F1 Rewind: 1999 European Grand Prix

Stewart Grand Prix celebrated a double podium after a dramatic 1999 European Grand Prix around the Nurburgring. (Image credit: Paul-Henri Cahier/Getty Images)

As F1 heads to the Nurburgring for the first time since 2013, we look back at what is one of the most eventful Nurburgring races ever.

In a hotly contest 1999 season, the Nurburgring played host to the the European Grand Prix as McLaren’s Mika Hakkinen and Ferrari’s Eddie Irvine entered the race as joint championship leaders on 60 points apiece.

This race was held in late September 1999 unlike many recent trips to the Nurburgring until this season, which meant that weather and incidents played a massive role in a thriller. 

 

Practice

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McLaren made a strong start to the weekend in a dry Friday Practice with Hakkinen topping the session with Michael Schumacher’s temporary Ferrari replacement, Mika Salo finishing second in FP1 as Irvine and David Coulthard found themselves fourth and sixth. 

Saturday Practice however saw Williams’ Ralf Schumacher improve to second behind Hakkinen but ahead of Irvine and Coulthard as 0.722 seconds covered the top four ahead of qualifying. 

 

Qualifying

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Rain fell in the gap between Saturday Practice and Qualifying which meant that drivers began the session on a damp track, despite being limited to just 12 laps as per Qualifying rules of that season.

Heinz-Harald Frentzen eventually claimed his second and last pole position with a 1m 19.910 in front of his home fans, ahead of Coulthard who was 0.266s slower than the German. 

Hakkinen, Schumacher, Olivier Panis, Giancarlo Fisichella, Damon Hill, Jacques Villeneuve, Irvine and Jarno Trulli rounded out the top ten. 

All 22 drivers managed to qualify within the 107% lap time rule with Arrows’ Pedro De La Rosa qualifying in last position and was joined on the back row by teammate, Toranosuke Takagi.

 

Race

The race commenced under dry conditions but mistakes from Alex Zanardi and Marc Gene who started out of sequence when forming the grid forced a second formation lap. 

During the abortion of the first grid start midway through the start light process, the top five qualifiers plus Jean Alesi had made jump-starts but weren’t penalised by virtue of the start having been aborted.

Once the race resumed, everyone got a clean start but Hill suffered an electrical failure midway through Turn One in his Jordan, forcing Benetton’s Alexander Wurz to swerve and collide with Pedro Diniz to send the Brazilian into the gravel trap after rolling over. 

Diniz luckily walked away unharmed despite his Sauber’s roll bar failing upon hitting the ground as the safety car was briefly deployed.

Once the safety car pitted, the race soon settled down with the top six holding formation as Frentzen led whilst Zanardi retired at end of lap 10 after sustaining damage from Wurz and Diniz’s collision. 

Irvine had begun the race in ninth but managed to climb to fifth by the start of lap 18 after making a move on Fisichella on lap 17 despite running wide at Turn Eight. 

Rain however had began to fall which benefitted Schumacher who took advantage of the damp track to pass Coulthard for third. 

Hakkinen meanwhile pitted for wet tyres at the end of lap 20 which backfired as the track soon dried up a few laps later, as Irvine pitted a lap later only for his stop to last 28s after a mistake in tyre choice by the rear-tyre mechanics

Just to add to Irvine’s headaches, Salo had pitted a lap early for a new front wing after damaging his original front wing which contributed to the Irish driver’s poor pit stop. 

Hakkinen found himself lapped seven seconds slower than the leaders come lap 24 and was soon overtaken by Irvine who was on a recovery drive, dropping the McLaren down to 13th before Hakkinen eventually pitted for dry tyres. 

It was at this point that both Irvine and Hakkinen found themselves sat outside the points which could of meant that if the order had carried to the fag, Frentzen would of joined the title rivals on 60 points to make it a three way fight with two Grands Prix left of season. 

Frentzen however would retire on lap 33 after making a pit stop because his Jordan’s anti-stall system had kicked in due to having not been disabled once his pit stop was finished, with the team claiming an electrical failure to save the German’s pride in front of his home fans. 

Coulthard consequently inherited the lead until the rain returned harder than previous but expecting it to be another brief shower cost Coulthard, as the Brit slid out of the race on lap 38 whilst everyone else pitted for wet tyres after Alesi retired on lap 35 with a driveshaft failure. 

Schumacher benefitted to claim the lead until he pitted six laps later with Fisichella taking over at the front as the rain stopped, whilst Johnny Herbert had timed his stop perfectly to improve up the order. 

Takagi retired four laps later after suffering an accident and was soon followed by Salo with brake issues before Fisichella slid out onlap 49 in a similar manner to how Coulthard crashed out, leaving the Italian devastated after having led the race at the time. 

Schumacher therefore reclaimed the lead but a right rear-tyre puncture forced him to pit and left Herbert free to sweep to victory unchallenged for Stewart Grand Prix’s maiden race victory ahead of Trulli, who finished 22.619s behind in second. 

Rubens Barrichello completed a 1-3 finish for Stewart Grand Prix and only time both drivers recorded podium finishes at the same race for the team.

Schumacher finished fourth ahead of Hakkinen and Gene who pipped Irvine to the final point, leaving Hakkinen in the championship lead from Irvine by just two points. 

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