Top Stories from the Sports pages of the International Herald Tribune,
Monday, June 28, 1999

Frentzen Survives Rain To Win a Wild Race

Pit Stops Undo Hakkinen and Schumacher

By Brad Spurgeon International Herald Tribune
MAGNY-COURS, France - An afternoon of unpredictable weather Sunday helped create one of the season's most suspenseful Grand Prix races, as Heinz-Harald Frentzen drove to victory in the French Grand Prix.

Frentzen, a German who was still recovering from bruises and internal bleeding from an accident near the end of the Canadian Grand Prix two weeks ago, won a race that included six lead changes and numerous changes of fortune.

Frentzen, driving a Jordan-Mugen-Honda, covered the 72 laps of the 4.25-kilometer (2.64-mile) track in 1 hour 58 minutes and 24.343 seconds at an average speed of 154.965 kilometers an hour.

Mika Hakkinen, in a McLaren-Mercedes, finished second, 11.092 seconds behind. Rubens Barrichello, in a Stewart-Ford, who had started from pole position, was third. It was Frentzen's second career victory, and his first for Jordan. It was also the Jordan team's second ever victory.

Because of a torrential rainfall during Saturday's qualifying session, the race was atypical from the start. Hakkinen, the world champion and current leader in the driver standings, started from 14th position. Frentzen started in fifth, just ahead of Michael Schumacher.

The status quo seemed to have returned when David Coulthard, Hakkinen's team-mate in a McLaren, charged from fourth to first in the first six laps, and Hakkinen climbed to seventh.

But dark clouds were approaching. The first indication that the race was not going to be what it seemed came on lap 10 when Coulthard quit the race with a problem on his car

The lead went back to Barrichello, but Hakkinen had by then overtaken Schumacher. By lap 21, Hakkinen had passed Frentzen and Alesi and was second. Then the rain clouds finally let fall a deluge.

All of the leaders entered the pits within two laps to refuel and put on rain tires. Frentzen's pit stop said afterward that he felt his was to long, but his car had been filled with enough fuel to last the rest of the race.

''The car was heavy and I was worried about aquaplaning,'' he said.

The pit stops did not shake up the order of the race, but the rain did. Alesi spun off on lap 25, and the safety car came out to drive at the head of the field and slow the race.

Even while the safety car was out, five more cars spun off. The safety car stayed on the track for 10 laps before the rain abated. The race resumed on lap 36.

Within two laps, Hakkinen had spun out while trying to pass Barrichello at the Adelaide hairpin, where most of the overtaking in the race occurred. This put Frentzen into second and Schumacher in third. Hakkinen, who had climbed to second from 14th, fell back to seventh.

At the same hairpin, Schumacher overtook Frentzen for second place. After several unsuccessful tries, he finally overtook Barrichello for the lead on lap 44. But Schumacher had a problem changing gears. He went in for a long pit stop after lap 54 and slipped to sixth.

With fewer than 12 laps left, Hakkinen overtook Barrichello and gained the lead for the first time. But, he too went into the pits for fuel and Frentzen, who had overtaken Barrichello, took the lead.

Ralf Schumacher, in a Williams, overtook his brother two laps before the end to finish fourth. Michael Schumacher was fifth and Eddie Irvine, in the other Ferrari, came in sixth.

''This is exactly what racing should be,'' said Hakkinen.

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