Top Stories from the Sports pages of the International Herald Tribune,
Monday, August 16, 1999

Hakkinen Sweeps to Easy Victory in Hungarian Prix

By Brad Spurgeon International Herald Tribune
BUDAPEST - The McLaren-Mercedes team did exactly what it had to do to pull itself out of a two-race slump and keep its world title hopes alive, as its two cars came in first and second at the Hungarian Grand Prix on Sunday.

Mika Hakkinen led from start to finish in a largely uneventful but textbook-perfect race, covering the 77 laps around the 3.973-kilometer (2.4-mile) track in 1 hour, 46 minutes and 23.536 seconds, for an average speed of 172.524 kph.

His teammate David Coulthard was 9.7 seconds behind, followed by Eddie Irvine 27.2 seconds back in a Ferrari.

''It has been a while,'' said Hakkinen, who had not won a race since the Canadian Grand Prix in June. ''When I was driving, I was thinking this is the time if something will go wrong, it will go wrong. Everything went perfectly. There was no problem with the car.''

It was Hakkinen's 13th career victory, his fourth this season, and his first in Hungary.

He increases his second position in the drivers' title race to 54 points, just two points shy of Irvine, the championship leader, but the race's biggest loser.

''I was struggling with the rear of the car and struggling with the front of the car,'' said Irvine who won the previous two races. ''We were just hanging on by the skin of our teeth.''

''It's a disappointment,'' he added. ''The last two weekends were good weekends and this one was a bad weekend. Maybe the next weekend will be a good one and I will be smiling again.''

Hakkinen, 30, a Finn, started from pole position before a sellout crowd under hot and cloudy skies and with strong winds.

He got off to a good start, while Irvine had to fight with Giancarlo Fisichella in a Benetton to maintain his second place as the Italian drew up beside him down the straight after starting in fourth.

Irvine got through Turn 1 in front, but by the end of the first lap Hakkinen was 1.3 seconds ahead.

Hakkinen built his lead steadily to 9.2 seconds after the first 17 laps when he started to encounter the first of the back-markers.

But he never had a problem overtaking anyone and the outcome of the race was decided mostly on the superiority of the McLaren car. It enabled the team to work with less pressure during the two pit-stops, during which they out-performed Ferrari.

Coulthard lost his third-place starting position to both Fisichella and Heinz-Harald Frentzen, in a Jordan. Fisichella, an Italian, sped on ahead while Coulthard spent the first 20 laps less than a second behind Frentzen, who was in fourth, trying to pressure past the German. But Frentzen held his line.

Mika Salo, the Finnish driver who is replacing Michael Schumacher at Ferrari while the German driver recovers from a broken leg, started from only 18th place. He finished 12th, but gained no points for the team.

Irvine, 33, finally stopped for his first pit-stop on lap 29. It was done in 8.3 seconds. But Hakkinen stopped on lap 31 and the job was done in 7.4 seconds. This was sufficient to get him out ahead.

Coulthard was now in second after Fisichella and Frentzen both made pit-stops and gave up their places to the Scotsman. After Coulthard stopped on lap 33, he returned to take third place, behind Barrichello, who had not stopped.

But Coulthard eventually moved into third place after Barrichello stopped on lap 40.

By then Irvine was 17.2 seconds behind Hakkinen and Coulthard was following close behind Irvine. By the end of lap 44, Coulthard was up to 1.3 seconds from the Irishman and closing in on him.

''I was trying to stay as close as possible in order to put the pressure on him so he could make a mistake,'' Coulthard said.

Coulthard's wish came true after an epic simultaneous pit-stop between the two teams, which was perhaps the high point of the race, on lap 58. Whoever worked faster would come out first.

But when both teams performed in six seconds, it was Irvine who maintained the lead, since his pit-stop area is farther down the pit-lane than Coulthard's.

''I pushed like hell for the first half of lap,'' Irvine said. ''And while I was pushing hard, I lost the rear into corner five and just slid wide and came back on.''

Coulthard took second place and never let go. It was the first McLaren first and second place since the Spanish Grand Prix in May.

McLaren, with 90 points, draws up to within four points of Ferrari for the constructors' title lead with five races remaining in the season.

Frentzen came in fourth, Barrichello came in fifth and Damon Hill finished sixth in the other Jordan. Coulthard is now tied for third place with Frentzen with 36 points.

Jacques Villeneuve again failed to finish the race, retiring with a clutch problem on lap 60.

He has not finished a single race this season, and now has a Formula One record of eleven consecutive races not finished.

The next race is the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa on Aug. 29.

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