Motor racing: McLaren's day of total dominance

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THIS TIME there was no gentlemen's agreement, but the result was the same. Mika Hakkinen won the Brazilian Grand Prix as he liked, with David Coulthard again playing faithful second fiddle as the McLaren-Mercedes left their opposition for dead in a race rendered dull by their sheer dominance.

For the second grand prix running Hakkinen started better than Coulthard - Formula One's acknowledged getaway driver - and immediately the McLaren steamroller again rumbled into action. The silver cars drew away at a second a lap as Frentzen established himself in third place ahead of the duelling Ferraris of Eddie Irvine and Michael Schumacher.

The German former champion had also made a poor start, and it was not until the 10th lap that he was able to squeeze ahead of his No 2 as they headed for the first corner. Meanwhile, in a predictable repeat of his Melbourne form, Schumacher's younger brother, Ralf, had thrown away a strong qualifying performance, in which he had overshadowed team-mate Damon Hill, by running into a gravel trap on only the second corner.

The McLarens ran the pace they chose, despite the greater weight of fuel for their single stop strategy, with Hakkinen fractionally easing away from Coulthard each lap. After five laps the gap was1.1sec; after 10, 2.5. By 20 laps it was 4.8.

As Frentzen and the Ferraris chased in vain, Jacques Villeneuve, the world champion, was slowly overcoming a troubled qualifying to challenge Alexander Wurz's well-driven Benetton for sixth place.

However, the truth of Formula One's new regulations, was emerging once again. In qualifying trim the cars looked spectacular as they slid through corners, but in the race they were dull fare as the field played follow- my-leader lap after lap.

Whenever Coulthard narrowed the gap in traffic, Hakkinen would quickly restore the status quo, and interested centred on Schumacher's charge after Frentzen, which brought him on to the Williams' tail by lap 15; and Villeneuve's unsuccessful efforts to unsettled the impressive Wurz.

Schumacher was at one stage the fastest man on the track, but the McLarens always gave the impression of having a comfortable margin in hand.

The first pit stop for Schumacher provided some welcome relief on the 26th lap. The German resumed in third place, ahead of Frentzen, after his fellow countryman stopped a lap later. Just as in 1997 with the older regulations, the overtaking was taking place in the pits not on the track.

It was notable that at half distance Hakkinen was still lapping at similar speed on his original Bridgestone tyres to Schumacher on his fresh Goodyears. And it was clear that only an act of God, or the stewards was going to stop another McLaren walkover.

Coulthard made his sole stop on lap 36, resuming without the slightest danger of losing second place. Hakkinen's stop three laps later was also nicely judged as he made it just before coming on slow traffic. It was a little longer than Coulthard's, but the Finn resumed the race without losing his lead.

Further back the non-stop Wurz had moved up to third, but was under serious pressure from Schumacher and Frentzen, while Villeneuve was on a charge after Irvine who, after his stop on lap 27, had been held up behind Jean Alesi's Sauber, which was momentarily running seventh. Villeneuve made short work of both, but suffered the indignity of being lapped on the 49th tour.

Hakkinen set the fastest lap on lap 43 to cement a four-second lead over Coulthard, but Frentzen dropped away with his second stop on lap 45. A lap later Wurz's long run ended with a refuelling stop, but the Austrian rejoined behind Villeneuve and Frentzen, ready to fight again.

After 50 laps, Hakkinen was 4.3sec ahead of Coulthard, who was in turn half a minute ahead of Schumacher. Irvine was back to fourth ahead of Frentzen and Wurz, but both Ferraris had to stop again and it seemed that Williams strategy of using light fuel loads for the middle run was paying off. But it reckoned without Wurz, who came flying back at Frentzen in the best encounter of the race.

Schumacher made his last stop on lap 53, but stalled the engine. He exited the pits just in time as Wurz came speeding down the inside of Frentzen to grab fifth place, the Benetton taking up station right on the Ferrari's gearbox until Schumacher eased away. When Irvine, too, stopped, Schumacher and Wurz moved back to the third and fourth positions they held to the flag. What promise the race developed had come too late.

For McLaren's rivals - and particularly for Goodyear - it was another unwelcome reminder that they have a very large mountain to scale.

Brazilian Grand Prix

1 M Hakkinen (Fin) 10pts

McLaren-Mercedes 1hr 37min 11.747sec

2 D Coulthard (GB) 6pts

McLaren-Mercedes + 1.1sec

3 M Schumacher (Ger) 4pts

Ferrari + 1:00.5

4 A Wurz (Aut) 3pts

Benetton-Mecachrome + 1:07.4

5 H H Frentzen (Ger) 2pts

Williams-Mecachrome + one lap

6 G Fisichella (It) 1pt

Benetton-Mecachrome + one lap

7 J Villeneuve (Can) Williams-Mecachrome + one lap

8 E Irvine (GB) Ferrari + one lap

9 J Alesi (Fr) Sauber-Petronas + one lap

10 D Hill (GB) Jordan-Mugen- Honda + two laps

11 J Magnussen (Den) Stewart-Ford + two laps

12 J Herbert (GB) Sauber-Petronas + five laps.

All other cars failed to finish and were not classified.