Hakkinen leads points after Hungary win

For reasons known to others far better-qualified than this writer, the Finnish language is very similar to Hungarian. That means the Hungarian Grand Prix has become the nearest thing to a home race for McLaren's Mika Hakkinen. Over 25,000 of his fellow countrymen made the trip to see him do his stuff, and they weren't disappointed: Hakkinen led from first corner to flag and left the Hungaroring with a two-point lead over Michael Schumacher in the world championship.

Hakkinen leads points after Hungary win

It looked easy, because it was easy. With just five races to go, McLaren looks relentless (and now leads the constructors' championship), Hakkinen looks on top of his game, and Schumacher has relinquished his world championship lead for the first time this season. One has to wonder if Ferrari will end up as bridesmaids once again?

"All season people have talked about who's been motivated, or who hasn't," said Hakkinen afterwards, "but I've just concentrated on going to races and trying to win them. That's what I'll continue to doing - not thinking about winning championships."

It had looked a potentially different story after qualifying, with Schumacher on pole for the fifth time this season. But both McLaren drivers had said then that the race would be a different matter, and they were right. Had David Coulthard not been held up by traffic before his second and final pitstop, there's no doubt it would have been a McLaren one-two. In the end, only the near-impossibility of over-taking on the sinuous Hungaroring allowed Schumacher to finish second.

" Today we just weren't fast enough to win the race," said Schumacher. "If Mika hadn't passed me at the start, he'd probably have done it at the pit stops anyway. We made progress on Friday and Saturday, but we didn't make progress for the race. We need to make up some ground."

It wasn't a lightning start from Schumacher, but it was adequate. As the lights went out to commence 77 gruelling laps, the German got it all about right and scampered, rather than exploded into the lead, with Hakkinen snicking in behind. On past Hungary form, that probably meant game over on the excitement front for the next 20 laps or so, but on the run into the first right-hander, the Finn built up the greater momentum, darted right to the inside of the Ferrari, played chicken on the brakes and cleanly took the lead. Schumacher seemed momentarily surprised to see the McLaren down his inside, but checked slightly and, for the first time in three races, continued his race beyond the first corner.

Behind them, Coulthard bogged slightly at the lights, but recovered to slot into third, while Ralf Schumacher converted fourth on the grid into fourth on the road, leading a train of cars headed by Rubens Barrichello, Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Giancarlo Fisichella.

Given the first corner dramas in recent races, the Hungaroring start was a pretty staid affair all told. In fact, the only casualties during the whole of the first lap were Jacques Villeneuve's BAR and Pedro de la Rosa's Arrows. A quick tangle neecessitated a new nose cone for the Canadian and new tyres for the Arrows, which had punctured its left rear in the mini-melee.

By lap seven, Hakkinen had increased his gap over Schumacher to 3.5s, with Coulthard a further 1.5s behind. Another five seconds back and Ralf Schumacher was still fourth, but beginning to put some space between his Williams and Barrichello's Ferrari. Frentzen, too, was beginning to drop off the Williams' pace in sixth.

On lap eight, Fisichella went wide at turn one, grass-tracking then re-joining, but it was enough to make the eighth-placed Jenson Button lift off slightly. That was the only invitation Eddie Irvine needed as he slotted his Jaguar past the Williams to take seventh. Behind him, Button, Alexander Wurz and Mika Salo completed the top 10.

In recent races at the Hungaroring, Ferrari and Schumacher had bravely switched to a three-stop strategy, but if it was the case this time around, it was a gamble that had rebounded somewhat. Running three stops means that in theory you can start with an ultra-light fuel load and bound, gazelle-like, away from the rest of the field. Erm, okay... 21 laps completed: Hakkinen - 7.9s - Schumacher - 6.1s - Coulthard - 6.6s - Schumacher (Ralf). If - if - Michael was running three stops, it sure wasn't working.

By the way, at the end of lap 25, with the leaders still to make their first stop, there had only been two retirements - both of them Prosts. Another great day for Alain...

On lap 28, with Ferrari obviously on a two-stop 'shadow the McLarens' strategy, the first of the leaders finally peeled in to the pits. Master tactician Ross Brawn pulled Schumacher in and the German was stationary for a mere 7.3s, rejoining in fifth. No problems with that time, but with Hakkinen absolutely on it, the odd second made up in the pits probably wouldn't change the outcome.

Barrichello came in after 30 laps and was stationary for a mere 6.7s, but McLaren waited until lap 32 to bring Hakkinen in. His stop of 7.0s put him out well ahead of Schumacher, with Coulthard pitting on lap 33 and taking just 6.9s to refuel and re-tyre. Frentzen, too, pitted on lap 32 to complete the stops amomg the frontrunners.

Okay, re-group time: 34 laps completed and Hakkinen led Schumacher by 13.5s, with Coulthard 3.6s further back in third. Barrichello was now fourth, 18.6s behind Coulthard, with Schumacher Minor and Frentzen completing the top six. Button had moved up to seventh, with Irvine eighth and the biggest pitstop loser. Jarno Trulli's Jordan and Salo completed the top 10.

With 39 laps completed and the half-distance mark passed, Schumacher appeared to be struggling. Hakkinen had pulled his lead out to 17s, but with the McLaren on cruise mode, that was basically down to Schumacher dropping off the pace - something which had allowed Coulthard to close to within two seconds of the German. Post-stop, Schumacher had not looked comfortable, while the McLarens looked serene and in control, which boded badly for any sort of grandstand finish for this race. In reality, Ferrari was now looking at damage limitation rather than a possible victory.

Behind the lead trio, the rest of the top 10 had stagnated somewhat. Button had briefly looked like challenging Irvine, while Salo had closed on Trulli, but that was about it for excitement. Fisichella had called it a day too, the damage from his off making it a pointless exercise to continue.

Barrichello pitted again on lap 48, taking 8.7s, and rejoined fifth, behind Ralf Schumacher's Williams. Schumacher pitted on 51, stopping for 7.7s, with his brother Ralf popping in for 8.4s on the same lap. One lap later, Coulthard peeled in, stopped for just 6.6s, but rejoined a couple of car lengths behind Schumacher's Ferrari. And with the Hungaroring such a difficult track to pass on, the smart money said that unless backmarkers intervened, Schumacher would be able to stay ahead for another 25 laps.

Lap 55 and race leader Hakkinen came in for his second and final stop. It lasted just 6.8s and the Finn was able to rejoin with a lead over Schumacher's Ferrari of some 21.8s.

A couple of laps for things to settle and the leaderboard read as follows: Hakkinen - 23.5s - Schumacher - 0.4s - Coulthard - 29.2s - Barrichello - 5.2s - Ralf Schumacher - 16.2s - Frentzen. Button was seventh, Trulli eighth, Diniz ninth and Irvine 10th, and bar mechanical failure or a couple of brave/stupid pills for Coulthard, it looked likely to stay that way.

On lap 65, Schumacher and Coulthard were behind Button's Williams, but a polite move over to the right from the rookie meant the duo passed without incident. If Coulthard was going to make four points into six, he couldn't rely on traffic to make it easy for him.

In the closing laps, the seventh-placed Button had to sweat. His BMW engine was down on power and Trulli had the bit between his teeth behind. By lap 73, the gap was down to 1.5s and by lap 75, the job was done - the Italian snicked by into the first corner, but since the battle had been over seventh place, one position out of the points, it was for bragging rights only. A lap later, Irvine was through too, but it had been another good drive for the Benetton-bound Brit.

By lap 73, Hakkinen had lowered his pace to laps in the 1m24s range. The gap over Schumacher had come down to 13.7s after 74 laps, and was a mere 10.7s as the Finn started his final lap.

After 77 laps of - it has to be said - a less than classic Grand Prix, Hakkinen finally took the win by 7.9s over Schumacher, with Coulthard still 0.5s behind the Ferrari. Barrichello was fourth, with Ralf Schumacher and Frentzen completing the point-scorers.

But if the racing was dull, the result certainly shook up the world championship points standings. Hakkinen (64 points) now leads Schumacher by two points, with Coulthard third on 58. Barrichello is still fourth, but his 49 points appear to have removed him from the running - especially if Ferrari boss Luca di Montezemolo decides, as seeems likely, to concentrate his resources on Schumacher.

It's Spa next - as good as a home race for Michael Schumacher - and the German will need all the support he can get. McLaren looked in a class of its own in race trim in Hungary, and Hakkinen was back to his relentless best for probably the first time all season. Ferrari, in contrast, looked like also-rans.

The legendary Juan Manuel Fangio was the last driver to take three world titles in a row, but after his Hungaroring stroll, Mika Hakkinen looks increasingly likely now to join that most exclusive of clubs.

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