Formula one, 2001 season Belgian Grand Prix at Spa: The Race: the jpoc report

The race morning warmup was a busy time for all of the teams. The weather was bright, dry and sunny and it looked set to remain so. The rain on the previous two days meant that nobody felt that they had done enough work on sorting out a dry setting. There was a bigger problem for the Michelin runners. They preferred to race on scrubbed tyres rather than brand new rubber. The reason was that the performance of new Michelins fell off after half a dozen laps and then started to recover. So, part of the Saturday morning routine at Willams was normally to bed in two or three sets of tyres for the race. They could not do that on the wet track on Saturday and so Montoya and Ralf Schumacher had to work hard to scrub in some tyres. That meant that they were setting times much slower than the other runners.

Fastest time was set by Michael Schumacher. The Williams duo were not the only drivers to set times adrift of their grid positions. Hakkinen, Raikkonen and Irvine, in second, third and fifth were all rather better placed than they had qualified. Most satisfied must have been Frentzen who was sixth fastest hinting that his fourth place on the grid was rather more deserved than some thought.

Right at the end of the session, Alonso had a very big accident which removed just about everything from the right hand side Minardi's chassis. Thankfully, he climbed out unhurt from what looked like a very big smash and he was able to take the race start.

The race itself started with farce and then became disaturbingly grim. Everyone made it round the parade lap without any trouble and then, when the grid was ready to go, and the red lights started to come on, Frentzen's engine stalled and the start was abandoned. Almost unseen at the back, Marques had a similar problem in his Minardi. The whole start process had to begin again with Frentzen at the back of the grid. It was a bitter blow to Prost but it was matched by a similar blow to poleman Montoya on the second start. This time, he was unable to make it off the dummy grid for the parade lap. After everyone else got away, Williams managed to get their man going and he chugged off in pursuit. So now we had the second start with half of the front two rows relegated to the back of the grid.

This left Ralf first on the grid but his brother was on the inside line and had a clear road ahead.

When the race finally started, Ralf made a good enough start to keep Michael behind as they rounded La Source. The two Benettons had spectacular starts though. Fisichella made it up to fourth, passing Mika Hakkinen and Jacques Villeneuve and Jenson Button made it up to eighth.

Everyone made it round La Source and through Eau Rouge without any problems and as the cars raced up the hill, Michael Schumacher closed on his brother, pulled out to the left and passed him for the lead as they entered the chicane at the top of the hill. Williams appeared to have misjudged their power advantage. They were running much more wing than the Ferraris and the red cars were faster in a straight line and could pull past on the long drag up the hill.

By the time that the cars made it round to the end of the first lap, Michael Schumacher had pulled out a two second gap from his brother and Rubens was right behind the Williams. Both McLarens had passed Villeneuve and closed right up on FIsichella. Button had dropped back to ninth behind Raikkonen and Montoya had made it up into seventeenth place.

Montoya passed Verstappen as they climed the hill on lap two and then closed up on Trulli. It looked as though he might be able to produce a memorable drive through the field. Certainly, at this point a podium position could not be ruled out though he was unlikely to be able to pass the two Schumachers.

With less than two laps run, the race had already seen more overtaking than in many complete races and more was to come. Alesi passed Panis and then de la Rosa get into the top ten and Hakkinen got past Fisichella at the top of the hill. Coulthard too passed the Benetton just before Fagnes and then Villeneuve and Raikkonen closed up on Fisichella. Just before the end of lap three, Fisichella had a change of view in his mirrors as Raikkonen passed Villeneuve on the entry to the bus stop.

Already Alonso was out and at the sharp end of the field, Michael Schumacher had built up a gap of over six seconds.

At the start of the fourth lap, Trulli and Montoya passed Irvine at La Source. Eddie was running a one stop strategy and the extra fuel load meant that he was being passed by a lot of cars. Luciano Burti closed up on the Jaguar and tried to pass in the very fast section approaching Blanchiment. The two cars touched and the Prost lost parts of the front wing and the right hand barge boards and with the sudden loss of front end downforce, Luciano simply could not turn in to the corner. He went straight on and into the tyre barriers. The Prost was completely burried underneath the tyres. Irvine's Jaguar skittered over the gravel, bumped the barriers and came to a halt relatively undamaged. Eddie was out of the car right away and was one of the first to reach the Prost.

The safety car was immediately deployed and soon after the medical cars and Marshalls arrived, the red flag was shown to bring the race to a halt. Burti's car had to be dragged backwards from underneath the tyres before he could be removed from the car. It was a further ten mninutes while he was checked over before being put into the ambulance for the ride to the circuit medical facility.

While this was taking place, Alesi passed Button and just behind, Heidfeld and Trulli passed Panis while, under the safety car, Frentzen and Marques both pitted and Raikkonen retired with a broken transmission.

Finally, Niki Lauda relayed the news from the Prost garage. Burti was basically OK. Nothing broken and, while he was suffering from concussion, he had remained conscious throughout. It was a huge relief and a testament to the work on safety. Everyone always recognises that Professor Sid Watkins has played a huge roll in safety developments but there is also one rather unsung hero in that tale. This column often pokes fun at Bernie Ecclestone but Watkins has made the situation very clear. Watkins sorts out what is required for safety and Ecclestone lays down the law. If Sid is not happy, Bernie says that there is no race. That is the reason that the sport has the safety levels that it does. Respect, Bernie and thanks that Burti was OK.

After all that, there was still the business of a Grand Prix to run. The race had completed enough laps that it didn't count as a start accident. That meant that nobody was allowed to take a spare car and the field would start in the order prevailing at the end of the last lap completed before the red flag incident. It had not run enough laps for the laps already run to count for anything other than positions on the new grid.

So, minus the cars that were out, the field lined up in race order which saw Michael and Ralf Schumacher on the new front row followed by Barrichello, Hakkinen, Coulthard, Fisichella, Villeneuve, Alesi, Button, de la Rosa, Heidfeld, Trulli, Panis, Montoya, Frentzen, Verstappen, Bernoldi and Marques.

Then the cars set off on their third parade lap and the farce deepened. At the back of the grid, the Arrows mechanics were swarming all over Bernoldi's car and he got away very late and set off in pursuit of the majority of the field. His mechanics certainly appeared to be on the track after the time at which they were supposed to have cleared the grid. The real events were taking place at the front. The Keystone cops, sorry the Williams mechanics, left Ralf's car up on it's jacks as they cleared the grid and everyone else streamed past while Ralf could just look around and hope that nobody hit him. The plan had been a last minute change in rear wing settings and the team just failed to finish the job in time.

Finally, when everyone else was well on their way up the hill, his team managed to get his car back onto the ground and he set off.

So, for what was to be the final race start of the afternoon, we finally had two Ferraris at the front. Mika Hakkinen was well placed in fourth with a clear road in front but when the red lights went out it was the two Benettons that really did the business. Fisichella was on the left hand side of the grid directly behind Hakkinen. Button was on the right behind Alesi. Before Hakkinen's car had reached the empty grid markings vacated by Ralf Schumacher, Fisichella had swung left, overhauled Coulthard over on the right and was setting about passing the leading Mclaren. Meanwhile, Button had also shot left and appeared to be determined to follow his team mate.

Fisichella's momentum took him past Hakkinen and then Barrichello and for a moment he even appeared to have a chance of catching Michael Schumacher. It was not to be though and he slotted in behind the leading Ferrari in second place. Button, Hakkinen and Coulthard had an exciting first lap. At one stage Button was ahead of both McLarens and Coulthard and Hakkinen exchanged places a couple of times and then they both passed Button and then Coulthard passed Hakkinen.

Further back, Montoya's start was somewhere between good and overambitious. He passed Panis but then tangled with de la Rosa and Heidfeld round La Source. That left Montoya at the back with his team mate. It also left de la Rosa short of one wing and Heidfeld had an extra green one jammed under his car. All three were out by the end of the lap. Montoya's engine let go, Heidfeld stopped out on the track and de la Rosa made it back to the pits and retired.

Trulli also had a good start and made it past Villeneuve and Alesi who themselves also switched places. Verstappen too maintained his normal first lap form and passed Panis and Frentzen and of course benefitted from the three retirements.

It was three quarters of an hour after the official start time and the cars had only completed six laps at racing speed but it seeemed that there had been more incidents than in the whole of the season to date.

At the end of lap two, things were a little more sorted out and the order was Michael Schumacher, Fisichella, Barrichello, Coulthard, Hakkinen, Button, Trulli, Alesi, Villeneuve, Verstappen, Panis, Ralf Schumacher, Frentzen, Bernoldi and Marques.

For the next four laps, things stayed pretty much the same except that Button, as often seems to happen, started to drift backwards. He lost places to both Jordans and then to Villeneuve and then, with six laps run, it was time for the pit stops.

Of course, the cars had also run the four laps of the earlier race and the two extra parade laps before the second race and so they had burned off a lot of fuel already.

With the exception of Frentzen, everyone who was left was on a two stop strategy and all stopped between lap 6 and lap 11 of the second race. Apart from Panis, who did a Ralf and crossed the white line rejoining the track, everyone had a trouble free stop. Barrichello got his timing wrong and lost places to Coulthard and Hakkinen. Frentzen made places up on Ralf Schumacher, Verstappen and Button. Finally Panis, who had made up a place on Verstappen in the stops lost out to both Arrows when he went it for the stop-go penalty arising from his white line offence.

The main excitement during the stops was quite simply the fact that Fisichella drove a lap in the lead of the race. The vagiaries of the timings and the pit lane entrance meant that he did not appear in the lead on the official lap charts but the fact remains that on the eleventh lap, he was in the lead from Eau Rouge to the Bus Stop. Given the ghastly performance of the Benetton-Renault squad in the earlier races of 2001, this was an impressive performace and the team should have been proud indeed. Clearly, there was something right about the Benetton Renault for not only was the car up at the front end of the grid but at the first stop, Fisichella took just fuel and left the same tyres on the car.

On lap fifteen, Marques pitted for long enough to brew some espresso and phone out for a pizza and resumed for his farewell formula one laps. A lap later, Frentzen made his stop and lost places to Button, Ralf Schumacher and Verstappen. Button gave it back a lap later by shedding his front wing on the kerb at the Bus Stop and subsequently crashing. Verstappen also gave the place back when he made his second stop.

Lap seventeen was a bad lap for front wings at the Bus Stop. As well as Button's trouble, Berrichello lost his when he went over the bollards at the same place. Rubens thus had to complete a whole lap without front downforce befor he could make his second stop and pick up fresh bodywork as well. That lost him places to both Jordans, Villeneuve and Ralf Schumacher. He made it back past the latter two when they stopped but the Jordans were beyond reach for some while.

Everyone on a two stop strategy pitted between laps seventeen and twenty five. The Schumacher brothers were last to stop and so this time, Michael Schumacher did not lose his first place. In an echo of his first stop, Fisichella opted to change only the rear tyres. With a small number of exceptions, that was it after the final round of pit stops.

Coulthard ran behind Fisichella for many laps and only managed to pass him and gain second place at the top of the hill when, with eight laps to go, Bernoldi baulked Fisichella at La Source. A lap later Ralf passed Villeneuve for eighth place. That became seventh when Trulli's engine did something wicked to the clean Ardennes breeze but he did not get any points. On the same lap, Barrichello passed Alesi at the top of the hill and that really was it. Ralf harried Alesi all the way to the flag but the point for sixth ploace went to the Jordan. It was the most interesting race of the year. Williams must have felt a bit like a Norwegian Eurovision Song Contest entry with a front row lockout turning into Null Point.

There was plenty of good news for the rest though. Coulthard's second place made his similar position in the championship look rather more secure and Hakkinen's fourth added up to good news for McLaren in the race for second in the constructor's title. That may not mean a lot of prestige but it means a lot more money than this reporter makes in a year.

Second for Coulthard was his best result since the Austrian GP some eight races earlier in the season but, even after Spa, since his win in Austria, he has been outscored by his team mate.

Of course, the race was Michael Schumacher's fifty second win and that put him alone at the top of the tree with more world champiuonship race wins than any other driver. Not a bad record to have. With the exception of a minor off at the Bus Stop in the closing laps it was a perfect drive. For the record books, he equalled Senna and Clark with 5 wins at Spa and closed on the record number of wins in a season. That record, shared with Nigel Mansell stands at nine. Spa was Schumacher's eighth win of the year.

Fisichella's third place was a huge boost for the team and those at Renault responsible for the engine. He was fortunate that his car lasted the distance as it was spitting oil all through the race. Much to the dismay of Coulthard who was behind him for many laps.

The stewards met after the race to discuss the Irvine/Burti accident. They concluded that it was a racing incident and that nobody should be held to blame. Burti spent a night in hospital but seemed to be OK apart from that.


The whole 2001 season All the races and the behind the scenes games
Ken Tyrrell Sadly missed
Belgian GP at Spa September 2nd Who drives what?
Belgian GP at Spa September 2nd Which engine goes where?
Belgian GP at Spa September 2nd Business and politics
Belgian GP at Spa September 2nd Teams and personnel
Belgian GP at Spa September 2nd Circuit news
Belgian GP at Spa September 2nd Setting the scene
Belgian GP at Spa September 2nd Prospects for the race
Belgian GP at Spa September 2nd Practice and qualifying
Belgian GP at Spa September 2nd The starting grid
Belgian GP at Spa September 2nd Race report
Belgian GP at Spa September 2nd Results
Belgian GP at Spa September 2nd Championship standings after the race
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