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The 2000 season was full of surprises for both Michael and his fans. After his near-flawless start to the season with three straight victories, Michael had a bad patch where he had three consecutive retirements. The retirements allowed Mika not only to catch up but also take the lead over Michael. For the first time in the season, it appeared that Mika might, after all, have a go at his third world title.
The situation changed in Hungary where Michael finished second. He then won the Italian GP. The win at Italy brought Michael just two points behind Mika with three races remaining. A season which the Ferraris seemed to have well in control transformed into a two-way battle between the Ferraris and the McLarens. Again.
The U.S. Grand Prix, thus, carried the excitement of a battle going right down to the wire. A comeback would have given the McLarens and Mika some confidence, while the same could be said about the Ferraris after the Italy win. So, it was pretty even-stevens. Not only that but also equaling Ayrton Senna’s 41-wins would have given Michael that added dose of motivation. How that motivation would work was yet to be seen.
Everybody was eager to find out when Michael would eclipse Ayrton’s record and be the only contender to catch up with another legend, Alain Prost, at the very top. Could the U.S. GP be the race which brought Michael his forty-second victory?
Let’s find out.
The 2000 United States GP Qualifying
The United States GP was exciting for many reasons, but a feature that fans loved to see was the banked road at the start-finish line. The cars went flat out on those roads, reaching speeds in excess of 300 kmph easily. That straight decided to a large extent how well a car qualified. In other words, having a good speed on the straight at the start and end of the qualifying would catapult a car to the front.
Now, the Ferraris realized this well and they effected one grand strategy. It was Michael’s idea to use his teammate as the car in front to punch a hole in the air on the start-finish straight while he slipstreamed behind him on the banked part of the road. The strategy worked and got Michael his P1.
Near the very end of the race, McLarens too tried the same strategy to help David Coulthard put up a lightning-quick lap. Here, Mika was the one in the front, providing a slipstream for David. Take a look at the qualifying over here.
The strategy did work, and David out-qualified Mika and took P2 behind Michael. The funny part though was that Mika was keeping up with David throughout the lap despite it being his slowdown lap. How fast was Mika? A curious question, to which we may not have a ready answer.
To show you how effective the slipstreaming qualifying run was, check out Mika’s qualifying lap without the slipstream effect.
See that? Interestingly, the timing that you see was Mika’s and Michael’s final qualifying times, and David split them for P2. I am sure readers would have loved the idea of slipstreaming for qualifying. I sure did.
The 2000 United States GP – Race Day
Once again the front rows were locked up by the Ferraris and the McLarens. Though the contest was between Mika and Michael, David had to play his part. It could be either to win the race and thus keep the title hopes alive for Mika, or to allow Mika to pass at an opportune moment if Michael got away in the front. The strategies and counter-strategies would have been worked out till late at night, considering the importance of the race leading to the title decider.
The turn of the lights did not have much good news for the McLarens. In his bid to get going ahead of Schumacher, David jumped the start. Michael got going a second later but couldn’t catch up with David, and was sandwiched between David and Mika. It was evident that a penalty was in store for David, but till such time he was the front runner.
Take a look at the race summary:
Note: The race summary is only till 5:23. Some standout cuts of the 2000 US GP are shown after that.
Michael tried all through the initial laps to get ahead of David but was unable to. David and Michael opened up quite some gap ahead of Mika in third place, but that gap seemed to reduce. It was evident that the team would have asked David to slow down Michael to allow Mika to catch up. That was also visible as all three cars piled up one behind the other in no time. Michael, though, was not going to wait for the penalty to get ahead of David. He did it way before that.
Take a closer look at the initial three-way battle between David, Michael and Mika:
Check out Michael piling up over David and then his overtaking move. There was no DRS back then. How cool was that?
Anyway, the race went Michael’s way, and despite one little hiccup where Michael lost control of the car, he did get it back. The United States GP took Michael to the top of the table and brought about his forty-second career victory!
Back to the Pits
The Ferrari team had a fantastic outing where they got back to the top of the drivers’ and constructors’ table. The Ferrari one-two finish at the U.S. GP helped a lot. With just two races remaining the preparations would have been maddening at both the Ferrari and McLaren camp. Interestingly, neither of the championships (drivers’ or constructors’) were yet decided and could go either way.
The U.S. Grand Prix victory celebrations would have to wait, though. The competition was quite close, and breathing easy would not have been easy for anyone.
The Next Win...
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