The 1998 French GP: Michael Schumacher’s 30th Career Win
The 1998 F1 Season
Ferrari’s victory at Canada was only their second of the 1998 season, and both Schumacher and Ferrari had to find more wins to keep their championship hopes alive. The McLarens’ domination of the season was ruthless, in comparison to the Williams of the 1997 season, and in a way, reminiscent of their successful 1988-89 seasons. Mika Hakkinen was proving to be one fierce rival.
Winning in tough conditions was what Michael had done numerous times before, even in a lesser competitive Ferrari. So, it would be obvious that more victories for Schumacher would come about, eventually. But with the half of the season over, those victories were needed sooner than later.
The victory at Canada would have boosted the Ferrari team’s confidence, and they would want to replicate the same at France. The McLaren team would be ready for the challenge, and it would not be an easy run to the victory for any other team, let alone Ferrari.
The promise of a spectacular competition at France kept fans coming back for more, but would it be in favour of Michael Schumacher?
Let’s find out.
Did You Know?
The last time that the McLaren team dominated the F1 circuit was in the 1988 season when Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna were in a league of their own. Not a single car could come near the McLarens.
More than a decade later, in 1998, Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard were recreating the McLaren magic. Only this time, there was a Michael Schumacher in a Ferrari challenging them!
The 1998 French GP Qualifying
For once the qualifying run was not a team matter between David Coulthard and Mika Hakkinen. Usually, both would trade pole laps and mostly would occupy the front row of the grid. For once, the qualifying session was different. This time it was Schumacher in a Ferrari trading pole position with Mika Hakkinen.
The Ferrari appeared fast and was consistently ahead of David Coulthard in the other McLaren. While the pole position battle continued till late in the session, Mika sealed the top spot with one lightning lap which put Schumacher two-tenths of a second behind.
So good was Mika’s lap, that he was the only driver to break the 1 minute 14 seconds qualifying time barrier. Every other driver, including Schumacher, were at the 1 minute 15 mark and above. Here are the qualifying times of the top three drivers at the 1998 French GP.
- Mika Hakkinen – McLaren: 1:14:929
- Michael Schumacher – Ferrari: 1:15:159
- David Coulthard – McLaren: 1:15.333
The qualifying session promised a great race-day and possibly an awesome battle between Mika and Michael.
The 1998 French GP – Race Day
The first start to the French GP was aborted as one of the Stewart cars stalled on the grid. Mika, though, had a lightning start and got away rapidly at the first start. If those were signs of the second start, then McLarens would be sitting relaxed.
The second start was not in favour of either McLarens as the Ferrari’s stormed past. Michael got into the lead followed by Eddie Irvine. The lineup, therefore, was the Ferraris in first and second position, followed by McLarens in the third and fourth position. That was not a start that the McLarens would have hoped to have.
Take a look at the race summary here:
Note: This video is about 45-minutes. It is for readers’ leisure watching if time permits.
The video shows the qualifying run too, and you can see the “flying Finn” bolting ahead of Michael by two-tenths of a second. You can watch the qualifying run from the 1:00 minute mark.
After the second start to the race, Michael was rapidly pulling away from the rest of the pack, as the McLarens were capped at the pace of Eddie’s Ferrari. Just by the end of the first lap, Michael was one-and-a-half seconds ahead of Eddie, and it appeared that Ferrari was on a three-stop strategy versus the McLarens’ two-stops. But as the race progressed, it became evident that the Ferraris were on a two-stop plan much like the McLarens. It was indeed the Ferraris, and their Goodyear tyres, working well at the circuit.
Such was Ferrari’s pace that Michael was ahead of Eddie by nearly 22 seconds, and no, Eddie wasn’t being hotly pursued by the McLarens. He had managed to open up a 10-second lead on Mika in the third place. Michael was doing nearly two-seconds faster than Mika lap-after-lap. The McLarens were nowhere close to the incredibly dominating performance that they had had so far in the 1998 season. On the other hand, Ferrari, for once, was dominating proceedings.
Schumacher continued to have an easy day as he got in and out of the pits in front. Michael also created a new track record of 1:17.77 minutes during his early speed attack which was eventually taken by David at 1:17.5 minutes. The McLarens’ pretty ordinary day proved a bit unlucky for David as he had to pit twice within two laps due to a refuelling failure.
As the race neared completion, Mika was back to his lightning pace and caught up with Eddie and kept attacking him. Just at the last turn of the final lap, Mika made the Ferrari team’s heart skip a beat as he almost took the second place. Watch that action at 35:37 minutes in the video. It all ended well for Ferrari, though, as Michael took the win nineteen seconds ahead of Eddie and Eddie finished second.
It was sixteen points won for Ferrari!
Did You Know?
Ferrari’s 1-2 finish in the 1998 French GP was only the second time that happened in 8 years.
The last time Ferrari had a 1-2 finish was in the 1990 Spanish GP where Alain Prost took the victory followed by Nigel Mansell in the other Ferrari.
Back to the Pits
The French GP saw a Ferrari 1-2 after nearly a decade and also saw Michael move closer to Mika in the world championship table. Michael was just six points behind Mika, and that would mean that the championship was close and alive again.
Could Michael continue his cool winning ways? We will see soon!
Questions & Answers
© 2020 S K