Mika Hakkinen proved wrong the doubters that suggested he'd retire, by dominating the British Grand Prix
The Finn made the most of a strong start to harass Michael Schumacher during the early laps of the eleventh round of the world championship, before surging past the German at Maggotts on lap five and pulling away. Thereafter, he was only headed during the first round of pit-stops, and proceeded to take a dominant first win of the season.
The drama started right at the first corner, however, as, while Schumacher and Hakkinen made clean starts, second row starters David Coulthard
and Jarno Trulli
vied for the same piece of track, collided and spun off at the first corner. While the contact pushed Coulthard into a spin across the infield from which he recovered, Trulli was firmly embedded in the Copse gravel trap, his race – and Jordan's best hope – already done for the day.
Further back, Olivier Panis made it two Honda-powered cars out of the race, as he too speared into the gravel as the result of contact with British American Racing team-mate Jacques Villeneuve.
All of this allowed Juan Montoya, from eighth on the grid to move into third spot, as the second Jordan of Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Rubens Barrichello
were forced to take avoiding action in the Trulli/Coulthard incident. Kimi Raikkonen
was also delayed, but resumed behind Frentzen and passed the German at Stowe to lie sixth behind Ralf Schumacher.
Montoya was already being dropped by the leading pair, as Schumacher extended his lead slowly over Hakkinen. The Finn was having none of it, however, and, determined to open his account for the year, clung tenaciously to the tail of the Ferrari.
The news, on lap three, that Coulthard had gone off at Priory, his suspension tweaked by the contact with Trulli, was the signal for Hakkinen to launch his assault on the lead. Closing throughout the following lap, the Finn was perfectly placed to take a run at the Ferrari
into Copse, pulling alongside and ahead as the pair approached Maggotts on lap five. Schumacher offered token resistance but, with his car already handling strangely on the fast corners, decided that discretion should be the better part of valour.
Once ahead, it quickly became clear that McLaren
had sent Hakkinen out on a two-stop strategy, the Finn streaking away from Schumacher to such an extent that, by lap ten, he was some twelve seconds up the road. Schumacher, meanwhile, was in no position to give chase, as his problems gradually dropped him into the clutches of Montoya.
With the Colombian all over the back of the Ferrari, Schumacher suddenly looked at risk of losing second place, and duly succumbed to the Williams
on lap 18 as Montoya lined him up into Copse. Third looked safer for the German, however, as the closest battle behind him – involving team-mate Barrichello and brother Ralf – was some way back down the road. Ralf, in turn, was still under pressure from the mercurial Raikkonen, with Nick Heidfeld
and Frentzen also in close attendance.
Raikkonen began the first round of pit-stops for those on a two-stop strategy at exactly one-third distance, and Hakkinen followed his compatriot into the pits one lap later. Despite a quick stop, the delay for the erstwhile leader was enough to drop him behind Montoya, but, more importantly, not Schumacher. With one stop each still to come – and the German's likely to take longer than his rival's – the race edged further in Hakkinen's favour.