F1 Blast from the Past: Ferrari out-smart McLaren at the A1 Ring

Background

The Austrian Grand Prix was the venue for round nine of the 1999 Formula 1 World Championship. This was the third race held at the revamped A1 Ring since its return to F1 in 1997.

Coming into the weekend, Mika Hakkinen led the World Championship by eight points, despite not scoring at the British Grand Prix two weeks earlier.

The major talking point though, was the accident of his title rival Michael Schumacher at Silverstone. The German suffered a broken leg that would mean he’d be absent for the next six races.

Schumacher’s place at Ferrari was taken by the Mika Salo, who had deputised for Ricardo Zonta at BAR in earlier in the season.

Ferrari’s decision not to promote test driver Luca Badoer from Minardi to fill the vacant seat attracted criticism in the paddock, notably from Jean Alesi, who had himself turned down the opportunity to race for Ferrari again.

Qualifying

McLaren continued their amazing qualifying form in Austria

Qualifying saw the McLaren pair of Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard lock-out the front row for the fourth time in 1999. Eddie Irvine qualified third, over a second shy of Hakkinen with Heinz-Harald Frentzen starting fourth in the Jordan.

The two Stewart’s of Rubens Barrichello and Johnny Herbert sharing the third row. Mika Salo, on his debut for Ferrari, lined up seventh.

Teammates collide

The start of the 71-lap Austrian Grand Prix got away with Hakkinen leading from Coulthard, Irvine, Barrichello and Frentzen.

Unlike the previous year, there were no incidents into the Castrol Kurve. However, going into the Remus Kurve, Coulthard over-ambitiously tried to dive down the inside of Hakkinen and tipped his teammate into a spin.

The unfortunate Finn fell all the way down to last place. There was disappointment for the other Finnish driver too, as Mika Salo was caught out by the concertina effect in front of him and made contact with Herbert’s Stewart. The ensuing rear wing change would drop Herbert out of contention.

Coulthard thus took over the lead from Barrichello who had managed to overtake Irvine after the Ulsterman had slowed to avoid hitting Hakkinen’s McLaren. Frentzen continued to hold fourth while Jacques Villeneuve in the BAR had made his usual demon start and moved up from ninth to fifth ahead of Ralf Schumacher.

On lap nine, however, the young German became the first retiree when trying to pass Villeneuve. Under pressure from Pedro Diniz’s Sauber, he braked too late into Remus and spun into the gravel trap.

A champion’s comeback

Hakkinen proceeded to charge through the midfield, making short work of the opposition and executing some brilliant overtaking manoeuvres.

By Lap 16, he had already made his way back up to the top ten and moved ahead of Ricardo Zonta in the sole remaining BAR for ninth at the Castrol Kurve.

By Lap 34, he was fifth and made a brave move on Heinz-Harald Frentzen into the same corner to incredibly take fourth place.

Jacques Villeneuve had been hoping to finally bring the BAR home and score the team’s first points but on Lap 35 the Canadian retired for the ninth consecutive race with a half shaft failure.

Alessandro Zanardi’s disastrous return to Formula 1 continued when his Williams ran out of fuel one lap later.

After David Coulthard’s pit-stop, it became clear that the Scotsman was lacking pace with a heavier fuel load.

While Eddie Irvine, free of Barrichello after the Brazilian had pitted, began a string of sensational laps, reminiscent of the tactics used by Michael Schumacher. The Ulsterman’s pit stop duly came on Lap 44 and after 8.6 seconds, he was away and the Ferrari the pit lane ahead of Coulthard.

Mika Hakkinen continued his storming drive by overtaking Barrichello for third on Lap 50. Five laps later, even the chance of a points finish slipped away for the Stewart team as Barrichello’s Ford engine gave up.

In the closing stages, Coulthard began to put the hammer down and closed in on Irvine, but the Ulsterman had just enough pace to keep the Scot at bay.

The chequered flag

Irvine scored his second victory of the season after a brilliant drive to make the most of McLaren’s misfortune. A bitterly disappointed Coulthard finished second while Hakkinen’s amazing recovery drive resulted in third place.

Though it could have been more, those four points would prove crucial in the fight for the driver’s title.

Heinz-Harald Frentzen finished fourth after another good performance with local favourite Alexander Wurz coming home fifth for Benetton.

The final point was taken by Pedro Diniz, in what would prove to be the final career points finish for the Brazilian.

Eddie Irvine had closed the gap to Mika Hakkinen in the World Championship to just two points, more importantly he had firmly signalled his intentions to assume the role of team leader with Schumacher on the side-lines.

Grid Talk Podcast

Want more content to preview your Austrian GP weekend? The Grid Talk crew previewed this weekend’s race in their latest podcast. Louis Edwards hosted Owain Medford, Garry Sloan and Tom Downey. Both video and audio versions of the show are linked below:

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