The XVIII Gran Premio di San Marino was the fourth round of the 1998 Formula One Season. It was won from pole position by David Coulthard in the McLaren-Mercedes with Michael Schumacher and Eddie Irvine taking second and third on Ferrari's home turf.
The following week from the Argentine Grand Prix, FIA President Max Mosley hosted a meeting with the team bosses in Formula One in order to gain a consensus among the teams to ban what was labelled as the "x-wings" on some Formula One cars. Mosley believed that these sidepod winglets that were being used in an attempt to generate more downforce by the Jordan, Sauber and Tyrrell team were damaging to the aesthetic quality of Formula One racing. Whilst most teams agreed with Mosley in banning the devices, the move did receive opposition notably from the three teams that were already running the devices. Team Principal of Jordan Eddie Jordan stated about the 'x-wings' "Gary Anderson has come up with a couple of things that work very efficiently in the wind tunnel. They may not be the nicest things on the car to look at, but they give good downforce for very little drag". As well as the devices being operated by Jordan, Sauber and Tyrrell it was believed that Ferrari would be trialling the devices in San Marino after running it in private testing.
Between Argentina and San Marino, the teams returned to Europe to begin testing for the San Marino Grand Prix. Ferrari was testing at their private circuits at Mugello and Fiorano, Williams in Jerez, Sauber and Prost in Magny-Cours, Tyrrell in Barcelona and McLaren, Jordan, Benetton, Stewart and Arrows in Silverstone.
Benetton racer Giancarlo Fisichella suffered a huge accident in a Porsche Boxter road car on the Wednesday before the race, despite the car being completely demolished Fisichella escaped the accident unhurt and would be fit to race at the San Marino Grand Prix.
The first practice session at San Marino saw what appeared to be a return to the pre-Argentina form for the McLaren team, Mika Häkkinen and David Coulthard dominated the timesheets, with Häkkinen's best time of 1:27.617 a full second faster than Michael Schumacher in third place for the Ferrari team. Schumacher notably ran the notorious "x-wing" configuration whilst teammmate Eddie Irvine who was seventh fastest did not.
Williams had a reasonable session, the reigning champion Jacques Villeneuve felt happy with the Williams car-set up and feeling "okay compared to the other Goodyear runners". Teammate Heinz-Harald Frentzen could only manage the tenth fastest time after an oil leak forced him to stop out on track during the morning session.
After a less than competitive start to the season, Jordan would bring some major updates to their car for the San Marino GP, major changes included a longer wheelbase, revised brake ducts, rear wing endplates, revised air box and air box intakes. Despite a hydraulic problem for Ralf Schumacher in the morning session, the younger Schumacher managed to post the fifth fastest time of the session. Teammate Damon Hill was ninth but commented he was "much happier with the feel of the car" indicating progress by the Jordan team.
Despite a major road accident two days before hand Giancarlo Fisichella commented that his Benetton was "almost perfect" en route to the sixth fastest time. The Sauber's suffered a disappointing session Jean Alesi said he suffered from heavy traffic throughout the session whilst Johnny Herbert saw numerous set-up changes to his car running with and without the "x-wing configuration". Stewart suffered another disappointing session Rubens Barrichello complained that he suffered from both oversteer and understeer in his car, only managing eighteenth whilst teammate Jan Magnussen was an even lower twenty first.
The Saturday morning practice session saw McLaren once again leading the timesheets with David Coulthard ahead of Mika Häkkinen. Coulthard was a full two seconds faster than Schumacher in third place, reasserting McLaren's dominance. Jordan continued to demonstrate an improvement in their fortunes with Damon Hill and Ralf Schumacher fourth and fifth.
Esteban Tuero in the Minardi was the first car to set a lap-time setting a slow time of 1:31.297 twelve mintues into the session before quickly being beaten by Jarno Trulli's Prost with a 1:30.268. Shortly after exiting the pits Ricardo Rosset's Tyrrell suffered a major engine failure grinding to a halt shortly after leaving the pits. Following from this Mika Salo in the Arrows was forced to abandon his flying lap due to developing a gearbox problem.
Jacques Villeneuve was the first of the front runners to a set a time with a 1:27.767, Damon Hill and Eddie Irvine setting times after him that were slightly slower. Alexander Wurz in the Benetton then went faster than all three of them with a 1:27.611. By this time David Coulthard in the McLaren had come around to complete his lap setting a blistering 1:26.342 for his laptime.
Michael Schumacher came close but only managed a 1:26.787 at the end of his first run. Ralf Schumacher then ran quicker than his teammate Hill before Heinz-Harald Frentzen went faster than them both. Mika Häkkinen was now coming round to complete his first run, his time looked on course to easily beat teammate Coulthard's pole time however on the final corner Häkkinen was forced to back off after encontering the stricken Benetton of Giancarlo Fisichella who had spun on his first flying lap. Häkkinen was only a tenth slower than teammate Coulthard.
Neither Williams car's of Villeneuve or Frentzen were able to better their times for their second run's, both driver's coming close to losing control of their cars during their flying laps. Michael Schumacher then abandoned his second flying lap after failing to get a strong enough momentum to challenge the McLarens. Häkkinen then came round to take provisional pole setting a blistering 1:26.075. Coulthard who was following his teammate around could not beat his first time on his second run and remained second behind Häkkinen.
The Minardi of Shinji Nakano who was eighteenth fastest then stopped out on track with a mechanical problem. Damon Hill then improved his time to go fifth in the standings where he was then followed by Eddie Irvine who took fourth position. As this occured David Coulthard was out for his third flying lap where he went on to just beat his teammate's pole time with a 1:25.973. In the dying minutes of the session Häkkinen tried to reclaim pole position however going into the final corner he ran too far wide and onto the grass ruining his final attempt to gain pole position. Wurz went on to qualify a competitive fifth position whilst Villeneuve improved to go sixth
Damon Hill was robbed of the opportunity to improve his time on his final flying lap when his engine blew, however the weekend had demonstrated an improvement in pace for Jordan as well as Hill outqualifying teammate Ralf Schumacher who qualifed ninth for the first time in the season.
The start saw the two McLaren cars of David Coulthard and Mika Häkkinen maintain their lead whilst the two Ferrari cars of Michael Schumacher and Eddie Irvine made slow getaways. Schumacher was weaving violently to maintain third at the start whilst Irvine lost a position to the Williams of Jacques Villeneuve. There was carnage in the midfield, Alexander Wurz suffered gear selection issues at the start and going into the second corner Damon Hill collided with the back of the Benetton losing his front wing forcing him into the pits and dropping him down to nineteenth. At the back there was also issues for Stewart, Jan Magnussen got his braking point all wrong and collided with the back of teammate Rubens Barrichello sending the latter out of the race.
Wurz's gearbox issues caused him to drop to last place by the end of the first lap yet he continued to push on despite now being a lap behind the leaders . Entering the second lap the top three of Coulthard, Häkkinen and Schumacher began to pull away from the rest of the field. By the fifth lap the two McLaren cars had begun to pull away from Schumacher's Ferrari.
On lap 8 Jan Magnussen pulled out of the race with transmission failure, whilst this occured Giancarlo Fisichella had began applying heavy pressure to the rear of Heinz-Harald Frentzen for sixth place. Johnny Herbert in the Sauber then suffered a major puncture on lap 12 after going wide at the chicane forcing him to retire from the race. By lap 17 Fisichella remained stuck behind the Williams of Frentzen and out of frustration the Italian spun off the circuit and into the barriers at turn 10 ending his race. Worse was to follow for Benetton when teammate Wurz retired on the same lap albeit a lap down from the leaders with an engine failure.
Most significantly on lap 17 saw Häkkinen drastically slow losing position to Michael Schumacher due to a terminal gearbox issue. Häkkinen then pulled into the pits to retire, the championship leader suffering his first retirement of the season. This left Coulthard unchallenged at the front with a sixteen second advantage over Schumacher.
By lap 18 Eddie Irvine had began to reapply pressure to the back of the Williams of Jacques Villeneuve for third who had taken the position from him at the start of the race. The same lap saw Pedro Diniz retire, his Arrows suffering yet another engine failure.
At the front Coulthard held dominance over the field, despite nearly hitting the back of Jarno Trulli's Prost whilst attempting to lap him, Coulthard experienced no problems. On lap 23 he became the first of the front runners to enter the pits. He retained his lead of the race. The same lap saw Michael Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve enter the pits. The following lap saw Irvine enter the pits, free from Villeneuve's dirty air Irvine's in-lap was quick enough to mean that he exited ahead of the Williams driver and moved up into third position.
Lap 24 also Frentzen pit from fifth position, losing only a single place to that of Jean Alesi's Sauber. Alesi running a strong race after starting from twelfth on the grid. Lap 27 saw Shinji Nakano suffer a large engine failure from fifteenth position.
After losing fifth in the pit-stops Frentzen had began to catch up to the Sauber of Alesi ahead of him, seeking to reclaim the ground he had lost. On lap 34 Jarno Trulli's throttle stuck open forcing him to go wide into the gravel trap at turn 14, luckily avoiding the barriers. This however was unable to prevent the Prost driver from retiring from the race.
On lap 40 Alesi came in for his second pitstop, the following lap saw Frentzen go into the pits, the quicker Williams driver was able to exit ahead of Alesi following his pitstop. The same lap saw Toranosuke Takagi retire with engine failure.
On lap 42, Coulthard entered the pits for his second stop the McLaren driver had a 26 second lead over Schumacher in second. The following lap saw Schumacher enter the pits from second, himself having a 21 second lead over teammate Irvine.
One lap later the duelling pair of Irvine and Villeneuve pitted. Villeneuve suffered a slow pitstop allowing Irvine to increase his gap over the Williams driver.
As the race entered its final stages Michael Schumacher began to reduce David Coulthard's gap in the lead. Coulthard who had such a sizeable advantage had began to cruise, the Scotsman had developed a suspected brake issue and entered into a conservative pace allowing the Ferrari to gradually gain on the McLaren. On lap 48 Schumacher set the fastest lap time of 1:29.345. The same lap saw Ricardo Rosset retire with an engine failure.
On lap 56, Olivier Panis retired from eighth place with engine failure. The following lap saw Damon Hill retire with hydraulics failure, a disappointing result for the Briton who had clawed his way from the back of the field and had begun to challenge teammate Ralf Schumacher for seventh. Ralf Schumacher himself had begun to pile on the pressure to Jean Alesi's Sauber at the end of the race for the final championship point in sixth position, the young German however was unable to find a way past before the end of the race.
At race end Coulthard claimed the race victory in his McLaren, however Schumacher had closed the gap to within 4.5 seconds at the end of the race. Nearly 47 seconds adrift of Schumacher came Irvine in the second Ferrari to take third, allowing for a Ferrari 2-3 on Tifosi home turf. Villeneuve who had hounded Irvine all the way came fourth with Frentzen and Alesi rounding up the final points placings.
Standings after raceEdit
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