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The 1998 F1 Season
The top teams of the 1997 season witnessed a lot of changes going into the new season. The most spoken about team, Ferrari, and its driver Michael Schumacher, tried to put the past behind. The bad press was best forgotten as the team prepared to get ready for the 1998 season.
The previous year's champion, Williams, appeared a shade of their old self. The change of engine and chassis put them behind in terms of speed and reliability. Ferrari, on the other hand, had grown leaps and bounds in terms of reliability. Had the 1998 season been a one-on-one competition with the Williams, Michael Schumacher would have won the championship hands down; but that was not to be.
The team that won its only race of the 1997 season was proving to be on par with Ferrari, if not better. The McLarens led by Mika Hakkinen were a force to reckon. Michael's job wouldn't be easy. Further proof of McLaren's domination came at the 1998 Australian and Brazilian GP with Mika storming to victory in both the races.
Even before the Argentine GP, McLaren's pace was the talk of the town. In fact, not only Mika but also David Coulthard was doing pretty good in the second McLaren. Any competition would, therefore, have to beat two cars to get in front. In such a circumstance, Ferrari would be far from fancying their chances.
Could Michael still win the Argentine GP, the third race of the 1998 season? Or would it be Mika's hat-trick of wins?
Let's find out.
The 1998 Argentine GP Qualifying
By the time the teams arrived in Argentina, the world had acknowledged McLarens as the team to beat. They were so fast that the pundits had already predicted a McLaren championship win with not much of challenge from the Ferraris. There wasn’t much to challenge the oracle, as the best opposition, Michael Schumacher, had only managed one second-place in the last two races.
The Argentine qualifying appeared to prove what the McLaren fans believed so far – that it was tough to beat them. After trading pole laps, David Coulthard emerged at the pole, with the only challenge from Michael being a position at P2. For the first time in the 1998 season, Mika Hakkinen was not on pole. Mika admitted that the Argentine circuit was not one of his favourites, as corroborated by his past performance at the track.
McLarens did not have much to complain, as they still got the pole and Mika was not far behind at P3. It already appeared like one more race dominated by the black-and-silver cars. Michael Schumacher was the only challenger at the moment.
Could Michael do it?
Let’s find out.
The 1998 Argentine GP – Race Day
The Argentine GP’s start was a good reminder of how great the McLaren cars were in terms of performance. Not only did David have a rocking start, but also Mika stormed past Michael. Both the Ferraris had a bad start and each lost one position by the first corner. And that’s where things started to look different for the first time in the season.
Schumacher was visibly faster than Mika and was tailing him closely in no time. Even before the first lap was over, Michael was already making attempts to pass Mika. By the second lap, Michael passed Mika and was catching-up on David in the first place. The pace at which the Ferrari was flying, it was evident that they were on a lighter fuel, and therefore, one extra pitstop as compared to the McLarens. While the fans and commentators were debating the Ferrari’s pace, Michael was already at the back of David by the fourth lap.
Then something happened which must have frozen the hearts of the fans, the Ferrari camp, and Michael Schumacher, himself. There was a collision with David Coulthard.
Since there was a tendency to pin every collision on Schumacher, it was a bit of a relief to find the commentators feeling that David was too sharp in his reaction to Schumacher. The more significant relief, though, was seeing both cars continue without damage. From there, Schumacher dominated the proceedings.
Here is the race summary:
Michael, briefly, lost his lead at the first pitstop when Mika overtook him and was ten-seconds ahead. Within a couple of laps, Michael took the lead and was a little over nineteen seconds adrift. One other reason for the lead was Mika’s atrocious stop which lasted about fourteen-seconds. With a lesser fuel load, Michale started churning out some quick laps. That sealed the deal, as he went for his second and last stop and came out ahead of Mika. If there were no more surprises, Michael should win the race.
There was just one more incident in the store, though. The defending champion, Jacques Villeneuve, was going wheel-to-wheel with David Coulthard when they collided. Jacques was instantly out of the race, while David went through. That was the second incident involving David and Jacques wasn’t as lucky as Michael (or David, for that matter).
At the chequered flag, Michael took the honours with Mika in second-place nineteen seconds behind, and Eddie Irvine in third. That was Ferrari’s and Michael’s first win of the season, and a sliver of a belief that they still had a chance!
Back to the Pits
Michael’s first win sounded the bugle. Any thoughts of the season being an easy walk to the title, could be put aside. Much like previous years, Michael once again emerged as one of the leading title contenders. Year-after-year, drivers contending for the top spot changed, barring Michael. That consistency is what made him one of the greatest!
The Next Win..
Want to know the story of Michael Schumacher's twenty-ninth win? Click here to find out:
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