1999 European Grand Prix
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|Race 14 of 16 in the 1999 Formula One season|
The Nürburgring in its 1999 configuration
|Date||September 26, 1999|
|Official name||XLIII Warsteiner Grand Prix d'Europe|
|Course||Permanent racing facility
4.556 km (2.831 mi)
|Distance||66 laps, 300.696 km (186.852 mi)|
|Scheduled Distance||67 laps, 305.252 km (189.684 mi)|
|Weather||Cloudy, cold, wet|
|Time||1:21.282 on lap 64|
It was considered to be one of the most eventful and exciting races of the 1999 season. Going into the race Mika Häkkinen, Eddie Irvine, Heinz-Harald Frentzen and David Coulthard were all harbouring World Championship aspirations. Häkkinen and Irvine were tied for the points lead, with Frentzen 10 points behind them and Coulthard a further two points back. The previous round at Monza had seen Häkkinen make an unforced error while leading, Coulthard and Irvine finished only 5th and 6th and Frentzen took his second race win of the season. Marc Gené's performance in the race is seen by many as the defining moment of the 1999 World Driver's Championship race, with Ferrari's Eddie Irvine unable to pass him for 6th place, the extra point, which could have given the Irishman the championship that year. (Had Irvine scored this point, it is widely believed that Michael Schumacher would have allowed Irvine to take second place from him in the Japanese Grand Prix later in the year, giving Irvine an overall lead of one point in the final standings.) Due to the high number of retirements, the Stewart cars prevailed enormously, with Prost's Jarno Trulli taking an unlikely second. This resulted in the podium consisting of constructors named after former Formula 1 World Champions.
A wet qualifying session had seen the fastest times set right at the end of the session on a drying track, with Frentzen taking pole with seconds to spare. On race day the track was dry but the start was delayed when Zanardi and Gené lined up out of sequence on the grid, necessitating another formation lap. As the start was aborted during the start lights' sequence the top five qualifiers and another car actually jumped the start but were not penalised due to the aborting of the start. When the race finally got under way, Frentzen led from Häkkinen, but further back there was trouble at the first corner. Hill's Jordan suffered an electrical failure in the middle of the pack which caused Wurz to swerve into Diniz, sending the Sauber into a barrel roll. The safety car was deployed while Diniz was helped uninjured from his car; a fortunate end result as it was revealed that the Sauber's rollbar had failed when it hit the ground.
The race settled down with the top six Frentzen, Häkkinen, Coulthard, Ralf Schumacher, Fisichella and Irvine. A few laps into the race rain began to fall, and Häkkinen pitted for wet tyres. The rest of the frontrunners stayed out on dry tyres, which proved to be the correct decision as the rain quickly blew over and the track dried. Ralf Schumacher took advantage of the damp track to pass Coulthard, and Irvine passed Fisichella. However, things would quickly turn sour for the Ferrari driver, as he had a disastrous pitstop. Team mate Salo had damaged his wing the previous lap leaving the Ferrari pitcrew unprepared for Irvine. Added to this, the team made a late decision to stay on dry tyres and the pitcrew could only find three of them. Almost half a minute passed before the fourth was put on the car and Irvine was able to rejoin. Soon afterwards, Häkkinen pitted again to change back to dry tyres.
At the front Frentzen and Coulthard continued on dry tyres until their scheduled pit stops which they made together (Schumacher had pitted several laps earlier). Frentzen rejoined ahead of Coulthard, with both comfortably ahead of Schumacher. At this point in the race both Irvine and Häkkinen were well out of the points, meaning that if the order stayed the same Frentzen, Irvine, and Häkkinen would have all been tied for the points lead with two races to go, with Coulthard six points behind them.
What followed was a series of heartbreaking retirements. The first to fall was Frentzen, who ground to a halt at the first corner after his pitstop with the same electrical problem that had befallen his teammate. Coulthard inherited the lead and stayed out front until the rain came back with a vengeance. The Scot chose to stay out on dry tyres while most pitted for wets, which ultimately proved to be a costly mistake, as he slid off the road and out of the race on the 38th lap as the conditions worsened. Within a handful of laps two Championship contenders had seen their hopes of winning the title fall by the wayside. Ralf (still on dry tyres) then inherited the lead which he held until his pitstop six laps later. This allowed Fisichella (also on dries) to take the lead with Ralf in second, as the rain stopped. Meanwhile Herbert had quietly moved up the order after changing to wet tyres just at the right time.
The heartbreak then reached new levels. On lap 49 Fisichella lost what would have been his first win when he spun out of the lead like Coulthard before him, giving the lead back to Ralf. But then he too lost the lead (and probable first win) when his right rear tyre punctured, allowing Herbert to take the lead which he would not lose. Further back the Minardis were taking full advantage of the unpredictable nature of the race with Badoer in fourth and Gené in seventh. But with just 13 laps to go, Badoer's gearbox failed, denying the Ferrari test driver his first ever Formula 1 points and leaving him in tears. Gené was promoted to 6th, which became 5th when Jacques Villeneuve's car failed, robbing the BAR team of their first-ever point. Behind him, Irvine and Häkkinen had fought their way back into contention for points, with Irvine holding 6th ahead of Häkkinen. After cruising for most of the race, Häkkinen turned up the pressure, eventually forcing Irvine into a mistake and taking 6th place. At the front Barrichello tried everything to pass Trulli for 2nd and make it a Stewart 1-2, but ultimately had to settle for 3rd. Meanwhile, Häkkinen caught and passed Gené for 5th to earn 2 invaluable points, but the Spaniard held onto 6th ahead of Irvine to give Minardi their first point for four seasons.
It was the only race ever won by the Stewart Grand Prix team, as well as being the only time Stewart had two drivers finish on the podium. It was also the last Grand Prix victory for Johnny Herbert, and the last podium finish for the Prost Grand Prix team. Jackie Stewart considered the race greater than any of his own race wins.
Standings after Grand Prix
- Bold text indicates who still has a theoretical chance of becoming World Champion.
- Note: Only the top five positions are included for both sets of standings.
"1999 European GP: Qualification". ChicaneF1.com. Retrieved 2007-07-31.
"1999 European Grand Prix". The Official Formula 1 Website. Retrieved 2007-07-29.
"1999 European GP: Overview". ChicaneF1.com. Retrieved 2007-08-02.
Notes, Race details
"1999 European GP: Overview". ChicaneF1.com. Retrieved 2007-08-01.
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2000 European Grand Prix