Motor Racing: Schumacher crash lets in Hakkinen

Canadian Grand Prix: World champion takes full advantage after German rival makes costly error while in the lead
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The Independent Online
IT WAS a race that for the first 30 laps seemed set to thrust Michael Schumacher further into the lead of the World Championship. Instead, an extraordinary event left arch-rival Mika Hakkinen to leave Canada at the top of the points table for the first time this year after the German made a catastrophic error and ended his race in the wall.

In an event characterised by accidents, Hakkinen became the first driver to win a race in the wake of the safety car, which had been deployed when Heinz-Harald Frentzen crashed out of second place with only five laps left to run.

At the start Schumacher had cut ruthlessly across Hakkinen's bows to protect his advantage from pole position. But behind them mayhem ruled. As the three men who had collided in the first corner last year - Jarno Trulli, Jean Alesi and Alexander Wurz - got together again.

No sooner had the safety car entered the pits at the end of the first lap than it was needed again after Ricardo Zonta swiped the wall opposite the pits at the end of that second lap. He would not be the only one.

Racing resumed for the second time at the end of the seventh lap, with Schumacher again heading Hakkinen, David Coulthard challenging Irvine for third and Johnny Herbert challenging Frentzen for sixth. Before long the race had all the hallmarks of the Spanish GP, deemed to have been one of the dullest of the season. Hakkinen, it seemed, could either do nothing about Schumacher, or was waiting for the pit stop strategy to create an opening.

Damon Hill provided a momentary diversion when he clobbered the right rear wheel of his Jordan against the wall opposite the pits, ending an undistinguished drive in 11th place.

On the 20th lap Hakkinen began to challenge, setting a string of fastest laps as he edged closer to Schumacher, but Schumacher had soon re-established his advantage. Things were not looking bright for McLaren, especially as Coulthard had dropped a safe distance behind Irvine. This was F1, modern- style. A chess game, indeed. Entertainment for intellectuals, not the man in the street who needs to see action on the track.

But then it all came alive again as Ferrari's king fell off the board. At the end of his 30th lap, as he came up to lap Luca Badoer and a delayed Alex Zanardi, Schumacher repeated Hill's mistake. The Ferrari rode the kerb too hard going in, slid wide, and was claimed heavily by the unyielding concrete. From hero to zero in the blink of an eye, the German stalked angrily back to the pits. It was Spa 1998 all over again. A mistake of the most elementary nature, that suddenly threw the World Championship wide open.

"It was very clearly my mistake," Schumacher said. "I just lost it and hit the wall. I was trying to build up my lead that I needed for my pit- stop and everything went well until that moment.

"Circumstances are difficult down there and too many cars have got [hit] the wall there because there's a lot of dust."

He was right. Five laps later a third world champion bit concrete, when Jacques Villeneuve got the chicane wrong and banged his BAR hard into the wall. This time the safety car was fired up again. It was a new race again as the leaders rushed to take advantage of the safety car and the no overtaking rule to make their refuelling stops.

Hakkinen stayed ahead easily, but Coulthard's appalling luck continued when he collided with Irvine on the 41st lap as they fought for second place. Both men spun. Coulthard headed for the pits and a subsequent penalty, Irvine got his head down and began an impressive charge back up the field.

Now Hakkinen was out of sight, and attention switched to the Giancarlo Fisichella and Frentzen scrap for second place ahead of Ralf Schumacher and Herbert. But then along came Olivier Panis again, in his full intransigent mode as the backmarker who doesn't want to be passed.

While racing with Badoer he delayed Fisichella sufficiently to let Frentzen slip into second place, and send Rocco Benetton rushing down to harangue Alain Prost in the pit lane. It was all good theatre, unless you worked for Benetton.

As Hakkinen flew away, Frentzen and Fisichella sorted themselves out and left Ralf Schumacher and Herbert at the mercy of Badoer and Panis, who eventually would receive 10sec stop-and-go penalties. It was not enough.

Meanwhile, Irvine harassed Herbert mercilessly until the 53rd lap, when the Ferrari slid ahead in the last corner, obliging both men to take to the grass. Five laps later Irvine took Schumacher's scalp, too, and set off after Fisichella. But in turn both were catching a troubled Frentzen, who crashed heavily with only four laps to go when a brake disc appeared to shatter.

Out, for the fourth time, went the safety car. And out it stayed, leading Hakkinen, Fisichella, Irvine, Schumacher, Herbert and Diniz home in an historic precedent. For Hakkinen, it was a dream afternoon, but seventh place for Coulthard, just out of the points, was a summary of the Scotsman's desperate weekend. Altogether, it was an unsatisfactory end to what eventually became a dramatic event.

RACE DETAILS

1 M Hakkinen (Fin) 69 laps

(McLaren-Mercedes)

1hr 41min 35.72sec

2 G Fisichella (It) 69 laps

(Benetton-Playlife)

+0.7sec

3 E Irvine (N Ire) 69 laps

(Ferrari)

4 R Schumacher (Ger) 69 laps

(Williams-Supertec)

5 J Herbert (Eng) 69 laps

(Stewart-Ford)

6 P Diniz (Bra) 69 laps

(Sauber-Petronas)

7 D Coulthard (Sco) McLaren-Mercedes 69; 8 M Gene (Sp) Minardi-Ford 68; 9 O Panis (Fr) Prost-Peugeot 68; 10 L Badoer (It) Minardi-Ford 67; 11 H-H Frentzen (Ger) Jordan-Mugen-Honda 65; 12 A Zanardi (It) Williams-Supertec 50; 13 T Takagi (Japan) Arrows 41; 14 J Villeneuve (Can) BAR- Supertec 34; 15 M Schumacher (Ger) Ferrari 29; 16 P De la Rosa (Sp) Arrows 22; 17 D Hill (Eng) Jordan-Mugen-Honda 14; 18 R Barrichello (Br) Stewart- Ford 14; 19 R Zonta (Br) BAR-Supertec 2; 20 A Wurz (Aut) Benetton-Playlife 0; 21 J Alesi (Fr) Sauber-Petronas 0; 22 J Trulli (It) Prost- Peugeot 0.

Constructors' Championship: 1 Ferrari 55pts; 2 McLaren 46; 3 Jordan 16; 4 Benetton 14; 5 Williams 12; 6 Stewart 8; 7= Prost, Sauber 2; 9 Arrows 1.

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