Hakkinen flies to victory at Spa

Mika Hakkinen took an unlikely yet stunning victory in Sunday's Belgian Grand Prix by comprehensively beating title-rival Michael Schumacher after an early spin looked to have put the world champion out of contention. Ralf Schumacher notched up a stoic third place to complete the podium while David Coulthard watched his championship hopes begin to fade in fourth position

Hakkinen flies to victory at Spa

After heavy rain during the morning, much debate before the start centred around whether the race would start behind the safety car. The decision was made by race director Charlie Whiting who decided that conditions warranted the pace car, but in the end a rolling start was deemed to be safe enough.

From a decidedly undramatic start, Hakkinen turned his pole position into the lead and began to pull away as the Spa-Francorchamps track steadily dried. After a manic first spate of pit stops for dry tyres, the Finn settled into his position out in front, while a flurry of place changes due to the pit stops, left Michael Schumacher chasing.

Jenson Button tipped Jarno Trulli out of the race and allowed team-mate Ralf Schumacher up into third.

After 10 laps the leading pair began to trade fastest laps and the gap between them stabilised at around the five second mark.

Hakkinen then made an uncharacteristic mistake and span on the exit of the Stavelot corner. The Finn kept his McLaren-Mercedes out of the tyre wall. Nevertheless Schumacher sailed past Hakkinen into to take over the lead. The hunted then became the hunter.

"My spin was not planned," explained Hakkinen. "The kerbs here at Spa are very slippery and I was lucky to stay on the track."

With a clear track ahead, Schumacher set about putting in a ferocious spell of laps - his times tumbling every time he crossed the start-finish line. By lap 19 the two-time world champion had increased his lead over Hakkinen to almost 10 seconds. The Ferrari ace continued to push hard, cooling his soft compound dry tyres in the remaining damp patches on the track. All was far from over.

An inspired stint of very committed driving after Hakkinen's second pit stop brought the Finn very much back into contention. With Schumacher's tyre-hungry Ferrari slowing the German, the gap began to drop. Hakkinen closed in on the Ferrari bringing the gap down from five seconds after the second stops to 0.8 seconds with five laps remaining.

The blistering spell from Hakkinen culminated in an impressive passing manoeuvre where the Ferrari and McLaren went either side of Ricardo Zonta on the approach to Les Combes. The Finn had the inside line taking the lead and both Schumacher and Zonta unawares. Once past, he did not look back until the chequered flag.

"Hakkinen was so much faster that there was nothing I could do," said Schumacher Sr. "I tried my best but it was not good enough today. But we got six points and it is not the end yet."

Brother Ralf in third place continued to prove that the Williams-BMW team is the best of the rest. A quiet race after the initial dice with Button down to Eau Rouge produced the 25-year-old's second podium of the year.

"We were close today but Mika was outstanding and there was no way I could go for a win," said Ralf. "But we're definitely the third team in the championship."

In fourth place DC's luck was definitely somewhere else, as the Scot first struggled to get past the Jordan of Heinz-Harald Frentzen, then he took until the last third of the race to push past Button, and was by then too far away to be in contention for a place on the podium.

"It was a perfect race for Mika, but from my point of view there are areas where we need to improve," said a despondent Coulthard. "I need to get more from my races."

Jenson Button brought the second Williams home in fifth place for two points. The young Brit started from third on the grid and his pace around the Spa circuit was impressive all weekend causing some to cast aspersions as to whether Sir Frank Williams had made the right decision in letting the 20-year-old go to Benetton on loan for two years. Unfortunately the same pace was not repeated in the race.

Button attempted to pass Trulli on the second lap but left the door open to the charging Michael Schumacher. With Schumacher through and away after Hakkinen, Button hit Trulli at La Source hairpin with an over zealous manoeuvre to make up lost ground. The Italian went out of the race while Button continued down in fifth, where he would eventually finish.

"I think it was just a misunderstanding," said Trulli. "He hit me from the back and then I stalled. These things happen."

In his response, Button too did not lay the blame at anyone's door.

"I went to get past Trulli but it didn't come off," he said. "We wanted to be in the top three today and it didn't happen, but there you go."

Heinz-Harald Frentzen rounded out the top six to claim his third sixth place this year. After David Coulthard got past the German during the pit stop, thanks to some very quick McLaren pit work, the Jordan driver was unable to fight for places. He finished six seconds behind Button and unthreatened by seventh-placed man Jacques Villeneuve.

The battle for the championship moves to Monza in a fortnight where Hakkinen has proved himself to be quick. Both Schumacher and Coulthard will likely leave the Ardennes forest wondering quite how they can make up the lost ground to the flying Finn. Hakkinen is six points clear in the drivers' championship and has scored 42 points from 50 races - definitely a roll. His rivals just need to bring the roll to a stop.

For full results click here.

For Autosport.com's lap-by-lap report click here.

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