20 Years Ago Today - 1999 European GP

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20 Years Ago Today - 1999 European GP

Post by kals » 2 weeks ago

What a race this was. Still among the top races I've watched live.
Gary Anderson wrote:It has been a long time since anyone other than the 'big three' teams were talked about in terms of fighting for Formula 1 victories. But in the past, smaller teams had more opportunity to grab the limelight.

Twenty years ago this Thursday, Johnny Herbert won at the Nurburgring for the Stewart team, where I was technical director.

It was an amazing day. But more than anyone, it was remarkable for Jackie Stewart, who had already stood on the Nurburgring podium as a grand prix winner at the in 1968, '71 and '73 races. That last one was his final grand prix win as a driver (I was there that weekend too, with Brabham) but I genuinely believe that his fourth time will be the one he remembers best.

That's because he achieved it with his own F1 team. How many can say they have won as an F1 driver and constructor with a gap of 26 years between the feats?

While it may have been a great result, I remember that weekend as a long, hard slog. Many different drivers could have won the race but didn't, and, as we know, it's the one that reaches the chequered flag that takes the biggest trophy no matter how it happens. On that day, it was Herbert that kept his head while all around were losing theirs.

It didn't look very likely after qualifying, which didn't go well. Johnny had to use the T-car because of an electrical problem and with changeable conditions it all came down to the luck of the draw - who would get the best of the conditions in the last 15 minutes. We went for the harder of the two Bridgestone tyre compounds available, with only Ferrari making the same choice. But Johnny ended up 14th and Rubens Barrichello was 15th.

The car was better than that. Rubens has been seventh and then fifth in the two practice sessions, and was fastest after the first qualifying runs. But he couldn't get a clear lap when it mattered and ended up down the order when the team really should have had a car on the front three rows.

Johnny was struggling to get the confidence for that one-off lap in qualifying. But we felt the race would come to us on the hard tyre and the changeable conditions on Sunday offered a bigger window to do our weather watch and hopefully pull something out of the bag.

The harder tyre, which still wasn't especially hard - it was more a soft or an extra soft - was perhaps half-a-second slower. But the softer front tyres grained and lost time from about laps 5-10. After that, they cleaned up but you had still lost that time.

Our race strategy was to run as long as possible after starting on 'slicks' (they were grooved then, remember) and capitalise on any change in the weather, which would hopefully come at the right time.

It was nerve-wracking on the pitwall as light rain showers came and went. Up front, Heinz-Harald Frentzen led the race for Jordan after starting from pole position. He was chased by McLaren's David Coulthard. Rubens and Johnny finished the first lap 11th and 13th, with the race place under safety car conditions when Pedro Diniz rolled his Sauber after hitting Damon Hill's Jordan, pictured below, which had suffered a sudden electrical problem.

Some drivers started pitting for wets at around lap 20 - even eventual world champion Mika Hakkinen with the might of McLaren behind him. That move ruined his race.

For the team to hold its nerve was not easy. It's the sort of situation when everyone around you starts asking if you're sure about your strategy. Sometimes doing nothing is the most difficult thing to do.

I have to say that is where Jackie really showed he understood motor racing. We had a few chats about what was happening, but he understand our plan and the reasons for it and never once tried to pull rank.

Frentzen led the first 32 laps of 66, but became the first potential winner to drop out when he suffered a similar electrical problem to Hill just after coming out of the pits. That handed Coulthard control of the race.

Johnny ran all the way to lap 35. It had just begun to rain lightly at the far end of the circuit and Johnny had noticed a lot of black cloud around at that end of the track. There were black clouds where we were, but no rain in the pits.

As he came down the pitlane we were asking him if he wanted wets or dry tyres and just then I felt a huge drop of rain hit me - and then another. I remember Johnny saying "I don't know" and I said "go for wets" hoping that the rain would come. There was a bit of guesswork involved in that decision but isn't there always when it comes to trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat?

Rubens came in two laps later, on lap 37. It still hadn't really rained any more heavily and he was very good at driving in the wet on slicks, so he chose to stick with slicks. We didn't really fight it because at least we had two cars now on different tyres, so if the weather decided to do one thing or another we were covered.

Before the two cars pitted, Rubens was around six seconds ahead of Johnny. But the tyre decision allowed Johnny to take the initiative over Rubens, who was fighting for survival on the slicks.

Up front, Coulthard's lead didn't last long as he slid off and nosed into the barriers, stalling along the way, while trying to build up a lead over Ralf Schumacher's Williams. That was another potential winner out of the picture.

Schumacher then lost the lead when he pitted, which handed the advantage to Giancarlo Fisichella's Benetton. During this spell, on lap 47, Herbert was able to stop to switch back to slicks.

Fisichella had made a pitstop and was set to run to the end, but after leading four laps up to lap 49 he too went off. This handed the lead back to Schumacher, with Johnny now up to second ahead of Jarno Trulli's Prost.

Amazingly, Schumacher then picked up a puncture and had to head to the pits, losing time that meant he finished only fifth. This gave Johnny the lead, which he held for the final 17 laps to win by 22.619s from Trulli. Rubens was right on Trulli's gearbox in the last few laps but couldn't quite pull off an overtake.

Still, the Stewart family and the team were fairly content with first and third. As I said, there were lots of teams and drivers who could have won and did lead the race at various times. Frentzen, Coulthard, Schumacher and Fisichella all led, but crucially the race was 66 laps and Herbert made it that far without anything going wrong.

It was the kind of race where so many tripped up. Remember Eddie Irvine, who was then in a world championship battle with Hakkinen, turning up in the pits with the Ferrari team not having his tyres ready after scrambling to service stand-in team-mate Mike Salo, who had stopped unexpectedly after an off-track moment?

Those last laps were real nail-biters. The conditions were still not great and one metre off line and you were in the hedge. But both drivers show their true professionalism and experience, and brought the cars home on a circuit that had bitten so many drivers in the past when the Nordschleife was in use - and continued to do so that day in its modern form.

So much has changed since 1999. In those days, there were only points for the top six and you could finish seventh every time and get nothing despite having what was actually a good season.

But what this race also showed was that a small team could outfox the major players. Wouldn't it be great if it was possible now for, say, McLaren or Renault to do that?

The Stewart-Ford SF3 was a decent little package, but overall it suffered from some reliability problems. The Cosworth Ford engine was very light and it had good power, but was a little fragile in the early part of the season.

The team was doing its development in California at the Swift windtunnel, so a bit of a long haul from Milton Keynes, but I think it got the best out of the package on a few occasions.

For me, the most interesting part of that season was just how much of a racer Jackie Stewart was and how committed he was to the project.

He really had a fantastic, in-depth understanding of the situation and knew from his own time as a driver that it's not easy. It's all about commitment and hard work and he backed his up with everything he was doing.

It's an honour to know him and to have worked for him and been part of that great day at the Nurburgring.

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Post by XcraigX » 2 weeks ago

4 days late. Thanks for sharing Kals! Great memory.
I remember that race and how great it felt to see the little Stewart team win!

I also remember how nasty the conditions were. The white livery of the Stewart was a dark tan by the end of the race. It just looked like misery out there.

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Post by Cheeveer » 2 weeks ago

I was 9 when this happened, and this was probably the only race of that season I missed live. :roll:

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Post by PTRACER » 1 week ago

Also one of my favourite Grand Prix ever.

I have this one in HD, I think I will be able to post it in full on YouTube. I'll keep you all updated...
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Post by Everso Biggyballies » 1 week ago

:thumbsup:

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Post by Antonov » 6 days ago

I remember I missed the race that day, because I was on a day-trip to Leuven (near Brussels).
Throughout the drive to Leuven, we had rain, sun and threatening skies. A similar weather pattern to the (relatively) close Nürburgring.

Upon arriving in Leuven, I turned on the radio and heard Herbert 1st, Trulli 2nd ... and it was like WTF

Shame for Frentzen's DNF - given his Magny-Cours performance, he could have easily taken the win that day, and even be a factor for the championship.

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Post by kals » 6 days ago

Well at the time of his retirement, Frentzen WAS a factor for the championship.

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Post by DoubleFart » 6 days ago

I still consider this to have been a lucky championship for Mika.

Schumacher broke his leg
Irvine refused to dump his cracked "good luck" chassis
A child's truthful phone call forcing Schumi back to work
Half assed effort from Schumi in Japan
Loss of Schumacher's testing input back in the days where he would pound around Fiorano 200 days a year.

When you look at San Marino and Monza, his mistake at Monaco, their dreadful European GP... He got lucky.
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Post by Vassago » 6 days ago

I tend to agree that Schumacher sabotaged the Japanese GP and flat out didn't want to overtake Hakkinen so Irvine wouldn't be the one who breaks the 20-year WDC slump for Ferrari.
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Post by Antonov » 5 days ago

Vassago wrote:
6 days ago
I tend to agree that Schumacher sabotaged the Japanese GP and flat out didn't want to overtake Hakkinen so Irvine wouldn't be the one who breaks the 20-year WDC slump for Ferrari.
True. let's just say Mika's '99 championship was a lucky one - but for the history books, I'm happy Irvine's name won't feature.

Mika made up for it in '00 with some marvellous performances though. Imagine he didn't have the mechanical failures early in the season - he'd have been a triple champ.

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Post by Antonov » 13 hours ago

hello?

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Post by erwin greven » 12 hours ago

Hello.
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Post by MonteCristo » 12 hours ago

Salut?
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Post by Everso Biggyballies » 12 hours ago

こんにちは

Konichiwa

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Post by Antonov » 10 hours ago

I'd had hoped for a reaction on my latest (substantial) post :-(

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