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Last year, Adam Barak wrote an excellent report on the British GP for Formula Prost, another great Prost site by Santiago de Tezanos of Uruguay. You can still find it at http://w3.cs.com.uy/u/stezanos/prost/silver.htm. This year, Adam produces an equally good report, and I am proud to include it in Alain Prost Grand Prix Homepage. Enjoy! (Thank you, Adam!)
British Grand Prix '98
Silverstone, July 10-12th, 1998
by Adam Barak
Background: The Build Up

Going into this year's Grand Prix (the 50th Anniversary of the race at
Silverstone) there was little for a Prost fan to look forward to. The
recalcitrant AP01 was resisting all efforts to get it further up the
grid, the longer wheel base didn't seem to overcome the shortcomings
brought on by the new '98 rules as it had with Williams and Jordan and
recent testing times suggested that Silverstone would not mark a
turnaround - still, there's always hope!!!

The weekend's meeting was always going to be about Michael against
McLaren. With Hakkinen and Coulthard seeming to throw away their
substantial vehicle advantage and with Schumi very ready and able to
step in, Sunday would be all about whether McLaren could re-assert their
form or if Schumi could drive the wheels off his Ferrari and claim a
hat-trick of wins for Maranello. For Prost a point would be nice.....

Friday

Dry and warm thankfully and a leisurely trip to the track - the place
seemed a little quieter than normal - I guess they still miss "their
Nige" (Mansell that is). For a few days football would be forgotten and
car racing would be getting people going - although since David's
Beckham's foolish attempt to kick an Argentine midfielder 2 weeks
previously which led to England's exit from the World Cup, interest in
the beautiful game was a touch more muted in England.

The rumour mill was busy as usual. Today we heard that Zanardi may be
going to Williams for '99 with Frentzen off to Indycars (or Sauber) and
Villeneuve over to BAT after all. We also heard that Emerson Fittipaldi
was thinking about setting up a new Grand Prix team (second time lucky),
Arrows would be looking for a factory engine in '99 (no surprise there)
and that nest year Mansell would be returning to Ferrari (only joking!)
There had also been some nonsense about Peugeot quitting F1 to
concentrate on rallying due to the poor performance of Les bleus - how
absurd.

Anyway - to the track action, watched at Luffield (the stand now
bedecked with the "Allez Prost" flag of course - photo to follow). From
the moment the cars hit the tarmac it was clear that McLaren would be
very strong here this weekend. All through the day Mika and David were
swapping fastest laps and an impressive spectacle it was too. Irvine
gave himself a lot to do by missing nearly all the first session after
spinning off on his first lap. By the end of the session Mika had a
1-25.98, DC 1-26.08 and Schumi 1-26.884 with the best of the rest
Fisichella with a 27.88. Panis (13 laps) and Trulli (17 laps) were 12th
and 15th with 29.30 and 29.86, again both drivers having difficulty
getting the power down. 

Before the second session we heard that Coulthard already had an $8000
fine for speeding in the pit lane (again). Also we heard from John
Watson (who provided excellent commentary all weekend over Silverstone
circuit TV and radio) that when he won in 1981 at the fracca on the
first corner, not only did he go off to avoid Gilles Villeneuve and get
punted from team-mate Andrea De Cesaris, he also stalled it and
bump-started his McLaren by turning on his fuel pump. Funny how the
number 7 McLaren drivers had rather different luck at Silverstone!

I managed to find the Prost Peugeot merchandise tent before the next
session. Run by some very friendly French folk, this was the first time
I've ever seen a decent selection of Prost (or Ligier) goods at a Grand
Prix. I managed to resist the watches, umbrellas, jackets, artwork or
caps, and even the multimedia CD -ROM package (39) - however a modest
tee shirt and polo shirt could not be avoided... 

The second session, watched from Copse Corner, was fairly poor for
Prost, Olivier spinning off after 8 laps after setting a marginally
quicker time of 29.19 (17th) and Jarno managing 21 laps with a best of
28.67 (15th). Up front we had the Mika and David show again, this time
DC coming out best to please the British crowd with 25.64, 0.12 quicker
than Mika and  sec quicker than the Williams pair. Schumi was the only
top runner not to improve, apparently (and ominously) concentrating on
race set-up!

Saturday

Breezier and cooler and with rain forecast from lunchtime through the
rest of the weekend, it looked like shaping up to be a wet Silverstone
weekend - and the prospect of a joker being thrown up to maybe upset the
McLaren / Ferrari steamroller. 

Session 3, watched from Becketts with the "Allez Prost" flag fluttering
nicely in the breeze, saw Jarno complete 12 laps and Olivier 11, for
13th and 14th quickest at 27.57 and 27.83, compared to Hakkinen's
24.035. Hakkinen's time was under the 24.78 set in testing and the
fastest yet a '98-spec F1 car had gone around Silverstone. Even
Coulthard could only manage a 24.85.

Today's rumours were quite good. Now we heard that Zanardi had already
signed a 2 year deal with Williams and that Damon was moving to BAT next
year with old sparring partner Jacques...

With the track still dry the final untimed session began and we saw the
crazy scene of drivers making practise starts out of the pit lane exit -
forcing cars leaving the pits to take to the grass when encountering the
obstacle after rounding the blind right hand kink in the pit lane. A
message was eventually passed by the Stewards to respectfully ask
drivers doing practise starts to keep to the right side of the pit lane
exit!

Once more we saw the McLaren roadshow, Hakkinen (23.64) heading DC
(24.23 and Schumi (24.26). Our boys were back down the order again,
Olivier with a 26.88 best and Jarno a 27.0 in their 11 and 12 laps,
worrying over 3 seconds off the pace. Jordan, another team yet to score
a point so far this year, saw their hopes rise, repeating their
successful showing in testing with Ralf and Damon 4th and 5th, both
within  second of the lead Ferrari. There could yet be a surprise in
official qualifying....

Qualifying

Not to be outdone by his team-mate, Hakkinen also picked up a pitlane
speeding fine ($3750), as did Jacques Villeneuve. The theory was that
the line after which the drivers needed to decelerate had been moved
back, catching them out - either that or they'd forgotten to press their
buttons....

The rain did stay away until the support races following the qualifying
session. We learned that Ralf was in the dock - he'd lose his quickest
qualifying time as he'd made a pass under a yellow flag in the preceding
session, something elder brother should have noted...We also found out
about Michael's ghost pit-stops, for over the last 3 sessions he'd 3
times come into the pits, stopped and exited without anything seeming to
happen. We were told that when stationary the pit crew were able to
electronically adjust the differential, affecting how the power goes
down, to get it "just right" - simple when you know how.

Just before qualifying Martin Brundle took Max Mosely around the track
for 4 laps in the incredible 2-seater McLaren - and wasn't hanging
around. When Mosely got out at the end he acted very calmly about the
whole episode, and then went to change his trousers.

Ominously we then found out that Hakkinen's quick time this morning was
set on the harder Bridgestone rubber that he'd opted for for the race.
Every other driver, Bridgestone and GoodYear-shod alike, were on the
softer compound. In an exciting hour, at the front of the field Jacques
than Heinz-Harald briefly led the way with mid 25s. Then Schumi set a
24.23 before Mika got the provisional pole with a 23.83. Olivier was
down in 14th with a 26.98, his best of the weekend so far, Jarno would
take the 14th place soon however with a 26.81. When Couthard appeared
all assumed that he'd join team-mate Hakkinen at the front, but he came
up short with a 24.61 for 3rd.

Ralf made things very hard for himself, spinning off and needing to get
back to the pits for a spare car - otherwise he wouldn't have a second
time and he'd be out of the race following the morning's misdemeanour. 

Meanwhile Hakkinen improved to 23.27, a second quicker than anyone and
DC's 2nd run only netted a 24.25, still 3rd behind Michael. Wattie told
us now that the Prosts' had 9 rear wing elements in a desperate attempt
to get some traction from the rear wheels - no wonder we were slow on
the straights! 

Nearing the end of the session Schumi produced an incredible lap, which
could have been one of THE GREAT LAPS. Faster than Hakkinen for 9/10th
of the lap he was loose round Luffield and needed to correct the car -
winding up  second down - remarkable. Team-mate Eddie Irvine recovered
now from his spin on Friday moved up to 4th and then from nowhere
Jacques managed to put his Williams on the second row with a 24.1. The
Coulthard charge eventually came right at the death, but was still only
good enough for 4th, and so we had the grid for Sunday and no surprise -
Hakkinen would be on pole with 23.27.

The rest were headed by Michael (23.72), Jacques (24.1), DC (24.31),
Irvine, Frentzen, Hill, Alesi, Herbert, Ralf (who'd managed to get
another fast lap in the spare), Fisichella, Wurz, Diniz, Salo, Trulli
(15th), Panis (16th), Verstappen, Barrichello, Takagi, Tuero, Nakano and
Rosset.

A great session. Jacques in the top 3 for the first time since winning
the championship, but worried about the performance of the Williams in
the wet. Michael and Mike sharing row 1 and DC with his rocket starts
and something to prove. Not much to cheer about over at Prost, some 3
seconds too slow, but a noteworthy performance from Jos the Boss,
outqualifying Rubens in only his 2nd race with Stewart - I bet Jan
Magnussen was not very amused....

With the morning however would come the bitter news that Olivier and
Ralf would start from the back row - both failing to get out of their
cars quickly enough in a post-qualifying test and thus seeing all their
times cancelled. For Ralf (who'd been in the spare set up for the
smaller Hill) it was yet another disaster in what was looking to be a
weekend to forget, for Olivier it meant row 11 instead of 8, perhaps he
still hasn't regained full movement in his legs..

Sunday - "Warm"-Up

The promised rain which arrived Saturday afternoon was still falling
Sunday morning, and some, notably Benetton's Dave Richards who'd hired a
helicopter to fly around Northamptonshire to give early warnings of the
weather due to hit Silverstone, thought that the track could dry out for
the race.

The early morning splash around saw the McLarens dominating, both
drivers with 37.9s, 2 seconds quicker than anyone else (the 2 Benettons
and Ferraris). No surprises then like last year, when in similar
conditions Hill's Arrows grabbed the quickest lap. Panis and Trulli were
9th and 20th, Olivier with a 41.8.

Next onto the track was the Porsche Supercup, graced by, amongst others,
Ligier legend Jacques Laffite, ex-Alfa/McLaren/Toleman pilot Bruno
Giacomelli (now sponsored by friends over the Internet), F1 safety car
driver Oliver Gavin and tennis star Henry Leconte, who was all at sea in
the wet. Jacques' experience came through with a typically measured
drive from 19th to 10th, making a great move up the inside on Stowe on
the last lap to claim the top 10 place.

The weather led to the cancellation of the driver's parade and the
parachute display and John Watson's demo of the 2-seater McLaren was
aborted when passenger Sylvester Stallone, director and horribly
mis-cast star of the forthcoming F1 movie, was seemingly unable to have
a quick physical..... British TV star David Jason (Only Fools and
Horses), a friend of Wattie, stepped in at the last minute, but there
wasn't enough time to get him comfy in the car and the run was
abandoned.

Neither the evening's World Cup final nor the weather hurt the
attendance, with the 110,000 capacity full by 1pm. The rain had stopped
some hours before the race but it was still quite wet and intermediates
were the favoured tyre. As usual there was very many Ferrari flags
around the airfield, along with the large amounts for Hill, Couthard
(Scottish relics from the World Cup campaign?) and Jordan. In fact it
was alleged that there were so many of the yellow flags because Jordan
had been giving them away - so maybe Gauloises can take a leaf out of
Benson and Hedges' book!

Just before the race BBC radio did a 10 minute piece about why Mika
Hakkinen isn't boring! Then we heard that this year's grooved slick is
worse in the wet than last year's bald slick, despite the "treads". This
is due to the stickier rubber of last year's tyres and explains why
nearly all drivers started on Sunday on intermediates.

Sunday - The Race

The start line at Silverstone has been moved closer to the first corner,
Copse, ensuring that the cars are still pretty much in grid order when
they get round this critical first challenge. So it was when the lights
blinked out that Hakkinen got the drop on Schumi, leading him from DC, a
very quick-starting Alesi (from 8th), Jacques, Frentzen, Damon and
Herbert. Irvine made a rotten start and went back to 10th. Panis made it
up to 17th by lap 17 and Trulli was back in 15th but Ralf had made great
progress, passing 7 cars to be 14th by the end of the 2nd lap. 

For Prost the writing was on the wall. By lap 3 there was already a
large gap between the Arrows and Ralf back to Olivier and Jarno, who
were dicing with the Tyrrells. Olivier passed Jarno on lap 4, Trulli
struggling again in the wet, whilst up front huge cheers greeted DC's
move on Michael to take him to 2nd place. 

The next few laps saw Damon weaving in front of a Ferrari again, as in
Canada, this time getting Irvine fairly wound up - and he wasn't holding
back in his criticism at the post-race press conference, calling Damon a
"Sad old man". Diniz was looking much quicker than Salo, glued to his
rear wing for lap after lap, and Rosset tried to take Olivier at Abbey,
but only Olivier emerged from the corner unscathed, the Tyrrell missing
its braking point and just avoiding removing Prost no.11 from the
proceedings.

Over the next few laps we saw Irvine passing Hill and Frentzen (who said
the cars don't overtake anymore) as Trulli continued his backwards
slide, now overtaken by Verstappen and Shinji. Even the Arrows were
lapping 1s/lap quicker than the Prosts. Much work will need to be done
over the remainder of the season to put the team into serious shape to
compete in 1999.

The rain began to fall heavier around lap 15. Damon spun off as did
Heinz Harald, and we began to see the first pit stops and full wets
going on. Positions were Hakkinen, DC, Michael, Alesi (looking very good
and maintaining his place well), Irvine back up to 5th which became 4th
when he overtook Alesi at his pitstop, Jacques, Herbert, Wurz,
Fisichella, Salo, Diniz, Ralf and Olivier way back in 13th.

With the harder rain began the attrition that would eventually lead to
the Safety car coming out (about 5 minutes to late) on lap 42, when the
track was submerged in a number of places. Early spinners included
Herbert, Salo, Rosset and Tuero but the main spectacle was DC's efforts
to catch up to team-leader apparent Mika Hakkinen. David got the gap
down to under 2 seconds but then stuck his car into the gravel at Abbey
Big Time whilst lapping a Benetton whilst trying to stay in touch with
the Fin. Ron must have been mad - it wouldn't have happened at Ferrari -
say what you like about team orders.

By the time the safety car eventually was summoned both Jarno and
Olivier (9th) were in the gravel - along with the Stewarts, shades of
1975 again. Mika threw his race away too - spinning off at Bridge in his
race to keep ahead of Schumi. He rejoined and resumed the lead, but with
a damaged front wing was unable to maintain his pace in the last 10 laps
of the race when the safety car departed.

When the race restarted on lap 49 there were only 9 cars left, with all
but 4 over a lap down. We had Mika, David, Irvine, Jean, Fisichella,
Wurz (who'd spun in the pit lane entrance and continued), Ralf, Jacques,
Shinji, Takagi and Diniz. With Michael making a race of it we had the
unusual spectacle of the Silverstone crowd getting right behind the
German - his billing as the baddie to Hill's goodie seemingly forgotten.

With the green flags Hakkinen resumed ahead but was off again at
Becketts - the ill-handling McLaren unable to keep on the black bit and
Schumi was by. As if to emphasize that this was a different race to the
one 10 laps ago, even the sun came out. A few laps from the end we lost
the unfortunate Alesi to gearbox problems - after a great drive this and
a big shame - his misfortune being Ralf's gain as despite all the
problems of the past 48 hours, there was now a Jordan in the points and
looking good for 6th. ahead the Benettons were looking a solid 4th/5th
but now we saw Eddie getting right up to Mika and the promise of a
consecutive Ferrari 1-2. Eddie though made a mistake at Abbey and was
thereafter unable to make a further attempt for the 2nd step of the
podium. 

Now we had the crazy bit. At first we thought Irvine was in trouble -
the TV shots focusing on Jean Todt studying an FIA official-type notice.
There were only 3 laps left and the penny didn't drop until we saw
Schumi on the last lap heading, not across the line for the
well-deserved win we expected - but up the pit-lane!!! There was massed
confusion as the red car first crossed the finishing line (on the wrong
side of the pit wall) and THEN doing a 10 seconds stop/go penalty at his
pit, rejoining the track and passing the chequered flag again. Since
he'd crossed the line before the silver car did likewise on the track
proper, he'd won the race, the first Grand Prix since 1950 to be won in
the pit lane. But had he?

The course commentary temporarily awarded the race to Mika! Ferrari
clearly did  not take the penalty before the end of the race. The bottom
line seems to be that the Stewards saw Michael make some infringement
when the safety car was out, passing a Benetton under yellow as it later
transpired, but didn't notify Ferrari until lap 57, giving them 3 laps
in a 60 lap race to call Schumi in. By doing this on the last lap (a
pretty good effort given that Michael's radio had long since packed in),
Michael did not have to make the slow trip back up the full length of
the pit-lane which would have allowed Mika past - in otherwords, the
inept Stewards actually gave Michael the race by delaying the notice
until Ferrari were able to bring in their man on the last lap - no
wonder Ron was fuming! The FIA once again are made to look less than
professional, but with Ron officially protesting, maybe this isn't the
end of the matter....

Eddie Irvine meanwhile had made his 5th podium in a row and became the
driver with most podiums never to win a race, overtaking the likes of
Chris Amon (11), Jean Behra (10) and Eddie Cheever. Michael was only 2
points behind Mika and Eddie was right up with David. The season looking
so very different now from the McLaren domination only 2 months ago.

Reflections on the Weekend...

One to Remember
Michael Schumacher, Ralf Schumacher, Irvine, Alesi, Verstappen, Italy

One to Forget
Coulthard, Prosts, Frentzen, Herbert, the FIA, the ice cream vendors

Biggest surprise of weekend
As soon as the World Cup kicked off at 8pm the roads were clear - I've
never got out of Silverstone so easily!

Most flags in crowd
Jordan/Damon

Prostist rating (out of 10)
2. Did Jarno really lead half a race less than 12 months ago????

Grand prix rating (out of 10)
8. A good spectacle and a great twist at the end!

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