|Canadian Grand Prix Review|
5th - 7th June 1998
|by Max Galvin, England|
Prior to the start of the Canadian Grand Prix I was expecting little excitement from the race and the start of the weekend did nothing to change that opinion. Qualifying was almost as expected and the free practice sessions contained the usual mix of oddities. However, from the second the race started, there was action and the race seemed to dissolve into a cross between stock car racing and Wacky Races.
Before the race|
As is now expected, the McLaren pair lined up 1-2 on the grid, but with David Coulthard taking the number 1 slot ahead of Mika Hakkinen to reverse the recent trend at McLaren. Neither driver was able to get as far ahead of the opposition as at previous races, primarily because of the new Goodyear rear tyre that was being used for the first time in competition.
The lead Ferrari and a Benetton were also in the usual positions with Michael Schumacher and Giancarlo Fisichella lining up third and fourth respectively. Eddie Irvine and Alex Wurz (their respective team mates) lined up 8th and 11th, with the latter unable to find an answer to the speed of the Italian driver.
The Williams FW20 was much improved for the Canadian Grand Prix and both drivers seemed to be happier with the balance. This was most evident with Jacques Villeneuve who managed to qualify 6th, although Heinz-Harald Frentzen was only one place behind.
As predicted in the preview, Ricardo Rosset managed to qualify for the race, slipping onto the grid in 22nd, respectably close to the works Ford powered Stewart of Jan Magnussen. Pitlane rumours suggest that the Brazilian is sure to be ousted in favour of any one of a number of drivers for the next Grand Prix and that the Dane won't be far behind in departing F1.
As the lights went out, Ralf Schumacher (who had qualified 5th) stalled on the grid, but it was too late to stop the field from taking off so everyone behind was forced to swerve to avoid the stricken Jordan.
At the front, David Coulthard had made a perfect start, beating everyone else into the first corner easily. Behind the Scot, the Ferrari of Michael Schumacher was able to get ahead of Mika Hakkinen, splitting the McLaren pair and giving Coulthard a good chance of getting some distance between himself and his team mate.
Luckily for Mika, the chasing pack intervened and gave him a second bit of the cherry when Alex Wurz tried to go down the inside of Jean Alesi and ended up barrel rolling the Benetton into the gravel trap. Not only did this collect Alesi, but Jarno Trulli and Johnny Herbert as well, so with 4 cars in the gravel, the race was red flagged.
Despite the severity of the crash, Wurz was unhurt and apparently unphased by the shunt (his second big accident in as many races) and after a few moments emerged from his car and set off for the pits.
Trulli, Alesi and Herbert, who had stopped to ensure that the Austrian was okay followed Wurz back to the pits to get into their spare cars. With both Sauber drivers in the gravel it looked like the day would be over for one of them as most teams only take 1 spare car to each Grand Prix. On this weekend it was the turn of Jean Alesi to take the spare so Herbert made his way slowly back to the Sauber garage, helmet in hand, waving to the fans in the grandstands. As he arrived, a mechanic informed him that Alesi's car was repairable and that he would be taking the restart after all, albeit from the pitlane.
So, with Ralf Schumacher, Jarno Trulli, Alex Wurz and Jean Alesi back in their slots on the grid and Johnny Herbert sitting at the end of the pitlane, the race was ready to get underway for the second time.
Yet again, Coulthard led off the line, but this time it was the turn of Mika Hakkinen to suffer a problem. The Finn got stuck in second gear and ended his race before even the first lap was done, handing both Coulthard and Schumacher a golden chance to close on the Championship leader.
With Hakkinen out, Coulthard led into the first corner, followed by Schumacher and Fisichella in the Benetton.
Behind this leading group Ralf Schumacher decided he might succeed where Wurz had failed and tried to dive down the inside of the corner. Like the Benetton driver, Ralf didn't succeed and ended up spinning onto the track in front of the Arrows drivers Pedro Diniz and Mika Salo. Both the black and white cars took to the grass to avoid the Jordan and as Salo rejoined the track he bumped into Alex Wurz who in turn hit Jarno Trulli.
The luckless Trulli was knocked into an equally unlucky Jean Alesi and the Prost ended up parked on top of the roll bar of the Sauber only a few inches away from the head of the Frenchman. To make matters worse, the impact had damaged the Prost sufficiently for the engine heat to ignite the oil and make the car catch fire, although by now both drivers were safely out of their cars.
As expected, the race officials sent out the safety car and the rest of the field formed up behind it after completing the first lap. For Eddie Irvine, the safety car was a lifeline as he had cut a tyre when Jean Alesi had run into the back of him in turn one, forcing the Ferrari driver to stop to get the tyre replaced. This obviously dropped him to the back of the field that was, by now, down to 17 cars with the retirement of both Ralf Schumacher and Tora Takagi on the first lap.
The pace car remained out until lap 5 by which time all the stricken cars had been removed from danger and the track cleaned. At this point, the top 10 looked like this:
Coulthard -> 1.200s -> M.Schumacher -> 0.800s -> Fisichella -> 1.400s -> Villeneuve -> 0.900s -> Frentzen -> 1.700s -> Barrichello -> 0.800s -> Hill -> 0.800s -> Magnussen -> 0.500s -> Diniz -> 0.900s -> Rosset
It became immediately apparent that the leading pair of Coulthard and Schumacher were not going to be challenged by anyone for the time being, with them pulling out a relatively large 3.5 second lead over Giancarlo Fisichella in a little over a lap.
David Coulthard appeared to be under pressure from the Ferrari behind him, but at no point did it look like Michael Schumacher would be able to get past. The general consensus was that while McLaren were almost certainly planning 1 pit stop, Ferrari were planning 2 and Schumacher would need to get ahead to make full use of his lighter fuel load.
Behind these two, Giancarlo Fisichella was putting some space between himself and Jacques Villeneuve. This was partially due to Villeneuve coming under increasing pressure from Rubens Barrichello who had got the Stewart working well again and had already passed Heinz-Harald Frentzen. This pressure increased until, on lap 8 Barrichello slipped past the Canadian into fourth place, the highest position for a Stewart so far in 1998.
Once past the Williams, Barrichello set about catching the Benetton in front of him but was unable to close on Fisichella and the 1.2-second gap remained fairly stable. Behind Barrichello, Villeneuve was starting to come under pressure from Heinz-Harald Frentzen who had by now got into his rhythm.
The gaps that drivers had fought to build up were soon to evaporate as Pedro Diniz ran wide a lap later and when he rejoined deposited a huge sod of turf on the track. The looseness of the grass was down to the track maintainers laying new turf just before the Grand Prix to replace the dead vegetation that had been there previously.
With such a large amount of material on the track there was little option for the race officials but to bring out the safety car again. This time it stayed out for 3 laps, the race getting underway again on lap 17.
Yet again the leading pair streaked off into the distance, pulling out 4 seconds over Jacques Villeneuve (Barrichello having pitted in the safety car period) in a little over a lap. Yet again, the gap was not going to last for long as Mika Salo had a part break on his car sending him heavily into the wall. The assumption of Arrows is that the impact suffered at the restart weakened some part of the car which then broke when subjected to the high stresses of racing.
This, combined with Herbert's Sauber stranded at the hairpin caused the safety car to come out for a third time and also coincided with the retirement of David Coulthard whose McLaren slowed dramatically and subsequently retired from the race. This is the first time in 1998 when at both McLarens have failed to finish, but I doubt that this is anything other than bad luck and certainly not the "chink in the armour" that many seem to think it is.
The safety car offered many drivers the chance to take on fresh rubber and fuel without losing too much track time (although they would lose more positions than normal) and so several came into the pits before the field had a chance to form up, including Michael Schumacher.
The Ferrari team performed a flawless stop and Schumacher took off down the pitlane and into another controversy. As he left the pitlane he came across the track to take the racing line, but apparently did not see Heinz-Harald Frentzen who was coming down the pit straight at full speed. As the Ferrari moved onto the racing line, the Williams driver was forced to take avoiding action that ultimately left him in the gravel trap and out of the race.
Michael Schumacher later made comments that he had not seen Frentzen when he emerged and his apology to his former team mate from the Class C Sauber-Mercedes sportscar team seems to bear out this comment. Some, however, point to this incident as proof that Schumacher needs to be reined in before he causes even more problems, but this seems to be a little tough on him. Michael Schumacher makes mistakes like everyone else and both this and the incidents at Monaco are just examples or errors in judgement.
The stops and accidents left the top 10 looking like this at the start of lap 21:
Fisichella -> 0.900s ->Villeneuve -> 1.900s -> M.Schumacher -> 0.700s -> Hill -> 0.900s -> Magnussen -> 0.700s -> Nakano -> 0.700s -> Panis -> 0.600s -> Tuero -> 0.700s -> Wurz-> 1.000s-> Irvine
On the end of lap 21, the safety car came into the pits and the race was on again.
Immediately Jacques Villeneuve attempted to seize the moment and get past Giancarlo Fisichella around the outside into turn 1. What looked like being the overtaking move of the season so far turned into a bit of a joke as Villeneuve outbraked himself and slid into the gravel.
It didn't stop there though, as he was able to continue through the gravel crossed the track to get onto the grass at the far side of the corner. From here Jacques showed appalling judgement and rejoined the track in front of the bulk of the pack but obviously going much slower than the rest of the cars. The direct result of this was that Esteban Tuero stacked his Minardi into the back of the Williams knocking off his front wing and Villeneuve's rear wing.
While Villeneuve was able to get back to the pits and, after a 7-minute pitstop, get underway again, he was 3 laps behind the last runner in the field and would play no real part in the race again.
This left the top 10 looking like this on lap 23:
Fisichella -> 2.600s -> M.Schumacher -> 1.100s -> Hill -> 2.000s -> Magnussen -> 0.700s -> Nakano -> 0.200s -> Panis -> 3.300s -> Wurz -> 0.400s -> Irvine -> 0.500s -> Barrichello -> 2.100s -> Rosset
The gap that the Villeneuve accident had handed to Giancarlo Fisichella started to shrink as Schumacher got on with the task in hand. With the Benetton on a one-stop strategy and the Ferrari on two (with one already taken) the race was shaping up to be provide a great fight for the victory.
After Shinji Nakano lost out to Panis, Wurz and Irvine on laps 28 and 29 the order remained unchanged until lap 35 when Michael Schumacher was called in for a 10-second stop-go penalty for forcing Heinz-Harald Frentzen out of the race after his first stop.
Although the German driver was able to get back underway without any problems, he had dropped into 3rd place, 3 seconds behind Damon Hill. Although the Ferrari was clearly much faster than the Jordan, the 1996 World Champion was not about to let his arch rival take second place off him without a fight.
On lap 37, the battle came to a peak when Hill and Schumacher exited the Casino hairpin nose to tail setting up a good run down the following Casino straight.
As expected, the Ferrari stayed in the slipstream of the Jordan until the two cars were almost touching, whereupon Schumacher jinxed out to the right in order to pass. Hill, seeing this in his mirrors, also moved right blocking the path of the German. Almost immediately, both cars swerved back to the left in formation, Hill blocking Schumacher's path again. Next, Michael pulled right once again and seemed far enough forward to get past, but Hill had other ideas and moved to block again but this time the Ferrari was almost alongside and both cars swerved away from each other hurriedly to avoid the impending crash.
All this action distracted Schumacher sufficiently to make him miss his braking point and forced the Ferrari to cut out the chicane onto the start-finish straight. Luckily for him, he didn't gain any ground on the Jordan (which was already behind) and thus avoided a second stop-go penalty.
As usual, both drivers had differing opinions on the incident with Hill saying it was just good racing and Schumacher believing Hill had put them both in a dangerous situation. From the outside, it seemed that Hill had crossed the boundary from tactical driving to wild blocking, but there never really appeared to be much chance of the cars having an accident as both drivers are hugely experienced F1 drivers.
Regardless of who was right and who was wrong, both drivers continued with the race unabated and Schumacher started to close on Fisichella who was by now over 22 seconds ahead of the Ferrari driver.
Lap 39 saw Hill pit for fuel and tyres, but he was in soon after suffering from a problem with his engine sensors that ultimately forced him into retirement on lap 43.
On lap 40 Olivier Panis dumped his Prost AP01 into a gravel trap after it appeared something on his car broke, ending a disappointing weekend for both him and the team.
The defining moment in the race came on lap 44 when Giancarlo Fisichella came into the pits for his only stop of the day. If he would be able to get out of the pits ahead of Michael Schumacher, the race would surely be his but if Schumacher were to get ahead he would be able to build up a cushion before his final stop. With Schumacher 17 seconds back it was always going to be close, but despite the best efforts of the Benetton crew, Fisichella emerged just behind Schumacher. With his heavier fuel load and cold tyres the Italian dropped to 7.4 seconds behind the German by the end of lap 45.
With Schumacher sure to be within a few laps of his final stop, the name of the game for him was to get as far ahead of Fisichella as possible to ensure he didn't have to get past the Benetton in order to win. Showing total commitment everywhere on the circuit, Schumacher started to bring the lap record down almost every time around the track and so, on lap 49, the top 10 looked like this:
M.Schumacher -> 16.600s -> Fisichella -> 33.700s -> Irvine -> 14.000s -> Wurz ->1.900s -> Barrichello -> 17.900s -> Magnussen -> 0.800s -> Nakano -> Rosset -> Tuero -> Diniz
On lap 50, the race was decided when Schumacher peeled off at the chicane and went into the pits for the third time. The stop was a short one and as Schumacher emerged from the end of the pitlane, Giancarlo was still a fair way behind him coming up the start-finish straight.
With Schumacher and Fisichella carrying similar amounts of fuel and the Ferrari shod with new Goodyears rather than the slightly worn Bridgestone tyres on the Benetton, there seemed little chance of the former World Champion being caught by the Italian driver. Fisichella also seemed of the same opinion and dropped back, apparently content to keep 2nd place safe rather than risk it all to try and catch and then try to pass Schumacher.
On lap 53 Esteban Tuero retired from the race suffering from an electrical problem that the team had noticed worsening from their telemetry computers.
This meant that on lap 57 the field looked like this:
M.Schumacher -> 7.500s -> Fisichella -> 45.800s -> Irvine -> 1.900s -> Wurz -> 7.300s -> Barrichello -> Magnussen -> Nakano -> Rosset -> Diniz ->Villeneuve
This was the order the field finished the race in, with Schumacher getting even further ahead of Fisichella before he crossed the line.
Michael Schumacher was clearly happy about the victory, but his body language suggested that it had not occurred in the manner that he would have liked, what with the McLarens retiring and the incident with Frentzen clouding his performance in many eyes. The Ferrari team, however, was overjoyed with both drivers on the podium and 14 points in the bag where McLaren had scored none at all. Second placed Fisichella was also extremely happy and thanked almost everyone who had had a hand in his second successive 2nd place finish.
The Result (69 Lap Race)
M. Schumacher (Ferrari) G|
Fisichella (Benetton-Playlife) B
Irvine (Ferrari) G
Wurz (Benetton-Playlife) B
Barrichello (Stewart-Ford) B
Magnussen (Stewart-Ford) B
Nakano (Minardi-Ford) B
Diniz (Arrows) B
Villeneuve (Winfield-Williams) G
Tuero (Minardi-Ford) B
B: Bridgestone G: Goodyear
1h 40m 57.355s|
+ 1m 00.058s
+ 1m 03.232s
+ 1m 21.512s
16 laps: electronic
Fastest Lap (47) - Michael Schumacher, Ferrari, 1m19:379s