarno Trulli and Heinz-Harald Frentzen. This was not great given the team's ambition to take fourth in the Constructors' title from BAR and Benetton. The cars were once again not performing very well in qualifying trim. Things were not helped by the fact that Frentzen had a throttle problem in the morning which meant he did not get as much running as he would have liked.
The two Saubers were very disappointing, given that they have Ferrari engines and this was the home race for Petronas. If you drove around Malaysia without knowing anything about F1 you would have thought that it was the Mika Salo Grand Prix because the Finn featured in all the pre-event advertising but he was only 17th on the grid and Pedro Diniz was 20th. Salo said that he would have been better if he had managed to combine his best sector times but he did not, so it was an irrelevant point. Diniz blamed his poor showing on understeer.
IT was warm long before the actual warm-up at the Sepang circuit. In fact it was baking hot and, leaving the security of air-conditioned buildings, one was hit by a wave of soggy heat. It was real tropical weather. The locals may be used to it but for the visiting Europeans it was hard-going. The race was scheduled for late in the day to be on television in Europe when people were getting up on Sunday morning. This meant that the warm-up did not happen until 10.30 and so temperatures were higher than is normally the case in a warm-up in Europe.
The result was rather strange because Ricardo Zonta was fastest in his BAR-Honda, ahead of all the usual hotshoes. No-one really expected Zonta to be challenging for victory but it was interesting nonetheless and a further sign that the BAR team is becoming a serious contender. All it now needs to do is to decide who is in charge and everything will be perfect.
There was lots of pre-race entertainment with dancers, flag wavers, Prime Ministers, jet fighters and all the usual sort of stuff and then it was time for the big game and out came the F1 cars, screaming and mean as ever.
As the lights were still on and the engines were screaming Mika Hakkinen's McLaren jumped forward. Mika stopped it before the lights went out but he had jumped the start. Michael Schumacher made a poor start and was behind Mika while Coulthard came up the outside and was alongside, but on the outside of Michael as they funneled into the first corner. It was a McLaren 1-2. Behind Hakkinen and Coulthard, Schumacher was followed by Barrichello, Wurz and Villeneuve.
In the midfield there was trouble, several different kinds of trouble. The second corner saw Pedro Diniz trying to overtake Heidfeld, who was alongside de la Rosa. It did not work and the result was that they all collided. Diniz went into Alesi and spun him around. Diniz, Heidfeld and de la Rosa were out on the spot. Alesi was able to rejoin. The Minardis had to pick their way through the wreckage.
A little further on Verstappen had a spin all by himself.
All the carnage meant that out came the Safety Car and so for the whole of the second lap the field was held back while the wreckage was cleared away. And then it was off again and almost immediately Hakkinen and Coulthard swapped places.
"He obviously knew that he would have to stop because of the stop-and-go penalty," said David, "and he let me pass him going into Turn 3. I didn't know when he would have to pay his penalty but I was naturally hoping he would be able to keep Michael back a little bit because I didn't know at what pace he would be able to run. But about five corners later the team told me that Michael was second, so I just tried to pull away as best I could."
Hakkinen had in fact dropped behind both Ferraris and when he pitted he went from fourth to the back of the field. He spent the rest of the afternoon charging back. He was never going to be able to make up such a huge disadvantage and so had to be happy with fourth place 35 seconds behind the winner. That was pretty much what his stop-go penalty cost him so he would have been competitive.
"I could have won," he said afterwards.
It was an irrelevant point. The McLaren torch had been passed to Coulthard and he set off to build a lead over Schumacher. He set a series of fastest laps but on lap 10 he went wide in Turn Six and ran half the car over the grass.
"I slightly misjudged the exit and ran off the track," he said. "I didn't think it had been enough to do any damage, but it was because of that the team called me in early. I was not scheduled to stop anywhere near as early as that so I thought it was going to be terminal."
David was called in on lap 17. The stop was nice and quick and he was soon out on the track again but he was sixth.
"I knew that probably meant any chance of winning the race was gone," admitted David later.
Out in front Schumacher piled on the pressure. He set four consecutive fastest laps and then pitted on lap 24, leaving Barrichello in the lead for a lap before he stopped. When both Ferraris were back on track Michael was nearly five seconds ahead of Coulthard. David admitted that he should not have made the mistake.
He tried to make up for lost time and in the laps that followed he clipped Michael's lead from five to just under two seconds but then he had to pit again on lap 38. Michael followed him in on the next lap and the race was won. In the final stint Coulthard closed on Schumacher and for the final 12 laps he was within a second of the Ferrari.
"When you get into the dirty air it immediately makes it much more difficult to drive the car. So you have to be very careful," said Coulthard. "You're trying to stay close enough to make the leading driver be aware that you're there, but you're really hoping he'll make a mistake. That's unlikely to happen, so it was a case of accepting second place."
"It was a very tough race," said the red-haired Schumacher afterwards. "DC really pushed from the first lap to the last. So did I, and that meant a flat-out race which was very tough physically. But we did it!"
"As you know we have had some differences and I am embarrassed that sometimes I said things too publicly instead of going to see him and to talk face to face," David said. "At the end of the season I wanted to apologize to him for that and to say he is a great champion and that I look forward to competing with him again next season."
It was a nice gesture and Schumacher appreciated it.
The pair ended the race just seven-tenths apart while Barrichello was 18 secs behind.
"I had a lonely race," Rubens explained, " but I think it was my second best race after Hockenheim because I was not feeling well. My only problem was during the second pit stop when I could not get first gear and lost a few seconds."
Hakkinen ended up in fourth position, half-a-minute behind the winner.
Behind the four at the front the battle raged only briefly between Wurz and Villeneuve and then the Benetton moved clear of the BAR. The first pit stops did not change that but then Villeneuve was able to get ahead when Wurz began to struggle with brake trouble. From then on Villeneuve held the position until Hakkinen challenged him for it in the mid-race. Jacques tried to fight back but it was a pointless exercise. He had to settle for fifth place and two points. It was enough to put BAR equal on points with Benetton but, because Benetton had better finishes, fourth place in the Constructors' Championship went to them. There was disappointment at BAR but it was still a very good effort from a team which is still only in its second year of existence. Given the internal politicking that has been going on one has to salute Craig Pollock and his men for their achievement. It would be ironic if now Pollock was ousted by his partners led by Adrian Reynard. Only time will tell. A coup d'etat now would probably do more harm than good but, as the people at British American Tobacco have done very little right to date, they will probably now make the next mistake and screw themselves completely.
Zonta drove an impressive race as well, particularly in the early stages when he moved from 11th to seventh. In the middle stint he went off and bounced over a sandtrap which did not help his cause. He was running ninth when his engine blew in the latter stages of the race.
Wurz's brake problems meant that sixth place went in the end to Irvine in his Jaguar, who survived the first lap hurly-burly without a problem. When Hakkinen stopped for his penalty Eddie moved to sixth. During the second stint he lost out to Hakkinen and so slipped back to seventh place but he was able to get ahead of Wurz during the second pit stop sequence and after that he wasn't challenged.
Johnny Herbert would probably have finished in that place if the electrics of the car had not caused it to stall during his only pit stop. At the time Johnny was running fourth and looked to be on course for a points finish. After that Johnny wad condemned to running around in the midfield until his rear suspension failed at high speed and he was pitched into a nasty accident which left him with a very nasty bruised knee.
"There is nothing like ending your career with a bang," joked Johnny later, but there was not much to joke about. These sort of things should not happen. It was deeply ironic that Johnny's career ended as it began 12 years ago. Then he was carried to the car because of leg injuries. He left F1 being carried from the car...
Wurz's seventh place was a disappointment for Benetton but the team just managed to hold on to fourth place in the Constructors' title. Fisichella had a one-stop strategy and it did not really work. He did not help his cause when he went off on lap 39 but he managed to finish 10th.
Between the two Benettons was Mika Salo's Sauber. He drove a good race going from 17th on the grid to 12th at the end of the first lap. He then charged through to run eighth but then became bogged down. His second set of tires did not work well and so he dropped away and ran 10th in the final laps until Jos Verstappen's Arrows went wrong on the penultimate lap and so Mika jumped up a place.
Verstappen's race had been pretty remarkable given his spin on the first lap. He raced up from 18th to fourth before his mid-race stop. He rejoined 11th and looked to be well-placed for a points finish until he began to experience handling troubles and slipped away from the pace. He was eighth until the penultimate lap when the hydraulics went wrong and the car jammed in fifth gear. He lost two places. "It was good to finish the race," said Jos, rather pointedly.
Jarno Trulli made it home in 12th but it was a disastrous event for Jordan. Trulli's hopes were gone on the first lap but he plugged away. Almost immediately he had a slow puncture and so had to pit again and then the car handled badly. "This has not been our season," he said. Frentzen went out early with a powersteering failure.
The only other team to fail to get a car home was Williams. Ralf Schumacher's race was compromised as a result of the first lap incident. He then suffered handling trouble and this did not improve, and in the end the team called him in to retire. Button's race promised a little more. The first lap incidents saw Jenson go from 16th on the grid to 10th. The car was a handful as Button was going for a one-stop strategy. This might have been quite successful but on lap 19 his engine blew up.
It was a hard fought race which one suspected should have been won by McLaren but once again little mistakes opened the door for Michael Schumacher. It is not something one can afford to do in F1 these days.