Images of Lewis Hamilton crossing the finish line as the winner of the 2020 British Grand Prix have gone around the world. And for good reason: the Mercedes driver had a puncture mid-circuit and had to complete the last kilometers at a slow trot, on three wheels. But this crazy last lap pales in comparison to the one that marked the 1998 edition of the event at Silverstone.
On July 12, 1998, a few hours before the final of the Football World Cup was played at the Stade de France, sports fans had the opportunity to quench their thirst for action by watching the Grand Prix of Formula 1 Britain.
The good weather is not really there on this Sunday afternoon. It had already rained in the early morning and the warm-up was held in the wet. However, the track had time to dry out before the start of the race, but not enough for the drivers to set off with the tires for the dry. However, forecasts from meteorologists and gray skies over Silverstone suggest that conditions will deteriorate as the afternoon progresses.
Mika Hakkinen and Michael Schumacher share the front row on a wet track
On the strength of his successes in Canada and France, two Grands Prix completely missed by McLaren who could only total five points, Michael Schumacher wants to make the pass of three in England. A victory on McLaren soil would be a strong symbol, especially when we know that Ferrari’s last success at Silverstone dates back to 1990, and could even allow the Red Baron to lead the championship for the first time, depending on the performance of his rival Mika Hakkinen.
But the flying Finn is indeed there. On Saturday, he took pole position almost half a second ahead of Schumacher, second on the grid. The mixed conditions at the start nevertheless help the German as he is used to excelling on reduced levels of grip.
However, it was Häkkinen who led at the start of the race, Schumacher being even guilty of a small error which allowed David Coulthard to steal second place from him. The gap between the German pilot and the Silver Arrows, a handful of seconds, then stagnated, until the clouds burst and upset the strategies.
Mika Hakkinen, McLaren MP4-13, leaves the track
Between intermediate tires and rain tires, the heart of the pilots swings. Coulthard and Schumacher prefer to keep the mixed rubbers by putting on a new train between laps 19 and 21. Häkkinen, he stops on the 23rd lap and takes the rain tires, with deeper treads. A surprising but profitable choice: the rain ended up intensifying, and the leader of the championship flew away.
The abandonment of Coulthard, trapped by a puddle of water when overtaking a latecomer, made Schumacher gain a position but in just twenty laps, the Ferrari driver lost thirty seconds to Häkkinen, even if he left the track abruptly at Bridge and spun.
Schumacher owes his salvation only to the intervention of the safety car, deployed because of the enormous downpour which fell on the circuit. Not only did his lag behind Häkkinen go up in smoke, but he also benefited from a tire advantage: for the second round of pit stops, at the start of the deluge, Schumacher swapped his intermediates for wet tires, and Häkkinen his wet tires for intermediaries.
Hakkinen is harassed by Schumacher
The Finn is therefore in a weak position when it comes to restarting the race. Schumacher, glued to his diffuser, does not let go and makes him crack. Once again, Häkkinen leaves the track. His opponent overtakes him and escapes. There are ten rounds left, nothing can stop him.
Nothing ? This is without counting the thoughtlessness of which the Red Baron was guilty on the 43rd lap, when the yellow flags were waved. In a neutralized portion, Schumacher overtook Alexander Würz to trick him, which is strictly forbidden. The fault must lead to a penalty, and this falls half an hour later, in the penultimate loop.
The race direction sends a note to the Ferrari pit wall: a ten-second penalty. But are we talking here about a penalty time added to the race time, a stop-and-go lasting ten seconds or another penalty? In addition, the regulations require a decision no later than 25 minutes after the incident. However, Ferrari was informed after 30 minutes.
The vagueness of the penalty and the breach of procedure are exploited as it should be by the Scuderia. Schumacher is certainly called back to the pits, but in the last lap of the race. We make him do a stop-and-go, but since the finish line of the Silverstone circuit is located before the red garage, the driver wins before serving his penalty!
When Schumacher returns to the track, Mika Häkkinen is already far ahead, in full deceleration phase. Misunderstanding obviously reigns, nobody knows who won, if Ferrari is in its right or if the FIA has made a big mistake.
Eventually, Schumacher is declared the winner. Not only was the stop-and-go not necessary (a stop-and-go penalty imposed in the last 12 laps automatically resulted in a ten-second time addition at the time), but the three commissioners having dealt with the business have badly photocopied their verdict, the members of Ferrari having had difficulty in deciphering it, and exceeded the time limit imposed of 25 minutes. A fault which also led to their voluntary departure.
Even with a race time extended by ten seconds, Schumacher has enough lead to win, even if the sanction will be lifted a few days later. In addition, his third victory in a row allows him to return to two points behind Häkkinen in the general classification. A very crazy way to revive the championship!