The XXI Gran Premio Marlboro Argentina was the third race of the 1998 Formula One Season, it is notable for hosting the final Argentine Grand Prix to date. The race was won by the Ferrari of Michael Schumacher followed by championship leader Mika Häkkinen in second for McLaren-Mercedes and Eddie Irvine for Ferrari in third place.
After dominating the first two rounds of the championship at Australia and Brazil, the McLaren-Mercedes team took a break over the two week interlude between Brazil and Argentina. Mika Häkkinen took a holiday in Uruguay whilst David Coulthard headed to Miami, USA for his holiday break.
Whilst McLaren took a vacation, their main rivals returned to Europe in preparation for the Argentine Grand Prix. Ferrari, Williams and Jordan began a four day test programme at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona where there was an emphasis on tyre testing. The Goodyear tyres were viewed as inferior to that of their Bridgestone rivals, the superiority of McLaren was largely attributed to the superior Bridgestone compound on their car. Subsequently Goodyear had released a new 'wider tyre' for its teams to race with in order to compete with its Bridgestone rivals. The new compound was tested for the first time in Barcelona.
Prior to the Argentine weekend, McLaren were once again under scrutiny from the Ferrari and Prost teams. The two team's claimed that the Mercedes engine stores spare energy from the engine which is used to drive ancillary equipment at times when the engine is being fully taxed. Ferrari team principal Jean Todt claimed "go faster" buttons being ran by McLaren-Mercedes. This rumour began when it could be viewed the two McLaren drivers pressing little green buttons regularly when in the cockpit of their car. Mercedes boss Norbert Haug denounced these claims of an effective second engine being ran on the McLaren car, an extremely illegal component on the car if these accusations appeared to be true.
|15||Johnny Herbert||1:31.081||12||1:30.808||15||no time||-|
|16||Pedro Diniz||Arrows||1:32.660||19||1:31.509||17||no time||-|
For the first time in the season McLaren-Mercedes did not appear to hold the same level of dominance as it had done in the previous two rounds of the season. It was immediately evident that Ferrari had closed the gap to McLaren in Argentina. Both Michael Schumacher and Eddie Irvine were running well, challenging the two McLaren cars of Mika Häkkinen and David Coulthard.
For the first 30 minutes of the session Schumacher held the provisional pole time until Coulthard was finally able to usurp the Ferrari driver from his position at the front. Coulthard, who had appeared highly competitive at the Argentine circuit, maintained a hold over pole position until the end of the session. Schumacher managed to hold onto second position with Häkkinen taking third place. Häkkinen had appeared less than competitive throughout the weekend and struggled to fend off the second Ferrari of Irvine to maintain third position on the timesheets.
Ralf Schumacher in the Jordan put in a strong performance to finish the session in fifth position ahead of the Williams cars of Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Jacques Villeneuve. The second Jordan of Damon Hill faired less well managing only ninth on the grid behind Alexander Wurz's Benetton.
Giancarlo Fisichella was tenth ahead of the two Sauber cars of Jean Alesi and Johnny Herbert who suffered a torrid qualifying session. Alesi complained of oversteer while mid-session Herbert swapped out of his spare car which was suffering gearbox issues and into his race car which continued to suffer the same brake issues it had in Brazil. This braking issue was attributed to a spin Herbert suffered late in the session.
The start saw David Coulthard's McLaren maintain his lead into the first corner, the second McLaren of Mika Häkkinen managed to overtake Michael Schumacher's Ferrari for second whilst the second Ferrari of Eddie Irvine also made a poor getaway dropping down behind Heinz-Harald Frentzen in the Williams who made a strong start from seventh on the grid. The second Williams of Jacques Villeneuve followed Frentzen whilst Jean Alesi managed to climb to seventh position from eleventh on the grid.
Coulthard immediately began to pull away as Häkkinen seemingly was unable to shake the Ferrari of Schumacher behind him. On the second lap Schumacher managed to retake second position from Häkkinen going into turn eight. Shortly afterwards Irvine i\ made an ambitious move on Frentzen down into turn 12, forcing the Williams driver wide onto the grass but managing to take the position. Entering the third lap Frentzen lost yet another position going down the start-finish straight to teammate Villeneuve.
On lap 4, Frentzen again lost a place this time to Jean Alesi's Sauber who made slight contact with the Williams as he made his overtake for sixth position. Whilst this occurred Schumacher had been gaining on Coulthard at a rapid pace, going into turn 7 Coulthard ran wide, Schumacher saw an opportunity to overtake and went down Coulthard's inside. The McLaren driver closed the door but Schumacher was committed to the move and the two cars collided. Coulthard spun round whilst Schumacher continued on to take the lead of the race. Coulthard rejoined the race with slight bodywork damage in sixth position.
Schumacher then immediately began to pull away from Häkkinen in second, Häkkinen seemingly unable to match the pace of the Ferrari's as Eddie Irvine continued to climb all over the back of him. Coulthard remained quick but found himself stuck behind both Alesi and Villeneuve ahead of him, unable to find a way past the Sauber and Williams drivers.
Pedro Diniz in the Arrows became the first retirement on lap 13 with a gearbox failure. Jan Magnussen followed him into retirement when his Stewart pulled into the pits on lap 17 with transmission problems. The same lap saw Ralf Schumacher's Jordan spin off the circuit from 13th position. Schumacher recovered to rejoin the race. A lap later Mika Salo retired, forcing Arrows out of the race. On the twenty second lap Ralf Schumacher spun off the circuit with suspension failure, going off at turn 6 sliding so far off entering onto the old part of the circuit.
On lap 28 Jean Alesi became the first of the frontrunners to come into the pits, as Alesi exited the pits one of his sidepod winglets was ripped off his car. A lap later Schumacher came into the pits for his first stop temporarily relinquishing his lead to Häkkinen. On lap 31, Irvine came into the pits from third position. Coulthard then began putting on intense pressure to Jacques Villeneuve's Williams but was unable to overtake before his first pit-stop. Villeneuve himself coming into the pits on lap 36, his teammate Heinz-Harald Frentzen had meanwhile come under pressure from the two Benetton cars of Alexander Wurz and Giancarlo Fisichella. When Frentzen came into the pits he notably stalled the engine when he was released from the pits, losing a tremendous amount of time before he rejoined the race effectively ruining his chance of points. With Frentzen out of the running this allowed the Benetton cars of Wurz and Fisichella to enter into free air and begin putting in some blistering lap times. Wurz notably setting the fastest lap of the race on lap 39.
On lap 40, the Minardi of Shinji Nakano was stuck in the pits after the Minardi mechanics struggled to attach his tyre, this problem had occurred only a few laps before on teammate Esteban Tuero's car. The following lap saw Wurz finally make his pit-stop, his hot laps allowed him to exit in fifth position ahead of both Villeneuve and Coulthard. On lap 42 Mika Häkkinen came into the pits from the lead of the race, allowing Schumacher to rejoin at the front.
This would be Häkkinen's final stop but Schumacher ahead of him was on a two-stop strategy, meaning the Ferrari would have to build up a lead of over 25 seconds if he was to remain ahead of Häkkinen after his final stop. Häkkinen exited the pits behind the backmarker of Heinz-Harald Frentzen. However as Häkkinen came to lap Frentzen, he found Frentzen was unwilling to let Häkkinen through costing Häkkinen a significant amount of time. However on lap 43, Frentzen was forced to come into the pits for a stop-go penalty due to speeding in the pitlane.
On lap 46, the Jordan of Damon Hill attempted to overtake Johnny Herbert's Sauber for ninth position, however he collided with the back of the Sauber. Hill continued unscathed, however Herbert suffered a right rear puncture, the Sauber driver struggled around to the pits but his car was terminally damaged.
Whilst this occurred Schumacher in the lead of the race was increasing his lead significantly, however he began to close in on the backmarkers of the duelling trio of Villeneuve, Coulthard and Fisichella for sixth position. He was brought into the pits on lap 51 despite only having a 19 second lead over Häkkinen to avoid the traffic. However surprisingly Schumacher exited ahead of Häkkinen after Häkkinen got caught in traffic with the backmarker Tyrrell cars of Toranosuke Takagi and Ricardo Rosset on Schumacher's in-lap.
The following lap, Coulthard attempted a manouevere on Villeneuve around the outside of turn 11, Villeneuve however closed the door and the two cars collided spinning off the circuit. Villeneuve retired from the race, however Coulthard continued despite losing a position to Fisichella.
On lap 59, Takagi spun off into the gravel trap from 13th yet managed to keep going. The same lap Alexander Wurz who had managed to catch up to Eddie Irvine's Ferrari attempted to make a vain overtaking manoeuvere on Irvine, yet succeeded in only clipping the end of the Ferrari. Both driver's continued unscathed.
On lap 63 Wurz managed to overtake Irvine when the Ferrari driver ran wide into the first corner. The same lap the Argentine talent of Tuero in the Minardi spun off into the barriers and into retirement.
Out in the lead of the race Schumacher was pulling out a large gap as he attempted to further increase his lead over Häkkinen. On lap 65, the Ferrari driver went off the circuit into the gravel, he rejoined without losing the lead and continued to further the gap between him and the McLaren. As a light rain hit the circuit towards the final stages of the race, Wurz also spun going into turn 1 after trying to avoid the slow Tyrrell backmarker of Rosset. This meant Irvine retook third position. The same lap as the rain increased saw Fisichella spin off the circuit allowing Coulthard to take sixth position however Coulthard also spun off on the same lap, unlike Fisichella he managed to hold the position.
The race saw Schumacher take a 22 second victory ahead of Häkkinen in second and Irvine in third position.
Argentina saw for the first time the superiority of the McLaren team challenged as Michael Schumacher and Ferrari regained their form to take a dominant win in Argentina. Nevertheless Schumacher came under criticism from McLaren driver David Coulthard following their clash for the lead on lap 4 which saw Coulthard drop down to sixth and out of a competitive position for the remainder of the race.
The disgruntled Scotsman had this to say on his incident with Schumacher; "I went wide into the corner because I had a problem with the down change, and I do feel I was in front. Michael is an aggressive driver and its unlikely to think he would just lift, but I think he had a clearer view as to whether we were going to touch than me and he was prepared to take that risk. He's lucky he didn't damage his car. I will have words. This is a racing situation that we need to put to bed. We should be able to race each other without banging into each other. There has to be some give and take between drivers otherwise collisions will happen and I suppose its that sort of aggression which is needed to get wins and on this day its given him a win."
Schumacher had a different view on the incident stating "He went wide already one lap before that but he seemed to close the door. I wanted to overtake and I didn't see any reason to pull back because I had the momentum to keep going. My car was slightly damaged after that which didn't make it nice to drive but obviously it was enough."
- Only fastest lap for Alexander Wurz and the last fastest lap for Benetton.
Standings after raceEdit
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