Top Stories from the Sports pages of the International Herald Tribune,
Monday, September 27, 1999

Herbert Wins As Hakkinen Takes Lead

By Brad Spurgeon International Herald Tribune
NURBURGRING, Germany - Johnny Herbert drove his Stewart-Ford to victory in a topsy-turvy, accident-filled European Grand Prix on Sunday in which a battle between the two leaders for the drivers' championship took place at the back of the pack rather than at the front.

Finland's Mika Hakkinen, the defending champion, finished fifth in a McLaren-Mercedes, but took the lead in the season points standings with 62. Hakkinen could win the championship at the next Grand Prix in Malaysia on Oct. 17. The season ends in Japan on Oct. 31.

Herbert completed the 66-lap race around the 4.556 kilometer (2.8-mile) track in 1 hour, 41 minutes and 54.31 seconds for an average speed of 177.034 kilometers an hour. Jarno Trulli in a Prost came in second, followed by Rubens Barrichello in the other Stewart, who was third, and Ralf Schumacher, fourth.

Herbert had scored only two points this season, although the victory was the third of his career in Formula One. The other two were in 1995 while driving for the Benetton team.

It was the first victory for the Stewart team, which entered Formula One in 1997. The team's previous best finish was second at Monaco in 1997. But the team was bought by the Ford Motor Co. earlier this year and will change its name to Jaguar next year. The results strengthened the team's fifth place in the constructors' championship to 31 points, only 2 behind Williams.

The excitement of the race was foreshadowed by the threatening dark clouds on the horizon and two chaotic starts. The first start was aborted after Marc Gene in a Minardi, had a problem and raised his hand to abort the start.''

On the restart, at the first corner, Pedro Diniz, a Brazilian driver for the Sauber team, was hit by Alexander Wurz's Benetton. Diniz's car flipped over and skidded upside down on the grass off the side of the track. The roll bar that protects the driver's head and neck was demolished, but Diniz was removed from the wreck and signaled that he was all right as he was carried to a stretcher. He was uninjured.

After the accident, Heinz-Harald Frentzen, in a Jordan, was still in the lead after starting from the pole position. But Mika Hakkinen, who started third, overtook David Coulthard, his teammate, who started second. All three drivers have a chance of winning the drivers title, while the fourth driver in that race, Eddie Irvine, started from ninth place on the grid, but also got off to a good start, jumping from ninth to seventh place.

The race restarted on lap seven with 19 of the 22 cars left. But that gave time for the rain clouds to get closer to the track and set the stage for the second act. The four drivers at the front of the pack, Frentzen, Hakkinen, Coulthard and Ralf Schumacher, were stuck together in a group. Irvine fought a battle with Giancarlo Fisichella in a Benetton after Irvine had overtaken Olivier Panis in a Prost for sixth place on the first lap after the restart.

After 15 laps of cat and mouse between Fisichella and Irvine, the group of four in front only managed to break away by 8.9 seconds ahead of Fisichella. On lap 17, Fisichella slid slightly off the track, and Irvine got past him.

It looked like a formality now for Irvine to catch up to the leaders. But two laps later, it began to rain. This would be the beginning of a comedy of errors that saw most of the front-runners and the championship leading teams and drivers make mistake after mistake both on and off the track during pit stops.

Frentzen stayed out in front on tires designed for a dry race, as did Ralf Schumacher in the Williams. Schumacher first overtook Coulthard and then started for Hakkinen. But Hakkinen stopped for a tire change and fuel on Lap 20. Ferrari called in first Mika Salo, and then Eddie Irvine. Both pit stops were failures as Salo needed a change of front wing, while for Irvine the team had prepared the wrong kind of tire for one of the wheels. Salo's stop lasted 37.9 seconds and Irvine's lasted 28.2 seconds, which threw both drivers to the back of the pack.

While the rain then began to subside, both Hakkinen and Irvine went off the track, and by Lap 24, Irvine was in 12th place and Hakkinen was in 13th. The two leaders tied for the championship lead henceforth fought from the back of the grid.

After Lap 32, while leading the race by more than 17 seconds. Frentzen made a pit stop, as did Coulthard. Coulthard stopped in 7.4 seconds and Frentzen in 7.0. Frentzen went back on the track ahead, but he would not make it around the first corner, as he stopped with a suspected electrical problem.

Coulthard inherited the lead, but on Lap 35, the rain began to fall again. That's when Herbert made a decisive pit stop, put on tires designed for wet weather and began to plow his way through the field.

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