Formula one, 2001 season German Grand Prix at Hockenheim: The Race: the jpoc report

The Williams pair were fastest in the warm up but this time it was Ralf to the fore. Behind them were Coulthard and Michael Schumacher. Those four were separated by just twelve hundredths of a second and this gave hope for a close race and also it seemed to indicate that Coulthard had solved his tyre destruction problem.

Further back, there were plenty of mishaps. Trulli blew up and Zonta put the other Jordan into the gravel, a fate which also befell both Minardis and Fisichella. Pedro de la Rosa lost a wheel nut and stopped out on the track.

The it was time for some motor racing. All bar the Minardis, which were having to start from the pit lane, lined up on the grid and the parade lap was incident free. Then came the race start and at first, everything seemed to be OK but Michael Schumacher didn't even get as far as he did in the 2000 race when he was involved in an horrific accident. His car started to move but almost immediately started to slow and the rest of the field went streaming past. Of course, he was struck from behind. That was almost inevitable. Burti jinked right but still struck the right rear of the Ferrari and was launched into the air. His car was airborn, upside down and disintegrating for several horrifying seconds before landing atop the Arrows of Bernoldi. The track was awash with shards of Carbon bodywork as the remaining cars made their way around the circuit.

Barrichello passed Coulthard at the start and, as the cars raced towards the first chicane, he passed Hakkinen too. Mika then ended up nudging the back of the Ferrari, damaging Barrichello's rear wing and splitting the Ferrari's diffusor and then finally straightling the chicane.

In a truely monumental blunder, the stewards deployed first yellow flags and then the safety car. We then had to watch a field of F1 cars encounter the tyre shredding debris strewn all over the start finish straight. The cars were almost at a standstill as the drivers attempted the futile task of steering around each individual piece of debris. Anyone watching this could imagine the consequences of a cut tyre subsequently letting go out in the woods at 220mph. Having subjected everyones tyres to potential damage, the stewards decided that it was now OK to red flag the race. Well, at least everyone would be able to inspect their tyres but this really was a grotesque blunder by the stewards. All involved get F1-Fwit awards and the handling of the incident should throw the 2002 race into doubt.

Thankfully, Schumacher and Burti were unhurt in the accident. The whole field was thus able to take the restart. Barrichello was given a new wing and had the split in his diffusor taped up.

At the second attempt, everyone made it to the dummy grid. Including the Minardis and the drivers whose race cars were damaged in the first start. They all made it round the parade lap too which was an improvement on many races in 2001. The second start was incident free and the front runners all made it around the first corner in grid order. The run from there down to the first chicane was a sight to see. The two Williams were off on a run of their own but the two Ferraris were each attempting to pass the McLaren ahead. Michael Schumacher made it past Mika Hakkinen but Coulthard managed to hold off the second Ferrari for a while. After the front runners cleared the first chicane, de la Rosa and Heidfeld came together and they were both our but thankfully there was no need for a restart of safety car as both drivers were unhurt and their cars were well off the circuit.

Barrichello and Coulthard were side by side as the came out of the final chicane and the Brazillian made it past on the outside at the stadium enty,. It was another great display by Rubens though he was helped by the light initial fuel load that came with his two stop strategy. Another man benefitting from such a strategy was Jos Verstappen who passed seven cars and thus gained nine places on the opening lap. Button had a good opening lap: he passed four cars gaining five place because one of the two retirements was cancelled out by Verstappen who gobbled up both Benettons amongst his first lap haul. One of the Benettons striaghtlined the second chicane but appeared to get away with it and the order at the end of the first lap was Montoya, Ralf Schumacher, Michael Schumacher, Hakkinen, Barrichello, Coulthard, Raikkonen, Irvine, Trulli, Villeneuve, Verstappen, Zonta, Button, Panis, Fisichella, Bernoldi, Burti, Alesi, Alonso, Marques.

On the next lap, Bernoldi added to Arrows impressive overtaking record by getting past Fisichella but the real action was near to the front. The Williams were pulling clear with Montoya setting fastest laps but Barrichello closed right up on Hakkinen and on the third lap, he got alongside and forced his way past at the second chicane. It was a great performance, Rubens was driving at the top of his form and making full use of the weight advantage that he gained from running a two stop strategy. Opting for an additional pitstop only works if you are able to pass other cars which are carrying extra fuel and Rubens was in no mood to be bottled up behind a McLaren.

While Montoya went about breaking the lap record at the front, the man whom he replaced was having a less distinguished time in his Benetton. His good work on the first lap was undone as first Panis and then Bernoldi found their way past him. Directly ahead of Panis were Verstappen and Zonta but that was not to last. In an effort which may have put paid to his prospects at Jordan, Zonta punted the back of the Arrows in a rather pointless outbreaking manouvre at one of the chicanes. The Jordan was shedding bits of bodywork as Zonta made his way back to the pits. The mechanics patched him up but it was no good and he had to quit. Verstappen was less badly affected by the impact but he still made the first of his planned two stops rather early and never regained his earlier momentum.

There was plenty more action as many drivers in the lower half of the grid had opted to make two stops and they were fighting hard to pass the cars ahead with heavier fuel loads. BAR had Panis on a two stop strategy and after the first handful of laps, he found himself behind Trulli and his team leader. He passed Villeneuve with little drama and then set about the Jordan. After harrying the Italian for some while, he made a move which worked out well for his team. His passing manouvre at the first chicane slowed the pair up to allow Villeneuve to get right up with Trulli. Perhaps being the meat in the BAR sandwich gave Trulli a bit of a rush of blood to the head but he had a go at Panis which was never going to work and spun. This allowed Villeneuve and then everyone else but for Marques and Verstappen to pass him as he continued on his super-long first stint.

The biggest loser on the first lap had been Jean Alesi who was overtaken by six cars and ended the lap ahead of just the two Minardis. A large part of this was connected to the heavy fuel load that he was carrying. His charge back in the middle of the race benefitted from the Verstappen-Zonta incident, Trulli's spin and mechanical troubles which put Hakkinen and Raikkonen out before half distance. Mika's retirement appeared to be caused by a rupture in his cooling system though whether that was as a result of component failure or overheating caused by some other problem was not clear. By the time that the two stoppers had all made their first stops Alesi was up into the top ten behind Montoya, Ralf Schumacher, Michael Schumacher, Coulthard, Barrichello, Villeneuve, Button and Fisichella. He was ahead of all of the two stopping drivers except for Barrichello who had even overtaken his team mate and held third place for ten laps before his first stop. Eddie Irvine was out by this time after making three visits to the pits in a fruitless bid to fix a misfire.

By the halfway point, Barrichello was the only one of the top six to have made a pitstop. Everyone else in the leading positions was on a single stop strategy and as the time approached for the front runners to make their stops, the race pattern was to change dramatically. Coulthard appeared to be in serious difficulty with his tyres towards the end of his stint. Barrichello, who was on fresh rubber was all over the Scot. It was a great battle to watch as Coulthard struggled to fend off the Brazillian all the way round the circuit. It could not last as Coulthard's tyres deteriorated and the back end of the McLaren grew increasingly loose and on lap twenty, Rubens was past.

Two laps later, Montoya was the first of the front runners to pit. For an agonising half minute, he was stationary with engine temperature rising as the pit crew struggled with a fuel rig that refused to deliver fuel to his car. In the end, he was refuelled with Ralf's rig and out he went dropping back to fourth. Next in was Michael Schumacher who was turned around in a shade over ten seconds as the Williams team prepared for his brother's stop.

Before Ralf entered the pits, the battle for the lead was all over. His brother didn't complete one lap after his stop. His car slowed and he pulled off the track and got out. As Ralf left the pits, Burti, suffering from his earlier impact, put his Prost into the tyres at turn one, just before the pit exit. This didn't trouble the leader who was comfortably ahead of Barrichello, Montoya and Coulthard. The second placed man still had his second piutstop to make. Coulthard had not yet made his one stop and Montoya was not to complete another lap as he retired with a blown engine. The long pit stop, with no cooling air flowing through the radiators cannot have helped. Williams were furious as the rig had been returned to the manufacturers with a reported fault and then given back to the team with a report that no fault had been found.

Coulthard was among the last of the drivers to visit the pits and he suffered exactly the same fate as his championship rival. No problems with the pitstop, out onto the track and looking fine but unable to make it round for even one more lap. The German fans started to party. If their hero could not finish, at least Coulthard was out as well and they looked like having a German winner at their race anyway. Over at McLaren, there was less joy as Mercedes sporting chief Norbert Haug stomped away from the pitwall and into the garage having seen both of his company's engines pack up at what was their home race too.

In the final run to the finish, there was little to report. Panis and Barrichello made their second stops. The BAR dropped out of the top six and Rubens was so far ahead of third placed man Villeneuve that even a twenty second stop due to fuel hose trouble was not enough to lose him second place. Villeneuve in third? Hockenheim is a tough circuit on engines and drive trains as the cars are at full throttle for more time than at any other circuit. That, together with the high temperatures had put paid to all but two of the normal occupants of the points scoring positions. Trulli was the last retirement and that left just ten cars running.

If Villeneuve was making a rare trip to a podium spot, it was even more of a surprise to see both Benettons and Alesi up in the points. Jean was not prepared to settle for sixth as he bore down on Button in the closing stages. Ahead of them, Fisichella had a minor off and regained without losing position. This put the fourth, fifth and sixth cars nose to tail over the dying laps but in the end, they held station.

It was a great result for Ralf Schumacher and yet another disappointment for Montoya who was surely due for his first race win. With no points for either championship leader and one less race to go, Coulthard's title chances were now gone in any sense bar the purely arithmetical. Behind the two top contenders, Ralf's win put him up to third ahead of Barrichello and just seven points behind second placed Coulthard. Although the battle for the title looked to be just about over, the battle for third place in the driver's championship and for second place in the constructor's would provide plenty of interest. Ferrari sporting boss, Jean Todt hinted that the team would be able to put some effort into boosting Barrichello's push for second in the championship. Now that would be a real achievement for the Italian team.

BAR, Benetton and Prost could all hold up their heads. While it was true that they only scored points because faster cars failed to finish, they were the teams who got their cars to the end when half of the starters didn't make it.

After the race, Villeneuve and Coulthard both criticised the decision to stop the race. It smacked of a mixture of publicity seeking and sour grapes. Any suggestion that the race stewards were favouring Michael Schumacher had to be seen in the context of the 2000 race. Then, the lead Ferrari was eliminated at the first corner in a collision that involved Giancarlo Fisichella. Both cars ended up well off the track. In fact. they were closer to my feet than to the race track and there was no debris on the race track. In the 2001 race, the latter part of the start finish straight was completely strewn with debris and the cars could not avoid it. Coulthard and Villeneuve both made the point that the cars had allready driven over the debris once when the red flag came out and the track could have been cleared before they came by again. That seemed like a fatuous arguement. Stopping the race allowed the teams to check that no tyres had picked up any damage by driving over the debris. It would have been far better to stop the race before the cars had to drive over the remnants of Burti's Prost but stopping the race was the right decision.

A rather more reasonable perspective came from Michelin motorsport director Pierre Dupasquier who said that he was terrified of the possibility that sharp debris could work its way into a tyre and cause a failure. For a sensible drivers view, Barrichello commented that the race should have been stopped before the cars went over the debris the first time. He also reported that the team changed his tyres after the race was red flagged so that he started on a fresh set. The original tyres were then inspected by the team and deemed to be OK to be used at the pit stops.

The whole 2001 season All the races and the behind the scenes games
German GP at Hockenheim July 29th Who drives what?
German GP at Hockenheim July 29th Which engine goes where?
German GP at Hockenheim July 29th Circuit developments
German GP at Hockenheim July 29th Business and politics
German GP at Hockenheim July 29th Teams and personnel
German GP at Hockenheim July 29th Setting the scene
German GP at Hockenheim July 29th Practice and qualifying
German GP at Hockenheim July 29th The starting grid
German GP at Hockenheim July 29th Results
German GP at Hockenheim July 29th Championship standings after the race
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