Spanish GP 2001
APRIL 29, 2001
Spanish GP, 2001
A frustrated Finn...
THE most important laps of any race, they say, are the first and the last and in the Spanish Grand Prix Michael Schumacher led them both¦ but in truth it was Mika Hakkinen's day. He took the lead away from Michael for the first time since Spa last August and, just like then, it was on merit. No spectacular passing moves this time however, McLaren outfoxed Ferrari on strategy and the heartbreak of losing it all on the final lap could be felt across the circuit. Schumacher immediately went to console Hakkinen, as Jacques Villeneuve promised to do after his first podium visit since Hungary in 1998. It was a touching thing to imagine, Formula 1's three active world champions getting together for a group hug and maybe sink a beer or two as they ponder what to do about the other man on the podium, Juan Pablo Montoya¦
Things don't tend to happen quickly in Barcelona. The Formula 1 teams decamp to the Circuit de Catalunya and appear to be permanently stuck on fast forward as the locals go about life at their own pace, lolling in the grandstands from dawn until long after dark and watching the curious high-speed spectacle unfolding before them.
And so Friday's early morning rain showers cleared and Formula 1 began a new era of driver-assisted racing. Did the earth give a great shudder and Nostradamus-like predictions of doom and disaster duly occur? Not really, no. Neither was it an all-action sort of a day, except by languid Spanish standards, but as Fridays go it was, well, quite interesting.
Reliability was the main question mark surrounding the return of gizmology to Formula 1, because the FIA only gave permission for the use of launch control, traction control, automated gearshifts et al a mere six weeks before the teams headed off to Melbourne.
Almost two months have passed since then but there has also been the small matter of three flyaway races and the stampede back to Europe in time for Imola, meaning that testing and development schedules have been stretched beyond all recognition.
As have many crankshafts and other vital components as they struggle to match the expectations of the new software. The forces exerted in delivering over 800bhp all at once without wheel spin are gigantic, as BMW and Williams found out in testing prior to their arrival on the Spanish coast. Six of their engines reportedly detonated themselves between Imola and Barcelona and Williams was not alone in being concerned.
As a result an even bigger array of spare engines were tucked away in various corners of the paddock, Paul Stoddart bringing an 'extra' extra load in his BAC 111, and soon those fears were being realized. In the opening minutes of free practice Mika Hakkinen's McLaren reappeared in the pit lane trailing a delicate wisp of smoke that a mechanic hovered nervously over with extinguisher at the ready.
Fortunately it was nothing terminal; Mika's Mercedes was only putting up a mild protest. He spent the rest of the day wrestling armfuls of understeer and finally ground to a halt just as the checkered flag came out for the day.
By contrast David Coulthard went straight out and stuffed the sister car under last year's pole time by six tenths of a second on his first flying lap, and come what may he would not be budged from the top of the timing screens for the remainder of the day.
In fact DC took another quarter of a second and more of his time by the close of play, which was just as well because otherwise he would have been indecently close to Eddie Irvine's Jaguar, which popped up in an astonishing second place at the checkered flag. "I wouldn't want anybody to read too much into our times today," said Irvine. Nobody did, but seeing his new team mate Pedro de la Rosa in seventh, a mere half a second behind was cheering for Jaguar and for its talented Catalan as he debuted on home soil.
Jaguar switched places with Jordan for the day, whose drivers were seemingly working overtime at the wheel. The in-car shots revealed their hands to be a blur as they tried to guide their willful EJ11s around the Circuit de Catalunya's twisty bits, the sea breeze wreaking havoc on the sensitive yellow cars and they ended the day Trulli 11th and Frentzen 14th.
The top group therefore looked a little different without the Jordans, Irvine and de la Rosa in the frame and Olivier Panis's BAR in fourth, splitting the Ferraris. The Hondas, though, were struggling with their gizmos and although sounding as crisp as ever when they were on song, their failures were rather explosive.
Jacques Villeneuve attempted a practice start at the end of the pit lane and was rewarded with a large bang, a fireball and a short walk back to his pit. Almost immediately Olivier Panis had a similar experience as he pulled out of the garage, albeit minus the pyrotechnics, and there were some glum faces in the Lucky Strike brigade.
The Williams BMWs were not in a happy state either. Juan Pablo Montoya's vim and vigor saw a couple of spins, a piece of the under tray was knocked off and yet again he had an engine let go on him, writing off the precious second hour and ruining the fourth Friday in five races. Ralf Schumacher had no such problems; his car simply wasn't fast enough. "A lot has changed in a fortnight," said Sir Frank. "We were looking good twelve days ago but after today's events there's not a great deal of confidence to which I could say 'no problem, mate' so don't be too sure for us."
Of the others the Benettons were conspicuous by the amount of wheel spin they were producing. The Renault has just enough power to produce rubber smoke but, insiders say, is still a little too temperamental to carry anything particularly ambitious in its engine management system, but the result on the timing screen was little different from the norm: 18th and 19th with Fisichella ahead of Button.
That was about it for Friday. Tarso Marques spun his Minardi, but the European V10s were robust on the whole, and it seemed that Honda, Ferrari and Mercedes had closed the gap at the top of the rev band to the screaming BMWs to around 100rpm. Gizmos were back then, and with apologies to popular beat combo REM, it was the end of the world as we knew it (and we felt fine).
Saturday practice saw an end to the good cheer at Jaguar. Irvine finished 17th and de la Rosa 21st, albeit after his car took him into the wall at the end of the pit lane when the power steering went awry. The unhappy Spaniard took to Irvine's spare car for the rest of the day, and never really got comfortable from then on.
A slightly more familiar order was therefore restored. Slightly because while the Ferraris went off together into the 1m18s bracket, to be joined late on by David Coulthard, the next two cars were blue.
Nick Heidfeld got the Sauber out early and swiftly knocked a couple of tenths off the previous day's best. Both he and Kimi Raikkonen kept the Swiss cars there or thereabouts until each produced a flier at the end, Raikkonen getting the edge. Behind them Trulli and Panis carried on the Honda battle, the Jordans clearly having been properly dialed in overnight. Mika Hakkinen, Ralf Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve rounded out the top 10, Alesi and Burti were 13th and 14th and Fernando Alonso's Minardi returned to the pits trailing a cloud of oil.
The qualifying hour got to a quarter of the way through with little but a few opening gambits from Prost, Minardi and Arrows. It was still siesta time after all, and the lunchtime heat had still to disperse to the satisfaction of the big guns.
First out were Jarno Trulli and David Coulthard, and it was the Scot whose opening lap set a realistic target of 1m18.635s. They were followed soon after by Eddie Irvine's first run in the Jaguar, which had gone from half a second to fully two seconds in arrears overnight.
Coulthard's pace brought out a surge of contenders, all under the watchful gaze of Michael Schumacher in his pit. Jacques Villeneuve had a nasty moment at the end of the main straight when he found that the rear brakes weren't connected. He went sailing over the gravel and pootled back round to begin a torrid afternoon, including being found 10kg overweight, which ended with him splitting the Jordans of Trulli and Frentzen in seventh place. The saving grace in the day was that he was four places higher than team mate Olivier Panis, who got balked by Irvine on his first run and snared up in traffic for the rest of the day.
Mika Hakkinen meanwhile slotted in behind his teammate after his first run, with Kimi Raikkonen only a couple of tenths behind in the Sauber, which was impressive. Nick Heidfeld in the second Sauber was denied the chance to shine early on after the drive train failed on his car, forcing him to wait while the spare was adjusted to fit him instead of Raikkonen.
Juan Pablo Montoya went fifth but was almost a second off Coulthard's time, the Williams man unhappy with the performance of his Michelins and hurting from the lack of track time on Friday. His teammate Ralf Schumacher wasn't happy either, the San Marino victor half a second adrift of Montoya and looking impatient.
All this was something of a sideshow after Michael Schumacher's first run, however. The German had put a touch more downforce on the nose of his Ferrari and banged in a 1m18.226s lap, enough to be well clear of the McLarens for the time being, and everyone else for the rest of the afternoon. This sparked off a lengthy period of waiting as the teams hoped that the temperatures would fall and the spectators wished that something interesting would happen.
One wish was granted when Luciano Burti's time flashed up as 1m11s, thereby putting absolutely everyone else outside the 107% qualifying time. Fortunately for all concerned this was a fault in the timing gear, thereby denting Prost an almost certain first victory and putting Burti back amongst the Arrows and Jaguars.
With less than 20 minutes still to run the number 1 Ferrari eased its way out of the garage for only the second time of the day. Michael took two tenths off his best and promptly went back in. Coulthard gave it a shot and couldn't get below 1m19s and Nick Heidfeld belatedly joined in the session, logging the 11th fastest time.
Mika Hakkinen improved his time but remained third with his second run as Jos Verstappen indulged in a spin, then Rubens Barrichello leapt into third place for Ferrari to make the first two rows symmetrical. He was shortly back out again, joining the mad rush at the end of the session, but was squeezed by Irvine in the pit lane and didn't make much of an impression.
Neither did David Coulthard, who still could not better his first effort and thereby let Hakkinen through into second place with a flier that took 1m18.286s to complete. More impressively, he'd switched the traction control off to do it. "If you have some problems with the car in some corners you can fix it with the throttle," Hakkinen said afterwards. "Traction control sometimes doesn't allow you to do that in some places."
Schumacher on the other hand had great faith in the abilities of his traction control, although he was well aware of the threat posed by the men in gray. Was he going to be able to drop the throttle and take off into the distance? "Well, if it would be that easy, we would probably go home right now and celebrate," he said. "But there's about more than 60 laps to go which is going to be tough, and strategy will play a big factor."
SUNDAY's morning warm up was reasonably uneventful. For most of the session the McLarens monopolized the top of the time sheets but Rubens Barrichello squeaked in with a time of 1m20.680s as a declaration of intent from Ferrari. David Coulthard meanwhile coasted to a halt on the main straight with a sizeable plume of smoke coming from his exhausts but was outdone by Eddie Irvine, who added flames when his Jaguar brewed up
As the race drew nearer so the sky took on a heavy aspect, with rolling shades of dark gray and a chill wind blowing up as the cars began to gather on the grid. They were joined by Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones, who almost arrived on the nose of Michael Schumacher's Ferrari.
At least the Hollywood couple had nice warm coats on, courtesy of Mercedes, unlike the poor grid girls whose shiny red rubber trousers probably kept the draft out but their little white singlets pointed to the fact that they were freezing before the grid was cleared and they were allowed to slip into something more comfortable.
David Coulthard is probably kicking himself, for if ever there will be words he comes to regret then in pole position must be the following: "There could well be a lot of cars sitting on the grid not moving anywhere because the systems don't quite work the way they expect them to." And lo it came to pass that, as the rest of the field set off on the warming up lap, the number 4 McLaren sat alone on the grid, save for the marshal who leapt out to wave a yellow flag behind it. Providence I think they call it.
So DC went to the back of the grid and must have hoped that 21 other drivers had shared his thoughts. As it turned out however, only Heinz-Harald Frentzen's start failed to materialize as programed, although that in itself livened things up intensely. As Michael Schumacher rocketed off into an imperious lead the stranded Frentzen in eighth spot added to the midfield drama. Fortunately nobody hit each other, but Fernando Alonso skimmed along the pit wall as he made up a couple of places and on the other side of the track Eddie Irvine took to the grass to keep up his early momentum.
In the middle was Juan Pablo Montoya, who shot through a non-existent gap between the Saubers of Nick Heidfeld and Kimi Raikkonen and followed up by diving up the inside of Jacques Villeneuve when he wasn't looking. From eleventh to sixth in a few hundred yards was still impressive stuff even taking Coulthard and Frentzen's absence into account. "In the beginning I had to move up one way or the other at the start and I took it quite aggressive and it paid off," said the Colombian.
"I braked very early into Turn 1 and Juan got me there," said Jacques, "it woke me up. So I was awake then for the rest of the race!"
There was then a bit of squabbling through the first two corners as Villeneuve, the Saubers and Irvine disputed territory, then still more when fast-starting David Coulthard found himself in unfamiliar waters with both Enrique Bernoldi's Arrows and Giancarlo Fisichella's Benetton attempting to share his piece of road. The result was that Coulthard limped round the first lap with his front wing wedged underneath the car. A new nose was fitted and, having fallen back to dead last again, he shot off with a shriek of Mercedes V10 to try and rescue something from the day.
The order then was Schumacher from Hakkinen, with the gap extending to a fraction under two seconds and staying there for the duration of the first stint. Rubens Barrichello clung on grimly in third and behind him the rest seemed to be in a different race, with Ralf Schumacher on his own in fourth and Trulli holding off the advances of Montoya some way behind.
The action in the opening laps was hard to spot but there to find for the dedicated. Eddie Irvine had his hands full with Olivier Panis attempting to force his BAR past at numerous points around the circuit, almost making it stick at Turn 1 on a couple of occasions but never quite managing to get by.
Back in 18th Heinz-Harald Frentzen also found himself trapped behind a Jaguar “ Pedro de la Rosa's “ and on lap six he took an opportunistic dive into Turn 10. If anything he was fractionally ahead as the two cars turned in, albeit with two wheels over the curb, but the man from Barcelona was not willing to yield on home soil and left a diminishing gap.
The Jordan's tail kicked out a fraction and there was nowhere to go except, rather unceremoniously, backwards over the Jaguar's front wheels to end both their races on the spot. Verdict: a racing accident.
On lap nine David Coulthard was charging along trying to make up for lost time when he came up to Bernoldi once again going into Turn 5 and found the Arrows seemingly zooming backwards towards him as it lost fuel pressure “ a minor 'moment' from which DC emerged unscathed as Bernoldi parked up for the day.
The Scot's next encounter was with the Minardi of Fernando Alonso and the Benetton of Fisichella, which had been engaged in some Formula Ford-type dicing throughout the opening laps. If the prospect caused the McLaren man to roll his eyes in desperation at how to get past them he needn't have bothered because Alonso ducked into the pits on lap 12 and although Fisichella had a good stab at knocking Coulthard off the track he escaped once again.
Fisichella's team mate endured a thankless time in his wake, Jenson Button being one of the first in line to be lapped as Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen began sweeping past the back markers still two seconds apart. "What can I say?" he said. "I know I'm repeating myself but we just have to hang in there."
On lap 21 Ralf Schumacher spun out at Turn 10 as his pit crew prepared to welcome him for replenishment, a rear brake believed to have locked. This left Trulli and Montoya fourth and fifth and the first of the points contenders to come in to the pits.
The Williams team did their job to perfection in eight seconds flat and got their man out with Trulli tucked up under his gearbox, then Montoya managed to get Jean Alesi's Prost between them as they exited. The gap between them stretched as BAR made a good stop for Villeneuve, and Trulli found himself down two places for the sake of fuel and tires.
The next notable racer in was Michael Schumacher, race leader, with an 8.7 second stop enhanced by the German's habitually mesmeric in-and out-laps. Mika Hakkinen led, but it was a brief moment, and after his stop on lap 27 Schumacher was again in the lead, his advantage stretched to almost four seconds as he set fastest lap the 25th time round.
The second segment of the race was a tedious affair, marked only by a big moment for Montoya at Turn 10 on lap 37, almost mimicking his team mate's early exit. "After that I just decided to back up a little bit," he said, wisely.
On lap 43 Michael came in from the lead for his second stop of nine seconds, letting Hakkinen through. Four laps later Hakkinen was given the sign 'P1 +22.9 PUSH' and the Finn responded magnificently.
Rubens Barrichello's lonely afternoon in third became livelier as his Ferrari took off over the gravel at Turn 7 and it became clear that there was something wrong with one, if not both of the Ferraris, as Schumacher had no response to the leading McLaren.
Between Ross Brawn and Schumacher there was much to discuss over the radio, such as the reason for Barrichello's demise and discretion being the better part of valor. As Michael explained: "I had a huge vibration, most likely in the tires, and I was thinking the tire was delaminating and I was obviously very careful, especially down the straight." The men at Bridgestone had good reason to look worried.
On the 49th lap Mika set his fastest time of the day “ second fastest overall by a couple of tenths “ and pitted the next time round. He came out in front of the Ferrari, trapped as it was behind Verstappen's Arrows, and began to pull away as Barrichello pulled into the pits for good, allowing Montoya his first sniff of the podium.
It looked like a job well done for Mika Hakkinen and McLaren as the final laps counted down, but as he crossed the line to start the final lap the McLaren's engine gave a mighty cough. Some might call it a bang, and there were open mouths beneath all the Finnish flags in the grandstand and crossed fingers in the pits.
By Turn 3 it was all over, and Hakkinen pulled across trailing smoke and sparks as a pall of despair went up in sympathy for the Finn as Michael Schumacher limped by into the lead, albeit five seconds and more off his earlier pace to take the flag.
The last time this happened was ten years ago almost to the day in Montreal, when Nigel Mansell famously let his revs drop as he waved to the crowd and pulled over to let Nelson Piquet steal his glory. Back then Nelson said that the sight of the stricken leader almost caused a delighted mess in his race suit, but from Schumacher there was no such glee. In fact he appeared to be thoroughly miserable to receive his 10 points ahead of a joyful Montoya and a relieved Villeneuve. "I went to see him because it's not the way you like to win a race honestly," he said, "but then sometimes it happens in racing. It's happened to me and it has now happened to Mika, but that's the way it goes sometimes." Indeed it does.
To statisticians' delight Michael shared the podium with two winners of the Indianapolis 500 (the last two Indy winners on the podium being Graham Hill and Jim Clark in South Africa 1968) his lead over David Coulthard stretched to eight points. Of David's day much can be said of his gutsy drive through the field, although praise was lacking in some quarters. "I think David was suffering a bit of brain fade," said Ron Dennis, which was then repeated to DC. "I think Ron's suffering a bit of brain fade," DC said thunderously, before the PR department got to him.
Apparently PRs got to DC only after DC got to Ron, whose official statement read: "Based on initial analysis we felt that David was responsible for stalling on the dummy grid but closer scrutiny confirmed that a glitch in the software was at fault." Perhaps 'closer scrutiny' meant shutting the engineer's head in his laptop until he squealed, but one doesn't like to pry.
If Michael was sad about anything though it was the great void that has opened up between himself and Hakkinen in the table. He spoke with relish of their battles in recent years and, though there are potentially 120 points left to win, it looks like it's down to you DC.