On this day… 25th July
Brought to you by TJ13 contributor OddBall
1999 was meant to be the year of Ferrari. The team had pushed hard to develop a car that was at last capable of winning the coveted F1 crown. Things had finally come together and Maranello had assembled what was arguably one of the greatest combination the sport had seen with the likes of Jean Todd, Ross Brawn and of course Michael Schumacher topping the bill.
Yet for some the unlikely star of the year turned out to be another Ferrari driver, the hot headed but likeable Eddie Irvine.
The Northern Irishman’s rise to the top of Ferrari’s pecking order came about following a failure on Schumacher’s car as he entered Silverstone’s Stowe corner flat out. Broken legs meant Michael was out of the game for a number of races and Irvine set about taking advantage starting at the British GP where he came a creditable second.
In the eyes of Ferrari Irvine was a very good ‘number two’, an ideal foil for Schumacher. Irvine disagreed having stated, it was a bad move for the team, ”to place all their eggs in one basket.’ So as Irvine positioned himself as Maranello’s number one, he – as the ‘number two’ was replaced by Mika Salo.
Most people viewed the promotion of Irvine as a stop gap measure ame the replacement while Irvine was force to lead.
Many in the Ferrari hierarchy saw Irvine’s promotion as a stop gap until their star driver could return, yet the reality was that Irvine positioned himself well over the coming races – and was almost able to take the driver’s championship.
On this day in history at the race following Silverstone, Irvine demonstrated what he was about. Whilst being a second off the pace of the McLaren pair, things began to brew once the race started.
Mika Hakkinen took the initial lead for McLaren into turn one followed by his team mate, David Coulthard, but at the very next corner he found himself relegated to the rear of the train as his team mate managed to collect him. Coulthard later said, “I completely misjudged the second corner of the race and I am very sorry for what happened with Mika.” But the damage had been done.
The Ferrari of Irvine and McLaren of Coulthard were now racing hard at the front, but the Scot’s car was surprisingly slow – maybe suffering from the collision – or maybe it was the result of a rattled driver, but either way it allowed the Ferrari to remain at close quarters.
At the pit stop the McLaren were slow and Irvine produced laps worthy of Schumacher and once everything had played out the Ferrari took the lead.
The laps quickly counted down as the pair danced around the ring, but the McLaren could not pass and the Ferrari took the chequered flag first.
Mika Hakkinen drove like a bat out of hell, pulling move after move, to finish third and limit the damage to his title aspirations. He was 20 seconds behind Irvine but remained two points ahead of the Northern Irishman with still 7 races to go.
This day saw a resurgent Ferrari and the McLaren team began to crack. The ‘tortoise’ won the race and Ferrari went on to take the constructors’ championship that year – their first since 1983.