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After their spectacular start to the 2000 season, winning the first three races, Michael and Ferrari had a tough outing in the next two races. In the fourth and fifth race of the season, Michael could only manage a third and a fifth spot, respectively. Notwithstanding the underwhelming performance, Michael was still leading the championship thanks to the earlier onslaught of wins. Ferrari too was still ahead in the constructors' table, and now it boiled down to the European Grand Prix.
The question was whether the McLarens would find the right gear after an abysmal start to the season, or Ferraris would continue what began with their stellar start to the season. The pace with which the McLarens were catching up with the Ferrari on the points table made one wonder if the season would well pan out in their favour. On their part, Ferrari was doing everything to get Michael on the top of the podium, though the last two races seemed to show deterioration in their performance.
Would Ferrari get back to their winning ways in Europe? Would Michael make a comeback at his home ground? Or would it still be a McLaren's day on Sunday?
Let's find out.
The 2000 European GP Qualifying
A session expected to be a continuation of the McLaren-Ferrari battle did not fail to live up to the expectations. It was once again the story of pole positions being traded between the two teams. While other cars on the circuit were getting faster, they were nowhere close to the top two teams.
If the qualifying was not impressive already, a light shower at the beginning of the session made it even more exciting. The session began just when the track started drying, and all the cars headed out as soon as they could. The forecast of rain midway through the session was a cause of concern for all teams.
The session was a bit different from the usual Mika-vs-Michael battle as David put on a sterling lap to get the car on P1. How good David’s lap had been became apparent at the end, when no one could challenge him. Here’s how the top four cars' times compared:
David Coulthard: McLaren 1:17.529
Michael Schumacher: Ferrari 1:17.667
Mika Hakkinen: McLaren 1:17.785
Ruben Barrichello: Ferrari 1:18.227
Only three drivers could make it to the 1:17-minute mark, and as usual, only four drivers at the top were within six-tenth of a second of the pole time. It was still a McLaren-Ferrari front row, but in this case, Michael had to watch out for David and see if he could get to the first turn ahead of all the other cars.
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Let’s jump on to the race day to see how the race progressed.
The 2000 European GP: Race Day
One expectation that would be tested at the European GP was the performance of the McLaren team. Was the performance here to stay and if so, would the 2000 season prove to be another feather in Mika’s cap? If the turn of events, so far, did not already prove a McLaren revival, the start of the European GP certainly proved Mika’s revival.
At the turn of the lights, Mika made a brilliant start catapulting ahead of David and Michael. David had a poor start and was relegated to third by the first turn. Mika sped ahead with Michael in close pursuit. It was once again a race that appeared would be decided by the pitstop strategy. Of course, the rain gods had other plans.
By lap ten, Michael and Mika had opened up a gap to the third-placed David and as usual, were pulling away lap after lap. Since lap eight, one thing became evident, and that was that the track would be experiencing rain, though nobody knew for how long or how intense. The cars, therefore, stayed out on slick tyres, as none of the teams wanted to take a chance of changing to wet-weather tyres and risking their cars getting slower than the others.
Take a look at the race summary:
Michael, being the Rainman, made the most of the changing weather even before the tyre change. On the eleventh lap, he overtook Mika and started pulling away from him in haste. Watch the video from the 11:00 minute mark to see the overtake.
Once the teams got confirmation that the cars with wet-weather tyres were indeed, running faster than the ones on slick, all the top runners were called in. Mika and Michael came in at almost the same time. Both had issues with their pitstops, and therefore, joined in the same order. Neither team could make most of the other’s slip-up.
At the end of the first pitstop, the race order was Michael leading from Mika, then David, and then Rubens in the fourth position. The order more or less remained the same after the second pitstop, though Rubens was putting pressure on David near the end. Michael and Mika were the only ones on the same lap, while everyone up to the third-placed David was lapped.
So, Michael went ahead to take the chequered flag, nearly thirteen seconds ahead of Mika. The battle for third was settled with David crossing the line before Rubens. So, Michael got his fourth victory in six races; the Ferraris were back in the game.
Back to the Pits
Michael and the Ferrari team were showing signs of repeating what Michael and the Benetton team did in the 1994 season. Being the underdog, they were putting up some mighty fights. To be honest, it made one wonder if the team could be called an underdog. They were the constructors champion of the 1999 season, and Michael was showing all signs of storming to his third world championship.
Of course, no one would be able to predict the journey the 2000 season would have in store for the teams, but it was already proving exciting for Michael Schumacher's fans. Four wins from six races was a mighty achievement and one that had given the team a clear advantage in the drivers' and constructors' championship!
The Next Win...
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