#F1 History: 1998 Belgian Grand Prix – Hill’s last victory

Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor – Jeff Trocchio

As one of the most storied tracks on the F1 calendar, Circuit Spa-Francorchamps delivers high speed thrills with Eau Rouge and low speed technical corners like the Bus Stop chicane. In a few days time, it will be upon us.

We’d like to take this time to reflect on a past race here, where in 1998, Damon Hill won the Belgian Grand Prix, with Ralf Schumacher coming second, both in their Mugen-Honda powered, Jordan machines. Not too far behind was the Sauber Petronas of Jean Alesi in 3rd place.

The track was clouded in rain and drama from the start. On the approach to Eau Rouge, Coulthard lost control of his car, which caused a massive chain reaction – 13 cars were damaged as a result. After providing spare cars to select drivers, and the track was cleared, the race was restarted once again over an hour later.

On the restart, the race was reset, as were the rules of the day. Mika Hakkinen lost control of his McLaren in the first corner and was hit by Johnny Herbert in his Sauber. This left Hill in first until lap 8, where Michael Schumacher would take the lead and pull away by some 40 seconds. The rain was intermittent during this time, and teams were trying to negotiate the correct time to come into the pits.

By the time Schumacher was lapping Coulthard, a conversation was had between Ferrari and McLaren to allow Schumacher through. When Coulthard didn’t make room at Rivage, Schumacher threw his hand up in frustration. On the way down to Pouhon, Coulthard lifted off but stayed on the racing line. Schumacher collided with the rear of Coulthard’s Mclarne and ended up removing his front wing and right front wheel assembly which forced his retirement.

Once back in the pits, Schumacher rushed towards the McLaren garage and aggressively eyeballing Coulthard the whole way. After some words were exchanged with the team personnel separating the drivers, McLaren studied Coulthard’s car whilst deciding what to do with the decimated field.

Surprisingly, Coulthard’s machine only needed a new rear wing, so he was called back to the car whilst they fixed a new one in the hope that as there only 7 runners left at this stage, he may well get a championship point despite being 6 laps down.

Running at the front now were Hill, his team-mate Schumacher, and a seasoned Jean Alesi trailing in his Sauber. After a late safety car following an accident between a Benetton and a Minardi – at a number of points it seemed that the young Schumacher would challenge Hill to take victory in the Grand Prix.  However, the radio communication from the Jordan team to Hill backfired when the team informed Hill of Ralf’s pace, to which he replied, either we race for first, or we bring home a 1-2 finish.. the intent behind the words was obvious.

Team orders were enforced, and while Alesi looked to be pouncing on the Jordans at different times, the rain picked up again and he was forced to drop back. Hill came through to the end to win what would prove to be his last Formula 1 victory before he retired from the sport the following year.

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7 responses to “#F1 History: 1998 Belgian Grand Prix – Hill’s last victory

  1. Remaining on the racing line, at Spa, and lifting (decelerating). To this day, when I think of that crash, I am always… “Really?”, “Really?!”

    But I’m not stupid enough to think DC did it on purpose. It’s just… “Really?, you lifted on line, at that spot?!”

    • Hmm, does it actually happen so rarely, lifting and remaining on the racing line? I mean, “On the way down to Pouhon” is a mini-straight, not a full-fledged corner. In the rain the speeds were even lower than usual. To me this sounds more like Schumacher’s error (& impatience!) rather than some obvious mistake by Coulthard..

      I seem to recall that in other instances backmarkers that are being lapped sometimes choose to decelerate while keeping on the racing line on a straight, and thus allow the faster car behind to pass them off the racing line. Am I wrong?

      • DC actually admitted a few years after that it was his mistake which caused the accident. He lifted in terrible conditions on the racing line, something he shouldn’t of done in hindsight.
        He said he defended the misunderstanding at the time because it wasn’t a deliberate action as Schumacher stated. A lot of that I’m sure was due to DC being Hakkinens team mate

        • “DC actually admitted a few years after that it was his mistake which caused the accident.”

          Hmm, this makes it fishy, then. Of course he wouldn’t admit to making a *deliberate* mistake.. Well, as clear as mud, as always.

          • Oh, Spa 98. How many arguments over the years have you caused? 🙂

            DC’s admission of guilt finally came in 2003
            (http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/07/06/1057430084085.html)
            but even at the time it was obvious that he had lifted on the racing line in heavy rain/spray to let MS past. Dangerous mistake to make. I believe the points MS lost in this crash were crucial in eventually losing the championship to Hakkinen that year.

  2. Since the move to Pirelli tyres, the drivers haven’t been allowed to race in really wet conditions, just cause the tyres are rubbish. It’s really the only criticism I have of their tyres.

    I remember that race, MS and DH were in a league of their own at the start of that race, pulling away at some 4seconds a lap, then MS pulled away at a further 3seconds a lap over DH, some that can be put down to MS grabbing the spare car which was on a full wet setup. Either way these two in the wet were a step above everyone else.

    Everyone remembers Spain in soaking condition and MS pulling away at 4 seconds a lap, shame few people remember a race or two before where Damon did at 3 seconds a lap in wet conditions.

    Damon was never given the credit he deserved, there weren’t many drivers who could of done better than Damon at the time, and if anyone says Alesi, I will go f*cking mental.

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