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F1 History 22

I was there when… 2000 Belgian GP

It was Flavio Briatore who famously said that Kimi Rӓikkӧnen made Mika Hӓkkinen seem like Jerry Lewis, but Mika, too, had that unemotional Finnish way with him. Far less dour than his fellow countryman, and positively chatty by comparison, still Hӓkkinen was a man of relatively few words – and those he tended to put to good use. After the Belgian Grand Prix in 2000, Michael Schumacher was under no illusions about that.

history  I was there when... 2000 Belgian GP

In his McLaren Hӓkkinen was on pole position that afternoon, and by almost a full second, but as any driver knows, a crucial aspect of any race at Spa is surviving the first few seconds, as everyone brakes hard for La Source. And what slightly concerned Mika was that the drivers closest to him on the grid were not the usual suspects: Jarno Trulli’s Jordan lined up second, with the Williams-BMW of rookie Jenson Button a stunning third.

Patrick Head, never a man given to hyperbole, raved to me about Jenson’s performance: “He drives this circuit like Alain (Prost) used to drive it, and I can’t really offer higher praise than that…”

True enough – but still, to some degree, Button and Trulli were an unknown quantity in Hӓkkinen’s mind. “I haven’t been in this position with these two guys before,” he said. “I’m sure they’ll be fine, but at least with Michael I know what to expect at the first corner…”

history  I was there when... 2000 Belgian GP

Would the two youngsters be trying to wrest the lead from Hӓkkinen in the opening seconds? Of course, said Trulli at the press conference; he was here to race. Button was a bit more light-hearted: “Oh, certainly! We’re going to go either side of him, aren’t we, Jarno?”

That phrase would have a particular resonance 24 hours on, although in connection not with Trulli or Button, but Schumacher, who qualified fourth, disappointed with a Ferrari that had tested well, in low-downforce spec, at Mugello, but had fallen short of his expectations at Spa. His best hope, Michael said, was for a wet race, and initially it seemed that his prayers had been answered, for there was rain for much of race morning, and although it abated by noon, the track was still damp when the race began – inevitably behind the Safety Car.

Once they were unleashed, Hӓkkinen duly took the lead, and – following a coming-together between Trulli and Button – Schumacher was soon into second place. So quickly did the track begin to dry out that, after five and six laps, the leaders pitted.

history  I was there when... 2000 Belgian GP

Running dry tyres on a not completely dry track, Schumacher was quicker than Hӓkkinen, and he began to close in at the rate of half a second a lap. On lap 13 Mika had a colossal slide at Stavelot, which ultimately became a lazy spin, and allowed Michael into a lead which at one point grew to nearly 12 seconds.

By the time of their second stops the track was bone dry, the sun shining, and now Hӓkkinen began hunting Schumacher down. As they began lap 40, with four to go, he was almost on Michael’s tail, and through Eau Rouge was visibly closing. Up the hill the McLaren was right on the Ferrari, and inevitably Mika was going to slingshot by into Les Combes…

Or maybe not. Before the race he had said what he expected from Schumacher – but perhaps even he was surprised on this occasion. As he jinked to Michael’s right, the Ferrari chopped him, and at over 190mph the cars momentarily touched. Mika had no option but to back off, but he was not impressed.

Once confident that his McLaren was fundamentally sound, Mika bent himself to the task of catching Michael again, and there was a cold fury in the way he got after him. On the next lap he again took yards out of Schumacher through Eau Rouge, then stalked him up the hill – at which point they came upon the BAR of Ricardo Zonta, which was in the middle of the track.

history  I was there when... 2000 Belgian GP

When Zonta looked in his mirrors, all he could see was the scarlet of Schumacher, for Hӓkkinen’s grey McLaren was directly behind the Ferrari. As they neared Les Combes, Michael went left to pass the BAR – and a fraction later Mika went right, passing both of them in the process. Later Zonta admitted that he had no idea the McLaren was anywhere in the vicinity; that being so, it was good he kept his car arrow straight. Probably he slept with the lights on for a while afterwards.

Mika’s was a move of stunning audacity, and perfectly executed. As he followed him into the corner, Schumacher knew that the race was lost. “Mika did an outstanding manoeuvre,” he said. “I really didn’t expect it – but if he hadn’t passed me then, he’d have done it a lap or two later…”

The pair of them completed the last three laps, Hӓkkinen taking it comparatively easily now, knowing he was safe. As he took the flag, Ron Dennis showed more emotion than anyone could remember, tearfully embracing his daughter before going to greet his driver.

history  I was there when... 2000 Belgian GP

“I’m sure,” he said, “Mika’s overtaking manoeuvre will go down as one of the greatest in Formula 1 history.” No one could reasonably take issue with that.

As they climbed from their cars, Hӓkkinen went over to Schumacher, and had a quiet word with him. Never one to get into public spats, at the post-race press conference he was measured in his words as he described the incident: “Mmm, Michael’s car was… too wide on that lap. It was hectic. Not a pleasant moment. When something like that happens, you tend to lose concentration briefly. I wasn’t sure if we’d touched or not, and wondered if maybe my front wing was damaged. For a few corners I didn’t run at the maximum, just making sure the car was OK.”

The cars had indeed touched – to this day the damaged front wing endplate from Hӓkkinen’s car sits in Martin Whitmarsh’s office.

history  I was there when... 2000 Belgian GP

Years later, after he had retired, I asked Mika what he said to Michael in parc fermé. He smiled at the memory: “Oh, I just said I didn’t want him ever to try something like that with me again. I think he understood.

“People always said to me, ‘How can you be so calm?’ Well, I was educated by my parents that way – I learned to control my emotions when I was a kid. I did karting for years, but if you didn’t win a race, you didn’t complain to mummy and daddy about it. My father said, ‘OK, there’s a forest over there – go and kick some trees, get your rid of your frustrations, and then come back’. For a while it seemed to me there were not enough trees – not enough forests! – but in the end I realised my dad was right: there’s no point in getting upset. It doesn’t do any good, doesn’t achieve anything…”

As for Schumacher, he indeed took on board what had been said to him at Spa. Not for nothing did Michael consider Mika a driver apart, the only one who ever really worried him.

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history  I was there when... 2000 Belgian GP

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22 comments on I was there when… 2000 Belgian GP

  1. Bill, 19 August 2013 12:32

    I remember that race well, Spa being a favorite of mine. The sight of F1 cars going flat out through those fast corners is something everybody should include in the upbringing of their children.

    I think the move of Hakkinen – who was the victim of poor pit stop strategies of McLaren yet again and should never have been behind Michael in the first place – wasnt that impressive strictly vs Michael considering Schumacher opted for a more wet biased setup wich made his top speed a lot slower than Mika’s. Schumacher was a sitting duck. Add to that the Mercedes badged Ilmor engines being a bit stronger than the Ferrari V10′s and this was always gonna be Mika’s race to lose.
    What made the move so impressive overall was that Mika tried it whilst lapping Zonta. If Ricardo wouldv moved a tad more to the right, the McLaren wouldv ended up in the guard rail. Mika was right to talk to Schumacher about the shove, though, but it was not something we hadnt seen before.

    Another point was watching Alesi in that Prost, the first to dive into the pits for dry weather tyres and seeing him and his battling style lapping faster than anyone else before the rest pitted. I think Alesi even refused to use traction control, saying it killed pure racing and right foor throttle control. Oh, we miss that guy…

    A well, thank God the Italian GP is a week after Spa, and im sure Nigel Roebuck will use that opportunity to remind us of that 2011 race at Monza, when Alonso shoved Vettel off the track at 190 mph (the German repaid him in kind one year later).

  2. Bill, 19 August 2013 12:48

    In retrospect it was not really a ‘chop’ on Hakkinen, but more a slight nudge to the right when MIka went for a very tiny hole. Mika’s left frontwing endplate slightly touched Schumachers right rear.

    What Alonso, the greatest F1 driver currently in F1 according to nigel Roebuck, did to Vettel at Monza 2011, was a lot more brutal, though. Side by side through curva grande he shoved the Red Bull onto the grass, and Vettel nearly lost it.

    Vettel returned the favor a year later, and shoved Alonso off the track at almost the same spot. Vettel got a drive through penalty for that, but, strangely, Alonso did not for the same a year earlier.

  3. Mikey, 19 August 2013 18:44

    Steady, Bill. One might suspect that the much adored teflon one is not your favourite driver.
    Was the Mika pass a great overtake or an instictive, opportunistic move with a dash of “plane crash averted” luck thrown in? Maybe. Stunning at the time though and good to review now.
    No doubt the McLaren was quicker but quick cars sometimes have problems passing slower ones – without that old chestnut much of the discussion on these sites would run dry!

  4. Bill, 19 August 2013 19:49

    Hey Mikey, im actually a big fan of Alonso. Superb racer. But ive yet to read anything from Nigel Roebuck on Alonso’s lesser actions and instead, only read about Schumachers bad on track antics. I thought it would be nice to show he isnt the only kid that sometimes couldnt play nice with the others. Still, I agree its nice to see it back. I loved the Mika – Michael battles a lot, especially in qualifying.

  5. Mikey, 19 August 2013 20:18

    I too remember the Mika/Michael battles fondly. Both drivers of enormous ability.
    As is Alonso. A great racer and yet… And yet… Was it Jody Scheckter who alluded to it in his podcast? There is something about Fernando I too cannot warm to.
    Funny how the wheel turns – Fernando A and Pedro DLR with the reds now. 2007? The past truly is another country.
    Ferrari’s task of keeping him is looking harder by the day. McL & The Dancing Donkey both proving it is tough at the top.

  6. John Read, 19 August 2013 21:02

    Not many of the drivers are saints, but Michael was the multiple world champion and unchallenged leader of “bad on-track antics”.

  7. LL, 20 August 2013 04:26

    No. Unchallenged leader of “bad on-track antics” was Senna. Schumacher was always challenged, and the British media was there to remind us everyday.
    With Senna no, everything was permissible.

  8. C C, 20 August 2013 12:15

    I remember this season well as it was the last one of 3 years of McLaren / Ferrari & Hakkinen / Schmacher battles. Racing seemed so much more simpler then, flat out to the flag – no constant droaning on by the Engineers about tyre Management and altering settings.. just Drive the car – fast. And what a pass by Hakkinen, using race-craft and bravery to take the lead. You’ll not see anything like that this weekend as it’ll be all DRS aided up the hill – no skill, just sit back and relax and let the lack of drag gain the speed for you.

    Good points above by the readers. Right to point out that Schumacher was no angel, but Alonso has done similar, and even then they’re both dwarfed by Senna’s antics which are in a different league… but ofcourse we can’t critisize either of them… Its Schumacher or no one.

    This is when the season really gets going. As the Calender changes every year in search of CVC money, i find myself only looking forward to the Spa / Monza combination, though we still have a handful of good tracks left.

    What i’d give this weekend for a bit of rain coupled with the Belgians digging up the run off areas and putting down some gravel.

  9. Nigel (not that one), 20 August 2013 18:02

    I really think some of you guys need to go and read a few old racing magazines, Senna was widely criticised when he was alive. True he has been canonised since his death but Roebuck specifically was frequently critical of him at the time and of Alonso. There is something extremely chippy about certain MS fans that they see racism and persecution in every comment and are wilfully blind to any evidence that contradicts them.

  10. Bill, 20 August 2013 19:31

    Yeah, Nigel (not that one)?

    The race report of the Italian GP 2011, by Nigel Roebuck:

    “Alonso defended well, but into the Curva Grande on lap five the Red Bull was right on him, Vettel initially undecided which side to go. Ultimately he chose to try then move on the outside, which was risky, and afterwards he said that Alonso had not given him much room. No surprise there, for Fernando was not about to make it easy for him – and anyway needed a lot of road himself. Neither man lifted and Sebastian came out of the corner ahead – but at the moment of overtaking had two wheels on the grass. It was breathless stuff.”

    Breathtaking stuff. Alonso shoved Vettel off the track at 190 mph whilst being side by side is ‘breathtaking stuff”. Schumacher closing a gap gets 4 or 5 paragraphs on how wrong that was and how bad Mika felt about it.

    Double standards galore.

  11. Lucas, 20 August 2013 19:35

    As Nigel (not that one) said, people really need to read more about that period. Senna has been criticized in the media many times for his antics, then and now.

    It is also true that many claim he got better (some said “mellowed”) with age. Which, sadly, isn’t something that can be said about Schumacher – not only was he still doing his antics until the very end of his first career (Hungary 2006 is a nice example – not only banging wheels but refusing to cede a position that was obviously kept by cutting a chicane and finally crashing into Heidfeld), but it was also happening constantly during his comeback. When one does such things in a great car, many (not me) call him “bold” or “a real racer”. When one does that without such a car, it simply looks silly.

    Anyway, I’m glad to read Roebuck’s account on that race. Mika, to me, is a fine example of how it is perfectly possible for a gentleman to be a successful driver in modern F1.

  12. Rich Ambroson, 20 August 2013 23:20

    Always had (have) time for Mika, even though he drove for “the greys”.

    While Senna WAS criticized (rightly) during his early days, it wasn’t long after Suzuka 1990 that the media turned from appropriately calling him out for that (and JYS had a good interview at Adelaide right after) to lauding him for being such a “determined” racer.

    Back to Mika. I really appreciated the quotes from him about his upbringing. I think that is a crucial aspect. It would be nice if in this day and age of entitlement and “self-esteem” if parents would impart the sort of lessons that Mika’s parents did. Well done, Mr. and Mrs. Hӓkkinen.

  13. Nigel (not that one), 21 August 2013 08:27

    Bill, a driver going for an outside pass should reasonably expect to get pushed to the edge of the track, a driver passing on the straight should not, you’re simply not comparing like with like.

    I’ve read plenty of criticism from Roebuck about Alonso’s temperament and ‘sulky’ behaviour when beaten by Hamilton and I’ve read plenty of praise of Schumachers skill and work ethic by him but you can’t expect the media to refrain from criticising one of the dirtiest drivers on the grid just because his fans don’t like it.

  14. Nigel (not that one), 21 August 2013 08:33

    Incidentally Bill, can you quote Roebucks personal criticism of Schumacher from this story? almost every word of criticism is a quote from Mika, the worst that Nigel writes himself was

    “Mika had no option but to back off, but he was not impressed.”

    Hardly the implied 4-5 paragraphs of character assassination, is it?

  15. Bill, 21 August 2013 11:52

    Nigel (not that one), a driver should expect to get space for his car from a rival whilst overtaking, today thats even in the rules, and hence Vettel getting a penalty for doing exactly the same as Alonso did a year earlier.

    There was a short talk about it in the press conference afterwards but not even that was mentioned in Roebucks report, whereas this article mentions every bit of afterthought of Mika on that contact with Schumacher.

    You cannot straight talk this one. Roebuck is a great writer, with a lot of flair and hes better than most, but his grudge and bias against Schumacher cannot be denied. Its simple examples like this one that make it look childish. You cannot print an article about Schumachers wrong doings and a few years later dismiss similar behavior of Alonso as he doing his job and that ‘he needed space himself’ whilst also noticing Vettel was ahead. Thats as blatant as it gets.

    Its probably utopia to expect a non biased (British) motorsport writer, but a little common sense and balance would go a long way forging respect for the career of Nigel Roebuck. As it is, he comes over more and more as a talented but grumpy old man, unable to see what is what through a red mist of dislike of Schumacher, and rose tinted specs towards Alonso.

  16. Ivan Carlos Ruchesi, 21 August 2013 12:44

    Great article, the drivers’ battle reminded me the 1978 British GP somehow, because a backmarker had to do with the final result of both races.
    Oh, and the sense of justice both provided…

  17. CultofF1, 21 August 2013 12:53

    @Bill: Vettel jinked to the left more aggressively than Alonso and didn’t leave a car width, that was the reason for the penalty.

  18. Bill, 21 August 2013 15:53

    @ cultofF1: you seriously wanna suggest Alonso did leave a cars width for Vettel in 2011? Please watch the video again.

  19. Ed Foster, 21 August 2013 15:57
  20. Nigel Roebuck, 21 August 2013 16:43

    Forgive me, Bill, but I think you yourself made the point very well in the first of your missives: ‘Mika was right to talk to Schumacher about the shove, but it was not something we hadn’t seen before’. Indeed it was not, as a host of other drivers – not least Michael’s own brother – can attest.

    I well remember talking to a senior Williams man on race day at Jerez in 1997, the championship-decider between Villeneuve and Schumacher. “The big worry, of course,” he said, “is that we know, if it comes to it, Michael will simply take Jacques out – just as he did with Damon (Hill) in Adelaide…”

    Not long ago I wrote a newsletter about Schumacher, in which I greatly praised him. Perhaps you missed it. Without a doubt he was a fantastic racing driver, but that didn’t excuse his on-track ethics – any more than it did in the case of Giuseppe Farina or, come to that, Ayrton Senna…

  21. Mikey, 21 August 2013 18:13

    Yes NR, it is that horrible inner groan, that pit of the stomach lurch. The sheer disappointment one feels when a talented driver lets himself, his fans and in some way, that very talent down by stepping over the line. We may try to justify it to ourselves as fans; “he’s a racer”, “who wouldn’t have done the same?” etc… etc.. We know though, don’t we? It was a wrong ‘un. It is almost like a loss of innocence.
    Senna, Schumacher, Alonso, Prost, Vettel. No exemptions. No white hats.

  22. Bill, 21 August 2013 18:53

    Dear Nigel Roebuck,

    It’s your right to not being a fan of Schumacher because of his lesser sides. Youre right that he even did it to his brother, to the point the latter had his mother call big brother to stop doing that. (Imola 2001?)

    But its plain ridiculous to read your excuse on Alonso’s squeeze of Vettels Red Bull, to the point he had 2 wheels off the track at 190 mph – a thing Schumacher did to Alonso at Silverstone 2006, and wich youve recalled many times. I could not believe my eyes the difference what you wrote at that Monza 2011 report.

    I take it from your example of what a Williams engineer said at Jerez 97 that you just want to point out Schumacher is bad news.
    Aside from the fact Williams colluded with McLaren at that race, had Montoya crash into Rubens (and Michael in that Monaco tunnel) this still doesnt right what Alonso did at Monza 2011, and your report on that. Yes you wrote a special report on Schumacher not long ago, and I praised that to bits. But if his on track antics push you away, then so should Alonso’s lesser sides. If the aim is to be a balanced F1 reporter.

    @ Ed Foster: Davidson says Alonso left enough room, implying Vettel made a mistake. The video I uploaded its much more clear: Alonso squeezed Vettel out, and then turn back right. Alonso even admitted he was defending hard.

    @ Mikey: indeed. No white hats.

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Nigel Roebuck

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