Frentzen takes win as Hakkinen stumbles
"I tried very hard to keep up with Mika, but he was just a bit too quick," said Heinz-Harald Frentzen, who had resigned himself to a second place finish to the Flying Finn in the Italian Grand Prix. Until lap 30 of the 53 laps race, that is. As Frentzen came into the first chicane for the 30th time he saw Hakkinen parked on the grass having just spun off under braking while holding a comfortable eight seconds lead.
"I couldn't believe it. I saw him spin off all on his own and thought maybe he had a lack of concentration or something," said Frentzen, who took over the lead and went on to his second win of the season for the Jordan team.
Hakkinen said later he had selected first gear instead of second into the corner which had caused him to spin. "It was my fault," said the frustrated Finn, who jumped from his car and threw his gloves to the ground in disgust at his own mistake, one which cost him the chance of pulling out a healthy lead over Eddie Irvine who is now equal in the World Championship standings after a sixth place finish.
Despite pressure from Alex Zanardi's Williams in the opening laps, and then even more pressure from his teammate Ralf Schumacher for the rest of the race, Frentzen kept a cool head and his four seconds lead all the way to the flag to take his second win of the year and third win of his career.
With only three races to go, Frentzen has also put himself right in contention for the 1999 World Championship just 10 points behind Hakkinen and Irvine and moving into third place overall two points ahead of David Coulthard.
Although it was a difficult weekend for Scuderia-Ferrari, Mika Salo made it a triumphant one for the Tifosi when a strong drive and good race tactics and pit stop from the team saw him take third place by the flag. "It was great to be on the podium again and it was particularly emotional in front of all the Italian fans," said Salo, who had started from sixth place on the grid.
Eddie Irvine made a cautious start from eight spot to come through to sixth by the finish behind David Coulthard, while Rubens Barrichello had driven a good race for Stewart-Ford to take fourth place behind Salo whom he had passed briefly only to lose out again at the pit stop.
"I made a bit of a cautious start as I knew it was vital to finish this race and that might have cost me one or two places. The car was still not too good in the race, but in the end I got one point and my nearest rival got none," said Irvine, who is now equal on points with Hakkinen for the title with 60 points each.
It was a hectic first lap of the race. Frentzen lost his second place to Zanardi at the start, but at Curva Grande his raced wheel to wheel to take it back again, a move which eventually ensured him his victory.
Alex Zanardi held his third place until lap 17 when he moved over to allow his team-mate ahead, Schumacher having won a wheel-to-wheel battle with Salo and Coulthard during the first lap. Lap 11 had seen Barrichello slipstream Coulthard down the pit straight before passing him in a classic out-braking move into the first corner which gave him his eventual fourth place.
Yet another demise for the McLaren team and a strong victory for the Heinz Harald Frentzen and the Jordan team has now set the stage for a thrilling four-way finish to the World Championship battle with three races to go.