#623 1998 British Grand Prix

2021-04-18 00:00

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#1998, Fulvio Conti, Davide Scotto di Vetta,

#623 1998 British Grand Prix

After the victory at Magny Cours, accompanied by a one-two finish that had been missing in Maranello for eight years, Ferrari team manager Jean Todt c


After the victory at Magny Cours, accompanied by a one-two finish that had been missing in Maranello for eight years, Ferrari team manager Jean Todt can also celebrate the renewal of his contract with the Italian team for another three years.


"We're halfway through the season and in two races we've made up 25 points on McLaren. I can't say it will always be like this, things in Formula One unfortunately change suddenly. I was about to celebrate my fifth year with Ferrari, it was not an easy challenge for me. We've had some very difficult moments and some wonderful ones, like the one-two finish in France. I'm proud of the team, the drivers, of having the trust of Montezemolo, and of the Fiat shareholders. Now I have three more years of hard work ahead of me: I found out about my reappointment from Candido Cannavò, editor of the Gazzetta dello Sport, who had been told by our president".


And while Schumacher and Irvine are busy at Silverstone for a test session, Ferrari's president, Luca di Montezemolo, in a long interview, praises the skills of his top driver, who, with the victories in Montreal and Magny Cours has reopened the fight for the World Championship:


"Another ten years will pass before those who have so much Formula One on their shoulders can see another performance like Schumacher's in Canada. In my opinion, it was Michael's best race in his three seasons with Ferrari. Every lap an improvement on his times, a true champion. I thought he wouldn't make it to the finish line because he was going so fast, and I feared he would retire with a fault at any moment; I feared above all for his brakes. Instead he won in a big way, repeating himself at Magny Cours in exemplary fashion. He's a real mastiff, and I love the aggressive way in which he tackles tests and races. It's no coincidence that when his former teammates talks about him they are unanimous in saying that he's from another planet".


Montezemolo also reveals a little anecdote about the German driver, which helps to further understand his approach to racing:


"Two years ago, at Monza, after he had hit those tyres while in the lead, I asked him if he coulissi avoid taking risks with so few laps to go. He replied: no, I always have to go fast because in the final you never know what can happen and you have to have the maximum possible advantage. We have to thank him if he overtakes Wurz as he did in Monte Carlo: if he hadn't, you would have called him a taxi driver. Do you think he's too aggressive? But if he wasn't around we'd have a world championship for taxi drivers".


And as for the usual thorny contractual issues:


"Schumacher's position is clear: next year he will race with Ferrari because he has a contract for the whole of 1999 and before Imola I told Todt to discuss extending Michael's contract. He is the star that Ferrari needs to win the world championship and we will do everything to keep him, as we know what he gives us in terms of dedication and performance. It won't be something that runs out in a short space of time, given that we are talking about a contract that runs to 2000 or 2001, but we are counting on dealing a long term agreement with him. Three years would be ideal to give the team stability. It's a solid, close-knit, responsive team, with which I am fully satisfied. How much would we like to win with him? Well, I'm tempted to say that we'd like four titles in a row. After all, to be at the top you need a champion, and he is one".


The same goes for Eddie Irvine, a driver who has shown himself to be extremely consistent, the perfect number two in a team like Ferrari:


"Eddie is doing what we asked him, even in France he went beyond my expectations by keeping Hakkinen's McLaren behind him, an important result for us, apart from the great joy of the double win. Irvine is Schumacher's ideal companion, I don't see anyone else in his place. The two are different in many ways, but they respect each other and integrate perfectly. And let's not forget that Eddie has done most of the development work on the tyres this year. We haven't talked about renewal yet, but we will soon. The intention is to continue with him, as he is doing really well".


The president also dwells on the renewal of Jean Todt's contract, which has already taken place, and does not miss an opportunity to praise the team manager:


"He has been with us for five years and is someone I trust completely, it was right to renew his mandate for at least another three years, to give the team stability. A lot of people said he was going to leave, but he's here to help Ferrari win a lot. He's working hard and I know he's doing well: after all, remember where we were five years ago when the eve of the races was anguish because you already knew you were leaving for the Grands Prix with no hope. It was right to trust Todt because of the way he knew how to organise the team, both inside and outside the races and tests".


The two victories in a row should not make us lower our guard, because according to Montezemolo, McLaren-Mercedes still has something more than the F300:


"The two wins in a row do not change our philosophy: we need to pedal hard, very hard, to stay at the top and grow further. Winning the championship will be very hard, but we have the means and the team to try. I wouldn't accept to tell you other stories. After Jerez '97, what else should we do but fight for the championship? Winning will be another story, but we will try with all our might. Besides, McLaren was already very strong in the second half of 1997, only it didn't have the reliability and the Bridgestone tyres, which made a big difference at the beginning of this season".


In conclusion, some regret for the disappointing results of a couple of races that could have ended differently:


"It's a pity for Schumacher's retirement in Australia and for the points left in Montecarlo, but this is a very tough championship: or should I remind you that Villeneuve, world champion last October, after eight races has still not managed to arrive on the podium? And he's not racing for any team, but for Williams. In any case, Schumacher has three more points than in '97 and the team six less: the number of victories is identical, three, so we are there as a balance sheet at mid-season. But the important thing is that the team is there, and it works great".


After the bad test at the traffic lights at Magny Cours, during the tests at the beginning of July at Silverstone, McLaren dedicated a large part of the first day to the starts. Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard used up a set of tyres each in an attempt to hone their skills in what is increasingly a crucial moment in racing. The same is true for the mechanics, who don't want to repeat the nightmarish stops they had in France, with the fuel filler that didn't fit properly in the opening of Coulthard's car, which suffered by having to stop several times to top up the fuel and not run out of gas. Hakkinen, still the leader of the World Championship, but with a reduced margin of sixteen points in only two races, accepted the challenge launched by Schumacher and declared that he had no reverential fear of the Ferrari driver:


"Schumacher is a tough nut to crack, we know that. But that doesn't mean I have to be afraid of him. I respect him, that's right. But I am also convinced that I can go faster, that I can beat him. Yes, Ferrari is catching up, and that's why we must not lose our cool. McLaren still has some advantages and we drivers will try to make the difference. We just have to work as we have done so far".


Two retirements this season, both due to Mp4/13 reliability issues, as also happened to team-mate Coulthard. The Finn manages to see a positive side to this:


"Fortunately, relatively speaking, they were always different problems. The car is healthy, it happens in racing that something breaks, you always go to the limit. I'm not surprised by Ferrari's progress, on the contrary, the opposite would have been strange. We'll arrive at the end of the championship in a balanced situation. But honestly I would be disappointed if Ferrari were to overtake us in performance. I have a lot of confidence in my team. Silverstone is the good occasion to re-establish the distances".


On Thursday 9 July 1998, Silverstone was covered by grey clouds and the usual British rain that came and went. In view of a wet race, Schumacher is obviously optimistic, aware of his capabilities on a damp tarmac, even though on this circuit he expects the McLaren to set the pace again. For Schumacher, there is also a discouraging fact to dispel: he has never won at Silverstone.


"I've never won here at Silverstone, it's true, unfortunately. But let's be clear: it doesn't bother me, I sleep very well at night. This is a historic place in motorsport, a land of pioneers, the history of racing has been made here, and it would certainly please me, as it would any driver, to be able to win here. It didn't happen, alas, but I'm not worried about that. I will try again this time and I hope it goes well. After all, I have a car that can allow me to win. I already said at Magny Cours that we have made great progress with the tyres, that the situation has certainly improved for us, but that in some races it can go well and in others badly. And that is exactly what could happen here. We still don't have the same aerodynamic efficiency as our rivals. We're working on that, I know a lot of things are being prepared, but here we only have a few refinements, nothing really new. However, I've seen in testing over the past few days that we're not doing badly at all, and we can beat ourselves. I read in the newspapers that McLaren and its drivers made a lot of mistakes and that this would benefit Ferrari. Frankly, I don't think I see that many mistakes, apart from Coulthard's refuelling in France. But it wasn't that mistake that benefited us, it was the work done in Maranello".


With his platinum blond hair giving way to purple, a new hairstyle that Michael Schumacher doesn't like much ("honestly he looked better when he was platinum blond, now he looks like an old, tormented child"), Jacques Villeneuve is unlikely to be able to repeat himself on the British track, he, who has won the last two editions of the Grand Prix; the Canadian, however, announces an aggressive Williams capable of fighting with the leaders, even if not yet at the level of McLaren and Ferrari. After that, he adds another item to the list of criticisms directed at Schumacher, when asked for his opinion on the possibility of introducing a written code of conduct:


"It seems to me a difficult thing to achieve. You simply need mutual respect. Of course, once you see what some people do, you pay them back in kind".


Schumacher prefers to reply with a peremptory no comment. There is also a great desire for revenge at Jordan.

The British team was the fastest car at the end of the tests of the previous week, a sign that the competitiveness of the 198 is increasing, as Damon Hill also confirmed:


"I think we can improve, not so much to attack McLaren or Ferrari, but to get close to Williams and Benetton. I have been impressed by our aerodynamic and set-up developments".


On Friday, Schumacher's less-than-optimistic predictions seemed to be confirmed: Coulthard and Hakkinen led the way, although their day was marred by the fact that both were fined for speeding in the pit lane; eight hundred dollars for Hakkinen, three thousand for Coulthard. In third and fourth position are the two Williams, as lively as ever this season, with Villeneuve declaring:


"There are some changes on our cars. Apart from the long wheelbase, the bellies have been shortened. And in qualifying we'll have a special engine with some extra horsepower, which never hurts. I'm pretty confident, it helps to keep morale high".

Irvine stopped in fifth position, while Schumacher did not go beyond seventh place. The native of Kerpen, however, is not worried:


"I'm not too worried, because I only used one set of tyres, against the two that all those in front of me have fitted. However, the car is not perfect, it is unstable at the back. The asphalt conditions have changed and the wind is coming from a different direction too. In any case we have to work hard to find a good set-up. We can improve, but I expect the work to be harder than it was in France".


On Saturday, in addition to the usual qualifying sessions, the day is characterised by the debut of the Formula One two-seater. Martin Brundle at the wheel and Max Mosley sitting behind him, took a two-seater McLaren onto the track to the general curiosity of those who attended the event. The car runs five laps, after which the FIA president gets out of the car and shows Ron Dennis his trembling hands.


"I went back thirty years and felt the same emotions as when I was racing. Only now the grip is extremely better. I didn't have any problems with my neck muscles in the corners, but I think after thirty to forty laps it can get heavy, you have to be in great shape to drive a Formula 1 car today. I wasn't too scared, but when we went into the first corner it didn't seem possible that we would be able to stay on the track".


Says Mosley, as soon as he is feels allowed to speak. The McLaren, the one with only one seat, continues to be the absolute star of qualifying. Hakkinen took pole, his sixth of the season and the ninth for the Anglo-German team, which for the moment, at least in qualifying, was still unbeatable. At Hakkinen's side, however, there won’t be David Coulthard, but the last person Ron Dennis would have wanted on the front row next to his driver. Michael Schumacher even gave the impression of being able to take pole from his World Championship rival during his last attempt, with 76 thousands of a second ahead of Hakkinen's time in the first sector, but then a wheel lock and consequent widening of the trajectory relegated him permanently to second position, four tenths from the pole. Looking ahead to the race, Schumacher promises a battle:


"Anything can happen in the race, but we are in a position to do very well. Overtaking Hakkinen at the start would mean having done half the work, but if I don't manage it, then it will be difficult to pass him. I would be left with the possibility of pit stops, and this is something we have to study well until before the start".


Then, talking about the possibility that the race could be conditioned by rain, the German driver admitted: "So far we've been a bit lucky because in the wet we were able to win because we made the right choices first. There hasn't been a real wet race this year and it's all to be seen with the '98 tyres. We know that ours are good, but we don't know much about the others, we don't have any certain references, there are many unknowns. To be honest, I have to say that I don't like racing in the wet. I prefer the dry, you take fewer risks. And it's not true that I'm better in the water, we all know how to drive well in those conditions, maybe I've been luckier for that reason I mentioned earlier, having made the right choices with the help of the team. But if it rains, I'm not backing down, I'll do my part, but I don't wish it. Jacques Villeneuve brings for the first time his Williams in the second row, showing that finally the reigning champion team is recording some concrete improvement on the disappointing FW20. Jacques is third, eight tenths from Hakkinen but ahead of Coulthard, only fourth.


"Here I am. I'm really happy to be back here: now I'm ready to fight. Now I have to try to get a good start. McLaren is maybe out of reach, but with Schumacher I can fight, I can catch him. I have to say that after Magny Cours there were encouraging signs. At Williams the right grit is back, a good job has been done. Now we can have our say. We're at the limit with the car, but we can do even better. I've shown that I'm a guy who never gives up. I didn't stand still after last year's victory. These first few months have been good training for my morale. I will need it starting from this race and for the fight from here to the end".


Irvine, Frentzen, Hill, Alesi and Herbert followed, all drivers on Goodyear tyres, confirming the reversal of the trend that now sees the tyres of the American company, if not more performing than the Bridgestone ones, at least on a par. In tenth and eleventh position the Benetton cars of Fisichella and Wurz, struggling with problems of set up but also, precisely, of tyres. In fact, the Italian team attacks the Japanese brand, accusing them of working above all for McLaren, to whom the best resources and the greatest attention are given. On Sunday July 12, 1998, rain began to fall on Silverstone in the morning. The grey weather of the British summer didn't certainly put Bernie Ecclestone in a bad mood, who woke up in the mood for jokes and decided to have a few laughs behind McLaren's back. Before the usual warm-up before the race, FIA staff placed a 1930s-era fuel station near the British team's pit lane, superimposing a strip of Mobil, the fuel used by the Silver Arrows, over the original BP logo. Ron Dennis asked what the station was for, and the prompt response from the man sent by Ecclestone is:


"A little help from Bernie, to avoid the refuelling problems you had at Magny Cours".

A little teasing that the rigid Ron doesn't like much. In the meantime, the warm-up is run on extreme wet weather tyres, making it a short but important session to get a feel for the track in wet conditions. In fact, at 2:00 p.m., when the race is about to start, although the rain is light, the track is wet in several places, so the drivers decide to mount intermediate tyres. All except the Stewart drivers make the risky choice of fitting dry tyres. A gamble that will not pay off. When the lights go out, Hakkinen takes a good start, as does Schumacher who joins him, while Jacques Villeneuve has an unhappy start and has to give up his position to Coulthard and Jean Alesi, the absolute protagonist of the start as he rises from eighth place to fourth. Also to be forgotten was the start of Eddie Irvine, who at the end of the first lap was in tenth position. However, the Northern Irishman didn't lose heart and in a couple of laps he got rid of Wurz and Herbert. Getting rid of Villeneuve right away was undoubtedly a great relief for Coulthard, who risked losing contact with the leading duo in case he had to fight with the Canadian for the third place: on the contrary, in this way the Scot could run away from the rest of the group together with Hakkinen and Schumacher. After four laps of great pressure on the leader, Schumacher makes a mistake but manages to keep his position on Coulthard. The German, however, appeared to be in trouble, so much so that in the end he had to give up second place to Coulthard, who surprised him with a spectacular overtaking manoeuvre at Abbey corner. Even behind the leading trio there were battles: Alesi took off the Williams cars, that in the meantime were fighting among themselves, with Frentzen who got the better of Villeneuve; Irvine, meanwhile, passed Damon Hill at Stowe corner even from the outside. The second Ferrari's driver was inspired, and also Villeneuve didn't represent an insurmountable obstacle for him, even if the overtaking in question was facilitated by a long run of the reigning World Champion, who in this first phase of the race just didn't manage to get familiar with the damp asphalt. A few more laps and it was Frentzen's turn to step aside, handing over to Irvine the fifth position.


Ralf Schumacher made an exceptional comeback: started from the bottom of the grid, because of the disqualification received by the marshals for having broken Article 13.3 (at the post-qualifying checks it was contested the fact that the driver's legs touched the hundredth part of the cockpit, something forbidden by the regulations, as well as Olivier Panis), the young Jordan driver rolled up his sleeves and after about ten laps he was already twelfth. After thirteen laps, his teammate Damon Hill was the first victim of an increasingly treacherous asphalt: while he was chasing Villeneuve, in eighth position, the former Williams ended up in a spin and had his engine turned off. Not even his home race, unfortunately for him, will be the Grand Prix that will give him the first championship points. Mistakes were just around the corner, especially when it started raining again, and two laps later it was Frentzen's turn to say goodbye to the company and retire after going off the track. The Stewart-Fords of Barrichello and Verstappen, who had started on dry tyres, had to surrender to the fact that the track would not dry, and after hoping for too long that this would happen, they returned to the pits to mount extreme wet weather tyres, imitated in a short time by many other drivers, such as Villeneuve, Fisichella and Wurz. On lap 20 Michael Schumacher also made his first pit stop, but he chose to fit a new set of intermediate tyres. Then Coulthard came back in, who also opted for intermediate tyres, after which it was the turn of Alesi and Irvine, who stopped at the same time and thanks to excellent work by the Ferrari mechanics, the Northern Irishman was back on track ahead of the Frenchman, in fifth position, just behind the other Sauber driven by Herbert who had not yet stopped and easily overtook him to reach fourth place, thus completing an exciting comeback. Hakkinen is among the last drivers to stop, and somewhat surprisingly the race leader replaces the intermediates with a set of full-wets; McLaren then decides to differentiate their strategies. Johnny Herbert, the only one who didn't stop, was in the middle of the points zone before a spin ousted him prematurely from the race. Thanks to a push from the stewards - forbidden by the regulations - Herbert restarted but went straight back to the pits as he would have been shown the black flag anyway. 


Halfway through the race, Hakkinen was leading on extreme wet weather tyres, followed by Coulthard and Michael Schumacher, three and eight seconds apart respectively, but on intermediate tyres. Irvine, fourth but at a sidereal distance from the first three, preceded Alesi and Ralf Schumacher, who entered the points zone after Herbert's retirement. In the meantime, the rain first intensified and then seemed almost to stop, but after a while it began to fall again with insistence on the track; this meant that the gap between Hakkinen and Coulthard never came to zero, and on the contrary, with the umpteenth downpour the Finnish driver increased his advantage over his direct pursuer. On lap 37, the two Silver Arrows are caught up in lapping, which is even more difficult in such a situation. Coulthard was about to overtake the Tyrrell of Takagi at the Abbey bend, but his McLaren became uncontrollable and ended up in the gravel, a few metres from the barriers. The Scottish driver's race is over. His rain hopes are reduced to zero. A real downpour is falling on Silverstone, consequently everyone goes back to the pits to mount extreme wet weather tyres; also Hakkinen, whose initial choice turns out to be right, and an unlucky Ralf Schumacher, who short time before had come back for his second stop and had still mounted intermediate tyres (a stop during which he nearly ran over an inattentive Patrick Head, who crossed the pit lane just at the exact moment when the Jordan was about to arrive). The third pit-stop relegates the young German out of the points zone, at least for the moment. Arrived at the 40th lap, the track is by now flooded with water and therefore at the limit of practicability: Verstappen, Trulli, Barrichello and Panis retire all after having had to experience the unpleasant phenomenon of aquaplaning. An experience that Mika Hakkinen also has, who at the entrance of the Bridge bend gets into a spin at an unheard-of speed. Paradoxically, this helps him, as the McLaren crosses the grass and gravel without bogging down, and therefore the Finn, despite the great fright can resume his race, although he does so with a damaged wing. The advantage over Schumacher, second, still amounts to almost forty seconds. On the 44th lap, however, the race direction takes the inevitable decision to send in the Safety-Car, waiting for the rain to stop and the track conditions to improve. In doing so, the gap between the two leading drivers is reduced to zero. 


Hakkinen, Schumacher, Irvine, Alesi, Fisichella and Wurz, this is the order of the standings after all the cars had joined the Safety-Car. Fisichella, however, had just been lapped by Hakkinen, and so now stands between the only McLaren left in the race and Schumacher, who consequently will not be able to make an immediate attack on his rival. Jean Todt wanted to make sure that his driver's loss of time was minimal, and before the Safety-Car left the scene, he went to the Benetton pit wall and had a chat with team manager David Richards, so that he could warn Fisichella to behave in an exemplary manner. On lap 50, the race began again. Fisichella immediately stepped aside and Schumacher was soon behind Hakkinen, who was clearly struggling with a damaged front wing that was causing him to lose downforce. The Finnish driver just resisted a lap to Schumacher's exhausting pressure: while running along Magotts and Becketts the leader of the world championship went long, ended briefly on the grass and allowed Schumacher to steal the first position from him. The end of the race is all in pain for him, since behind him looms Eddie Irvine, ready to overtake and give Ferrari and the fans another one-two after the one obtained in France. In the meantime, Ralf Schumacher had a heated battle with Alex Wurz for sixth place. At the Stowe corner, Ralf jumped to the inside and the overtaking seemed to be a done deal, but Wurz resisted without hesitation chasing the Jordan behind him. At seven laps from the end the race of an unlucky Alesi ended, author up to that moment of a very solid race that attested him in the fourth position. An electrical failure on the Sauber Petronas allowed Ralf Schumacher to enter the points zone, while the fourth place that previously belonged to Alesi remained in Fisichella's hands for a short time, as Alex Wurz managed to pass the Roman driver. Irvine was on Hakkinen's tail, but after a heavy spin coming out of Becketts the Ferrari driver sensed the danger and decided to just keep the third place. It seemed that we only had to wait for the chequered flag to officially declare Michael Schumacher the winner of the Silverstone Grand Prix, but three laps from the end the Ferrari mechanics came out of the pits and stopped at the lay-by: the race direction had sensationally imposed a Stop&Go of ten seconds on Michael Schumacher.


No one at that moment knew the reason. Perhaps it was because a yellow flag was disregarded, perhaps because he overtook Fisichella on the restart before crossing the line. Whatever the reason, Schumacher starts to push hard to increase the gap to Hakkinen as much as possible. The last lap begins, Schumacher has not yet returned to the pits and the advantage over Hakkinen is around twenty-three seconds. Michael drives through the last corner and, to the general astonishment, takes the pit lane. While the chequered flag is waving, he crosses it going through the pitlane, and only afterwards he stops on his pit lane to serve the ten second penalty. Schumacher then serves his penalty but does so after crossing the finish line. Next came Hakkinen, followed by Irvine, Wurz, Fisichella and Ralf Schumacher, undoubtedly driver of the day thanks to his fantastic comeback from the last row to the points zone. A performance that finally allows both him and Jordan to gain the first points in the championship. Michael Schumacher arrives in the parc fermé, where an atmosphere of general indecision reigns, as there is not the slightest idea of what is going to happen. Never, in fact, has there been anything like it. In the meantime, the top three are on the podium, and Michael is celebrating his third win in a row, his fourth of the season and his first on this track. It took the stewards almost four hours to reject McLaren's appeal regarding Ferrari's handling of the penalty, but what really happened? At 3:15 p.m. Michael Schumacher overtakes Fisichella under yellow flags, before crossing the line following the exit of the Safety-Car, but the stewards sent a notification to Ferrari at 3:46 p.m., or 31 minutes after the offence, and according to Article 57 the stewards must, no later than 25 minutes after the offence occurred, give written notice of the penalty to a representative of the team concerned. The stewards therefore acted six minutes late and the penalty imposed on Schumacher was cancelled. A gross error on behalf of the stewards, who therefore confirmed the order of arrival and no alternative punishment for Schumacher. In a press conference, still in the dark about the mess made by the race stewards, Schumacher states:


"It was all so confusing. There was nothing left at the end when I saw the box calling me and I couldn't understand why. I was thinking about a fuel problem, certainly not the fact that I might have committed an offence. Honestly in these conditions it was difficult not only to see the yellow flags but anything else. I don't know if I was penalised for overtaking Fisichella, but I think I did it after the finish line and not before, I know that the rules forbid it".


Jean Todt is also over the moon, talking about a wonderful weekend:


"It's a pity that we didn't know the result at the end of the race, but apart from the jokes, this is a wonderful victory for Ferrari".


The Cavallino boss also explains how they experienced the last, agitated phase of the race at the pit wall:


"We don't know exactly why they awarded that penalty. With the rain, Schumacher probably didn't see a yellow flag. The fact is that they brought us a communiqué that didn't say exactly what we had to do. The stewards couldn't tell us, so we decided to stop Schumacher himself. The problem was that the radio wasn't working properly, so we couldn't talk to the driver. When he left the pits we didn't know what the situation was. But let's end the controversy here, for Michael this is his fourth win. Irvine drove another great race and we are satisfied".


A race led for fifty-one of the sixty laps and then handed over to his direct rival. Hakkinen's mood at the end of the race was certainly not one of the best, especially because the advantage in the general classification was getting smaller and smaller:


"It's true, I am extremely sad about how this race ended, until the rain was normal and not yet a deluge everything seemed to work perfectly, I had the race under control, the pit stops had not created the slightest problem. Then the rain became impossible, so heavy that it flooded the track. Driving in those conditions was very difficult and exasperating. I did two laps in these conditions, and then I ended up going off the track and breaking the front deflector. With no downforce ahead, the situation became tragic: every time I took a corner at high speed, the car tended inexorably to go straight. I had become six or seven seconds slower than normal, and I realised that the only thing to do was to try to get to the end. I didn't know exactly how bad the damage to the baffle was, but the pits told me everything looked fine. I tried to push on and you all saw what happened: at Becketts corner I just turned and the car went straight into the gravel. There was no way I could oppose Schumacher, it was clear by then, and in the end this placement, as things went, should be considered positive".


His team-mate David Coulthard had an even worse time of it, with only one point gained in four races he can abandon all dreams of glory. The Scotsman, at the end of the race, states:


"I wanted to do better here than on any other occasion, I really wanted to but I couldn't beat this rain. In the first part of the race it seemed to me that the progress was continuous, then I found myself in front of some lapped drivers who were raising a wall of water, I could hardly see anything and I ended up in a flooded area of the track, I realized too late that I was going out, and braking made the situation worse".


The disappointment of the two drivers is matched by the anger of the McLaren Mercedes management, expressed above all through the words of Jo Ramirez, who cries scandal:


"It's not at all nice to lose in this way, if they wanted Ferrari to win at all costs, all they had to do was tell us".


The sporting director of the Anglo-German team thunders on. Ron Dennis is also not happy, and through a press release issued by McLaren, warns:


"The team is very disappointed, it is clear that there was an infringement by Schumacher that had to be sanctioned. This is why we will insist on our protest action by appealing to the FIA".


Norbert Haug's reaction was decidedly more diplomatic:


"This Grand Prix already belongs to the past, but for us many positive things remain. We dominated for four-fifths of the race, when the Safety Car came on we had a 40 second lead and we lost it in an instant. We were looking for performance and reliability and we found it. This is a strong team and there's no controversy within us, we'll be back to winning soon".


To get back to winning and to do it as soon as possible, because the classification speaks for itself: Hakkinen fifty-six, Schumacher fifty-four; Coulthard thirty, Irvine twenty-nine. And in the constructors' championship, the Maranello team flies to 83 points, minus three from McLaren. In Hungary, for the tenth round of the World Championship, the Prancing Horse is preparing a sensational double overtaking move.


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