Top Stories from the Sports pages of the International Herald Tribune,
Monday, September 13, 1999

Frentzen Grabs Victory After Hakkinen Spins

Finn's Mistake Helps Irvine Even Up Championship Battle

By Brad Spurgeon International Herald Tribune
MONZA, Italy - Mika Hakkinen threw his racing glove to the ground, stepped into the trees off the side of the track, dropped to his knees and buried his face in his hands.

The Italian fans, most of whom were dressed in Ferrari-red T-shirts, rose to their feet, cheered and honked their compressed air horns in delight.

The Finnish driver had just spun off Turn 1 on lap 30 of the Italian Grand Prix on Sunday. Hakkinen's error allowed Eddie Irvine, the Ferrari driver who finished sixth, to draw level in first place in the drivers' championship with only three races left.

Hakkinen, who led the race when he crashed, also handed the victory to Heinz-Harald Frentzen, a German driver with the Jordan team, who closed to 10 points behind the Finn for the title himself.

Frentzen covered the 53 laps around the 5.770- kilometer (3.585-mile) track in 1 hour 17 minutes and 2.923 seconds for an average speed of 237.938 kilometers per hour.

''I saw him there in the first chicane spinning off, and I couldn't believe it,'' Frentzen said about Hakkinen.

''He had a seven-second lead in front of me and by this time it was a consistent gap. I don't know what happened.''

It was Frentzen's third career victory and his second this season after he won the French Grand Prix in June.

Frentzen, 32, started from second place on the grid but got off to a bad start. Alex Zanardi, in a Williams-Supertec, glided into second position before the first turn, as Hakkinen, who started in pole position, sped off with a perfect start.

David Coulthard briefly challenged Frentzen for third but skidded off the track at Turn 10, and was passed by Ralf Schumacher in the other Williams, and Mika Salo in a Ferrari. Frentzen overtook Zanardi before the first lap was finished, but by then Hakkinen was 1.5 seconds ahead and had the race under control.

After the first two laps, two cars were out of the race and there was much spinning, wheel-touching and corner-cutting on the chicanes. The historic Monza track is the second fastest on the Formula One circuit after Hockenheim in Germany, and the first 15 laps produced rare intensity as a group of five cars raced behind Hakkinen and Frentzen at less than a second between each of them.

That was partly due to Zanardi's slow third place, as the Italian driver was trailed by Schumacher, his teammate. Behind Schumacher was Salo and behind him Coulthard. Behind Coulthard was Rubens Barrichello in a Stewart-Ford. On lap 18, Zanardi let Schumacher pass him, and a lap later Barrichello passed Coulthard.

While the cars behind were bunched up, Hakkinen built a lead of nearly eight seconds over Frentzen. That lasted until that 30th lap when Hakkinen shifted into the wrong gear, locked the rear wheels and spun off with a stalled engine.

''Of course I am upset with myself,'' Hakkinen said, adding, ''But I will make sure this is the last error I make this year.''

Frentzen said his only thought for the remaining 23 laps of the race after Hakkinen's spin was to preserve the car's engine and tires. ''I just wanted to bring my baby home,'' he said.

Irvine, in the other Ferrari, started in eighth and maintained that position until Hakkinen's accident. During the pit stop shuffle that immediately followed, he gained the sixth place and never let go. It gave him the single point he needed to pull even with Hakkinen in the title series.

''I was a bit cautious at the start as I knew it was vital for me to finish the race, and that might have cost me one or two place,'' Irvine said. ''I got one point and my rival got none. Now we are going to circuits which will suit our car much better.''

Schumacher came in second, Barrichello fourth and Coulthard fifth.

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