Spanish Grand Prix – One of the most memorable moments at Catalunya was the last lap retirement of McLaren’s Mika Hakkinen on the last lap of the 2001 race.Having been a motorsport host since 1913, it is hardly surprising that Spain as seen its’ fair share of exciting racing moments on its various venues.
The first year of the Spanish Grand Prix being hosted at its current Barcelona circuit in 1991 saw Mansell and Senna fight wheel to wheel, flat out and sparks flying down its long straight. 1994 saw Michael Schumacher drive his Benetton to second place despite being stuck in fifth gear. 1998 saw Giancarlo Fisichella have a very public nose to nose ‘discussion‘ with Eddie Irvine after an incident took both off track at Turn 1. Alonso, of course, was the first Spaniard to win at his home F1 race at this track and then there was Pastor Maldonado’s unexpected Williams’ win in 2012, followed by their garage fire.
These are but a few of many contenders for which classic Spanish race to revisit prior to this weekend. Arguments can be made for many more, including Hamilton’s penultimate race lap crash in 2010 in his McLaren. However, the race that defines the Circuit de Catalunya is the 2001 event, in the era that saw Ferrari fighting McLaren – the battle between Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen.
This was still when there were four practice sessions over Friday and Saturday which, on the 2001 race weekend, were sunny for the 22 cars competing. McLaren’s David Coulthard had set the fastest pace in first and second practice, ahead of teammate Mika Hakkinen and the Ferraris of Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello. Schumacher set the fastest pace in the final two practice sessions.
Qualifying seemed to follow practice, with Michael Schumacher on pole (his fourth of the season), followed closely by Hakkinen less than one tenth behind. Coulthard was third, with Barrichello then Ralf Schumacher in fifth. The top ten was completed by Trulli, Villeneuve, Frentzen, Raikkonen and Heidfeld.
Race day again was dry and sunny, although showers had been forecast and in the 30 minute warm up that was then allowed pre race, the Ferraris set good times and were split by the McLarens.
Michael and Hakkinen maintained their positions at the start of the race and began to pull away from Barrichello.
Although Michael had an initial lead over the Finn, the Ferrari had problems with his third set of tyres after the his second stop on Lap 43, which allowed Hakkinen to take the lead. Despite Michael’s lead of four seconds, it became clear that on leaving the pits, the Ferrari could not match its’ earlier race pace. From then on, Hakkinen increased his lead lap after lap and was 45 seconds ahead of his struggling rival when, just a few miles from home, disaster struck. The Finn’s McLaren slowed after exiting Turn 2, with the car losing momentum as he continued the lap. Reaching Turn 5, his engine began to spark and flame and Hakkinen lost drive – his clutch had failed. This allowed Schumacher past to take the race win. Despite not completing the race, Hakkinen was still classified 9th, but this was a non points scoring position.
This dramatic last lap incident allowed Juan Pablo Montoya to take his first F1 podium position in second and Jacques Villeneuve took the last podium position. Trulli fended off fifth place Coulthard to retain fourth and Nick Heidfeld was in the last points scoring position in sixth.
After the race, an unusually animated Mika told reporters, ‘I’m super disappointed – goddam it, you know, Jesus.’ For the second year in a row, he was 22 points behind his championship rival and technical failure had cost him a crucial race win. Ron Dennis revealed that the cause of Mika’s engine failure was a hydraulic leak leading to clutch failure.
In the subsequent Press Conference, although pleased with his race performance, Michael expressed sympathy over Hakkinen’s retirement explaining what he had said to the Finn saying, ‘I simply said sorry and I wanted to apologise. It belongs to him to be sitting here, he hasn’t made any mistakes and sometimes racing is hard, but to some degree that’s the way racing is. It’s a shame for him it happened so short before the end, if it happens sometimes 20 laps in the race, it’s less hard to take – but this way must be very shocking for him.’
Spain has given Motorsport and F1 fans many exciting moments and races over the years – with seat swaps adding to the existing race action, this weekend promises to be one of the future classics.