Top Stories from the Sports pages of the International Herald Tribune,
Monday, May 8, 2000

Hakkinen Captures Spanish Prix

Coulthard Is 2d in Sweep for McLaren as Schumacher Finishes 5th

By Brad Spurgeon International Herald Tribune
BARCELONA - For the third straight year, Mika Hakkinen drove to victory in the Spanish Grand Prix. For the third straight year his teammate, David Coulthard, was second.

But Sunday's race was different from the previous two, which had been boring walkovers for the McLaren-Mercedes cars. This race contained drama both on the track and off it.

Hakkinen completed the 65 laps of the 4.73-kilometer (2.94 mile) track in one hour, 33 minutes and 55.39 seconds for an average speed of 196.32 kilometers an hour. Rubens Barrichello of Ferrari came in third, and the big loser was Barrichello's teammate, Michael Schumacher, who finished fifth. Schumacher's lead in the drivers championship was reduced to 14 points over Hakkinen.

Hakkinen, 31, had not won a race this season, while Schumacher won the first three. ''It feels like it has been a really long time,'' said Hakkinen.

Schumacher started the race from pole position. But it has now been 10 races, since the Hungarian Grand Prix last August, since the pole-sitter won the race.

Under sunny, warm skies, both Schumacher and Hakkinen, who started in second position, made poor starts. Schumacher swerved his car in front of Hakkinen to prevent the Finn from passing him at the first corner, but the two drivers ended up wheel to wheel going into the corner.

''I was on the outside, and the grip was really low,'' Hakkinen said, ''and I just had to give up.''

A battle between the other McLaren car, driven by Coulthard, and Barrichello in the second Ferrari allowed Ralf Schumacher in a Williams to come through the corner in third place after starting in fifth.

Michael Schumacher and Hakkinen immediately broke away from Ralf Schumacher, who slowed Barrichello

and Coulthard, then in third and fourth place. On a track where it is hard to pass, it seemed the race would be a replay of the boring ones of recent years.

The first indication things might go otherwise came after Jacques Villeneuve made a pit stop while driving in sixth place at Lap 21. His engine caught fire shortly after returning to the track, and he had to retire. ''I left the pits, and there was suddenly no throttle and a fire at the back of the car,'' Villeneuve said.

Then, on Lap 24, both Schumacher and Hakkinen pulled in for pit stops. The man whose team worked fastest would get out ahead. After 7.3 seconds, Schumacher started his car, but the mechanic who was filling it with fuel had not managed to remove the fuel hose from the car. The mechanic, Nigel Stepney, was thrown off balance and fell onto the rear right tire of the car and hit his head on the pavement.

While Stepney was carried off the grounds on a stretcher, Schumacher got out on the track ahead of Hakkinen, who had stopped in 11.6 seconds. The mechanic suffered only a twisted ankle, but Schumacher had lost speed.

The Ferrari was now much slower than the McLaren, and Hakkinen pushed hard on Schumacher's tail. But after several attempts to overtake, it was clear it would have to be done in the second series of pit stops.

That happened on Lap 41, when both Schumacher and Hakkinen again stopped at the same time. Hakkinen sped out of the pits after an eight-second stop, while Schumacher was stuck, unable to move while the replacement mechanic struggled to remove the Ferrari's fuel hose, which was damaged during the first stop.

Schumacher's stop lasted 17.5 seconds, and when he returned to the track he was in second place, a full 10 seconds behind Hakkinen. By then, Coulthard was in third.

Schumacher looked very slow, and after a couple of attempts, Coulthard -- the Scot who bruised two ribs in an airplane crash Tuesday -- overtook Schumacher at the end of the straight at the beginning of Lap 48.

It turned out that a slow leak in a tire was slowing the Ferrari, but it made for the most exciting moment of the race. On Lap 50, Ralf Schumacher caught up and tried to overtake his brother, but Michael blocked the way, swerving from side to side. That action allowed Barrichello, Schumacher's teammate, to get past both cars to take third place.

Schumacher then made another pit stop for new tires and came back to the track in fifth place, just ahead of Jenson Button in the other Williams.

Ralf Schumacher was livid and told his brother off after the race. Michael called his father on the telephone to tell him to call his brother and calm him down, which the father, who was at the race, did. ''Racing is racing,'' Michael Schumacher said. ''I have to defend my position whether he's my brother or not.''

Button dropped out with an engine problem with three laps left, handing sixth place to Heinz-Harald Frentzen in a Jordan. McLaren's first and second places also tightened the positions in the constructors championship. McLaren trails Ferrari, which has 49 points, by seven points. Williams is in third with 15.

[Not to be reproduced without the permission of the author.]

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