F1 Blast from the Past: Wet Weather and Huge Pile-up Sees Jordan Claim First Formula 1 Win

Background

The historic Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium played host to round 13 of the 1998 Formula One World Championship. Mika Hakkinen arrived with a seven-point lead in the championship over arch-rival Michael Schumacher, but the momentum was with the German after an inspired victory in Hungary two weeks earlier.

Hakkinen would continue his and McLaren’s domination of qualifying in 1998. Image: Pinterest

Nevertheless, the Finn clinched his ninth pole position of the season in qualifying, ahead of teammate David Coulthard in second and an extraordinary performance from 1996 champion Damon Hill saw the Jordan line up third.

The two Ferrari’s of Schumacher and Eddie Irvine qualified fourth and fifth respectively with reigning World Champion Jacques Villeneuve completing the top six.

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The pile-up

Sunday brought torrential rain and bizarrely the race did not start behind the Safety Car, as it had done the previous year. That decision would prove calamitous, Hakkinen got away first ahead of a fast-starting Villeneuve and Schumacher.

Hill and Coulthard both made poor starts and as the leaders exited La Source and toward Eau Rouge, Coulthard lost control and careered into the wall. The McLaren rebounded back into the path of the oncoming field causing a chain reaction, 13 cars were involved as wheels and debris flew terrifyingly in all directions.

The start of the 1998 Belgian GP was arguably the biggest pile-up in F1 history. Image: F1i.com

Prost, Tyrrell, Stewart and Arrows all had both their representative cars involved, leaving Olivier Panis, Ricardo Rosset, Rubens Barrichello and Mika Salo all unable to take the restart due to only one spare car been available.

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The restart

The race restarted for its full 44 lap schedule almost an hour later. This time Damon Hill made a much better start and took the lead going into La Source, Hakkinen and Schumacher made contact and the Finn spun, Johnny Herbert’s Sauber collected the McLaren ending both their races.

David Coulthard compounded McLaren’s misery by tangling with Alexander Wurz’s Benetton on the first lap, the Austrian was out but Coulthard continued. The Safety Car was brought out to clear Hakkinen’s wrecked McLaren.

Hakkinen wouldn’t make it past the first corner at the restart. Image: LAT

On lap three, the race restarted with Hill leading from Schumacher as the two proceeded to pull away from Irvine in third. At the end of lap seven, Schumacher made his move for the lead at Bus Stop and relegated Hill to second.

Two laps later, Irvine had an off-track excursion at Les Combes and lost his front wing, the resulting pit-stop dropped him from third all the way to eleventh. On Lap 17, Villeneuve, who had briefly led during the first round of pit-stops, spun and crashed into the barrier on the Kemmel straight.

Schumacher was dominating at the front, his lead over Damon Hill extending to over 30 seconds. On Lap 24, he came up to lap the sole remaining McLaren of David Coulthard who was languishing down in eighth place. The Scotsman slowed on the approach to Pouhon to let the Ferrari through but stayed on the racing line.

Schumacher, unsighted, rammed into the back of the McLaren, losing the right front wheel. Both cars made it back to the pits, but Schumacher’s race was over. The furious German headed straight to the McLaren garage to remonstrate with Coulthard, but was restrained by the Ferrari and McLaren mechanics. Coulthard was able to re-join the race after the team fitted a new rear wing, albeit dead last and several laps down.

READ MORE CLASSIC F1: SCHUMACHER AND ALONSO DUEL IN THE DESERT

Yellow cars at the front

With Schumacher out, Damon Hill retook the lead. Ferrari’s interest in the race was gone when Irvine spun off for good on Lap 25. One lap later, Fisichella was involved in a violent accident when he slammed into the back of Shinji Nakano’s Minardi, reminiscent of the earlier incident involving Schumacher and Coulthard.

The Italian was powerless to bring the Benetton to a stop as it slid towards the pitlane entrance, but thankfully, he was able to walk away. Like Coulthard, Nakano was able to re-join.

Damon Hill led a race for the first time since joining Jordan. Image: F1i.com

Fisichella’s wrecked car brought the Safety Car out. Hill, who had used the opportunity to make his second and final stop, retained the lead. When the race restarted on Lap 33, though, Hill was been hounded by his teammate Ralf Schumacher, while Jean Alesi’s Sauber was pushing both Jordan drivers.

The Jordan team radioed Schumacher, ordering him to maintain position behind Hill so as not to risk both drivers taking each other out. Hill rounded off the final few laps to take the chequered flag for Jordan’s first ever Grand Prix victory.

Hill’s 22nd career win was his first since leaving Williams at the end of 1996. Ralf Schumacher completed an historic Jordan one-two, although he was bitterly disappointed at not being allowed to fight for the victory. An ecstatic Jean Alesi scored his and Sauber’s best result of the year with third.

Heinz-Harald Frentzen drove steadily to bring his Williams home fourth, Pedro Diniz equalled his best-ever result in fifth and Jarno Trulli scored the first point of the year for Prost with sixth place.

For many Formula 1 fans, the Belgian Grand Prix of 1998 remains one of the most bizarre, but memorable Grands Prix in the sport’s history.

Grid Talk Podcast

Want more content to preview your Belgian Grand Prix weekend? The Grid Talk crew have you covered with their latest podcast, the 2021 Belgian Grand Prixview. George Howson hosted Sam Thatcher, Tom Downey and Aaron Harper, both audio and video versions of the show are linked below:

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