Top Stories from the Sports pages of the International Herald Tribune,
Monday, August 30, 1999

Coulthard Wins Belgian Grand Prix

Teammate Hakkinen Takes 2d Spot to Regain Lead in Championship

By Brad Spurgeon International Herald Tribune
SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium - An exciting start was followed by another routine race as David Coulthard beat teammate Mika Hakkinen to the finish of the Belgian Grand Prix on Sunday.

Coulthard's victory may have been routine, but the result builds the suspense for the four remaining races of the season. Hakkinen regained the lead in the drivers' championship by one point from Eddie Irvine. The McLaren-Mercedes team moved to the top of the constructors' championship for the first time this season and leads Ferrari by nine points.

''Mika made a bad start, I made a good start,'' Coulthard said. ''It's always been my favorite track. So to win here is great.''

Hakkinen did not shake Coulthard's hand after the race and did not spray champagne on the victory podium, but he denied that he was angry at the Scottish driver.

Had Coulthard let Hakkinen pass him, the Finn would have another four points.

After the race Coulthard was asked whether he had disobeyed team orders during the race by not letting Hakkinen pass. Coulthard hedged, saying he would only discuss such a thing in private and that, ''If there should be team orders it should be before the race and not after the race.''

The team was criticized at the beginning of last season when the Scot pulled aside to give the season-opening victory to Hakkinen in Australia.

Hakkinen, despite having been shown a command by his team during the opening laps to ''push,'' did not try to race too hard. ''There's no point to try to beat your teammate here,'' he said. ''He's not the biggest threat in the championship.''

Norbert Haug, the head of Mercedes who works closely with McLaren, said the team had not issued ''team orders'' to Coulthard.

''When you consider the title fight, it was a difficult decision not to apply team

orders but we decided to act in the sporting spirit,'' Haug said.

Coulthard covered the 44 laps around the 6.968-kilometer (4.33-mile) track in 1 hour, 25 minutes and 43.057 seconds, for an average speed of 214.595 kilometers per hour. Heinz-Harald Frentzen was third 22.9 seconds behind, and Eddie Irvine was fourth, 44.948 seconds behind the leader.

Coulthard started from second place on the grid, while Hakkinen was on pole. As the five red lights that mark the beginning of the race began to go out one after another, Hakkinen's car moved slightly, then stopped. As the final light went out, Coulthard made a perfect start, immediately overtaking Hakkinen.

At the first corner, Hakkinen's car touched Coulthard's and the Scot pulled wide. Frentzen, the German driver for the Jordan team, came around the corner tightly to try to overtake them both, but Coulthard pulled out ahead of Hakkinen and Frentzen fell into third.

Irvine who started in sixth slid into fourth by the first corner, passing both Ralf Schumacher and Damon Hill, Frentzen's teammate.

Despite the excitement, it was an unusually clean start for Spa, where last year 13 cars were involved in the biggest pile-up in the sport's history. The Spa track is one of the most demanding of the season because of its combination of tight slow corners, wide fast corners and long straights. It is also notorious for bad weather, but Sunday's race was run under sunny skies.

After Coulthard overtook him, Hakkinen fell back rather than counterattack. The Finn said he feared that his slight movement just before the start would bring him a 10-second penalty for a false start, but it did not.

After eleven laps Frentzen was already 14.9 seconds behind the leader and Irvine was 21.1 seconds back, and the race belonged to the two McLaren drivers.

Not even the two pit-stops would shake the lead away. Both Hakkinen and Irvine made their first pit-stop on lap 18, but the Northern Irishman was so far behind the Finn that it made no difference. Coulthard stopped a lap later, and within a few laps the order of the race was back to what it was at the start. Coulthard never lost the lead.

Michael Schumacher is expected to return for Ferrari in two weeks in Monza after missing four races with a broken leg. That means Mika Salo probably raced in his last race for Ferrari. He started in ninth and finished in eighth.

Irvine will probably cease to be the No. 1 driver for the team.

Jacques Villeneuve drove his British American Racing car across the finish line for the first time this season, but in second to last place. It put an end to a string of breakdowns and driver errors that saw the Canadian ex-world champion and IndyCar champion failing to finish in the first 11 races of the season.

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