In the aftermath of his air crash in Lyon last week, David Coulthard could have been forgiven had his performance at Circuit de Catalunya here yesterday fallen short of expectations. Instead his supporting role in McLaren-Mercedes' one-two was dramatic confirmation of the 29-year-old Scot's resilience and commitment.
Mika Hakkinen swept home to a much-needed victory - his first in a troubled season - while Coulthard put the trauma firmly behind him to produce a performance that brought the Spanish Grand Prix to life on a day when Ferrari's luck was in short supply.
Michael Schumacher made the most of pole position to lead Hakkinen for the first 24 laps, but the first part of the race was notable only for the lack of action. During this time, the next 13 positions remained virtually static and the prospects of an overtaking manoeuvre seemed remote. Hakkinen was menacingly close to Schumacher, having reduced what was once a 3.3sec gap to less than half a second, but aerodynamic turbulence prevented a final attack.
But during his first pit-stop on that 24th lap Schumacher was mistakenly signalled by the "lollipop" man, Federico Uguzzoni, to leave before the refueller Nigel Stepney had completed his task. Ferrari's hapless chief mechanic was sent sprawling as Schumacher sped back into the lead, but it nevertheless seemed that Schumacher would retain his control despite Hakkinen's continuing challenge.
Things were unravelling in the Ferrari pit, however. Stepney was taken to hospital with a twisted ankle, as his deputy, Andrea Vaccari, stepped in to take on one of the least enviable jobs in the business. When Schumacher came in to refuel again on the 41st lap, Vaccari had trouble locating the nozzle correctly on the Ferrari's fuel tank. For an agonising 17.5sec the red car remained stationary.
Hakkinen was well on his way to victory by the time Schumacher was back in action, and Coulthard was now the big threat. The Scot had been delayed from the start when Ralf Schumacher beat him into the first corner in his Williams-BMW. They circulated nose-to-tail until Schumacher stopped on the 23rd lap. Rubens Barrichello in the second Ferrari, meanwhile, had been stalking both. Then Coulthard dropped to fifth when he selected second gear instead of first during his stop.
His second stop was slick enough to elevate him to third place, however, and his momentum carried him to Schumacher's Ferrari by the start of the 47th lap. Coulthard tried to overtake down the inside going into the first corner, only to be blocked as Schumacher moved across to the right.
"Michael's move was not at all fair," Coulthard said. "You are allowed to make one move but he made his incredibly late. Diehards will say that's racing, don't be a pansy, but I didn't think it was right. We arrived at the corner right on the limit, and it was a relief to get away with that. It was incredibly close."
A lap later the Scot tried the outside line, and this time the German had no answer to a breathtaking move that echoed Coulthard's pass on Barrichello at Silverstone.
Schumacher's problems were not over. The Ferrari was sliding precariously as one of his hard-compound Bridgestone tyres, which he alone of the front runners had chosen, was losing air.
On the 50th lap brother Ralf tried an adventurous lunge up the inside in a slow left-hander, and the fastest siblings in racing ran side-by-side to the next right. There, acknowledging that he was in trouble, Michael deliberately edged Ralf to the outside. As they made brief contact the way was clear for Barrichello to pounce through on the inside into third place. Michael pitted for a fresh set of tyres at the end of that lap, before resuming to finish a philosophical fifth.
"You cannot always have lucky races and today's did not go so well for us," said Schumacher, whose points lead is down to 14 over Hakkinen. "At least we scored some points, so I'm therefore only a little disappointed because everybody tried their best. As for the thing with Ralf..." He shrugged. "All I can say is that racing is racing." Ralf did not share that view. The two had strong words afterwards.
Hakkinen was understandably ecstatic. "This race last year was a turning point for us," he said. "I feel the same today."
Williams-BMW's satisfaction with Ralf Schumacher's fourth points finish of the season was tempered slightly when another polished performance by Jenson Button was denied sixth place with only four laps to run, as his car ground to a halt with another engine failure.
1. Mika Hakkinen (Finland) McLaren one hour 33 minutes 55.390 seconds (average speed 196.324 kph) 2. David Coulthard (Britain) McLaren 16.066 seconds behind 3. Rubens Barrichello (Brazil) Ferrari 29.112 behind 4. Ralf Schumacher (Germany) Williams 37.311 behind 5. Michael Schumacher (Germany) Ferrari 47.983 behind 6. Heinz-Harald Frentzen (Germany) Jordan 81.925 behind 7. Mika Salo (Finland) Sauber one lap behind 8. Ricrado Zonta (Brazil) BAR one lap behind 9. Giancarlo Fisichella (Italy) Benetton one lap behind 10. Alexander Wurz (Austria) Benetton one lap behind 11. Eddie Irvine (Britain) Jaguar one lap behind 12. Jarno Trulli (Italy) Jordan one lap behind 13. Johnny Herbert (Britain) Jaguar one lap behind 14. Marc Gene (Spain) Minardi two laps behind 15. Gaston Mazzacane (Argentina) Minardi two laps behind 16. Nick Heidfeld (Germany) Prost three laps behind 17. Jenson Button (Britain) Williams four laps behind Not classified (Did not finish) Jos Verstappen (Netherlands) Arrows 25 laps completed Jacques Villenueve (Canada) BAR 21 laps completed Pedro De La Rosa (Spain) Arrows one lap completed Jean Alesi (France) Prost one lap completed Did not start (failed to complete first lap) Pedro Diniz (Brazil) Sauber
Drivers' championship: 1. Michael Schumacher (Germany) Ferrari 36 points 2. Mika Hakkinen (Finland) McLaren 22 3. David Coulthard (Britain) McLaren 20 4. Rubens Barrichello (Brazil) Ferrari 13 5. Ralf Schumacher (Germany) Williams 12 6. Giancarlo Fisichella (Italy) Benetton 8 7= Jacques Villeneuve (Canada) BAR 5 7= Heinz-Harald Frentzen (Germany) Jordan 5 9. Jarno Trulli (Italy) Jordan 4 10. Jenson Button (Britain) Williams 3 11= Ricardo Zonta (Brazil) BAR 1 11= Mika Salo (Finland) Sauber 1
Constructors' championship: 1. Ferrari 49 points 2. McLaren 42 3. Williams 15 4. Jordan 9 5. Benetton 8 6. BAR 6 7. Sauber 1Reuse content