Coulthard stops Schumacher’s winning run amid Silverstone’s April showers

2000 British Grand Prix flashback

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Silverstone veterans will tell you that the circuit comes with two weather settings. It’s either wet, cold and windy, or a suntrap from which racegoers emerge with a distinct beetroot hue. I once managed to return from the track with both a chill and fission-grade sunburn.

So when Bernie Ecclestone inexplicably scheduled the 2000 British Grand Prix for mid-April a wet, and changeable and very, very muddy weekend was guaranteed. Even now circuit staff preparing outer car parks come across fossilised Ford Mondeos with the tattered remains of Coulthard flags, a poignant reminder of the weekend Silverstone gave visitors to its annual F1 race the opportunity to experience conditions akin to the Great War trenches. Yet, astonishingly, the race went ahead on a dry track.

Arriving at Silverstone, Michael Schumacher had won the first three races of the season, building up a good lead at the top of the championship standings. Reigning champion Mika Hakkinen had just six points for one second place to his name, a state of affairs which was leading McLaren team principal Ron Dennis, who ordinarily make Mr Tumble seem downcast, to lose his usual ebullience.

Qualifying

Free practice was held in every weather condition bar snow. When Schumacher spun off during the damp Saturday morning session, suspicions were raised when the fuel filler flap on his F1-2000 popped open, then closed.

Button narrowly out-qualified his team mate at home
At the previous round FIA president Max Mosley had dropped a bombshell by revealing three unidentified teams had used banned traction control systems during the previous season. A rule change had been introduced preventing teams using pit-lane speed limiters for traction control. The limiter button also triggered the fuel filler flap on the Ferrari, technical director Ross Brawn confirmed, but he denied the team were using the system for traction control.

By the time qualifying came around conditions were chilly but drying. In an upset to the established order thus far in 2000, Hakkinen’s run of pole positions was ended not by Schumacher, but his team mate Rubens Barrichello. This was his career third pole position with as many different teams, having previously started from the front for Jordan and Stewart.

The top two teams found themselves locked out from the front row as Heinz-Harald Frentzen took second place, a mere three-thousandths of a second slower than Barrichello. Hakkinen and Coulthard suffered problems on their fastest laps and shared the second row.

Championship leader Schumacher was back at Silverstone for the first time since his leg-breaking crash the previous year, and paid a visit to the medical team who treated him. But he had to settle for fifth on the grid after mistiming his final lap by a tenth of a second. The distraught crowd responded by giving Schumacher a uplifting cheer as the news was announced.

Following his rough weekend at Imola, Jenson Button qualified an excellent sixth for his first home grand prix, bouncing back from a troubled free practice, and pipping the younger Schumacher by five hundredths of a second.

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Grid

PositionDriverCarTime
1Rubens BarrichelloFerrari1’25.703
2Heinz-Harald FrentzenJordan1’25.706
3Mika HakkinenMcLaren1’25.741
4David CoulthardMcLaren1’26.088
5Michael SchumacherFerrari1’26.161
6Jenson ButtonWilliams1’26.733
7Ralf SchumacherWilliams1’26.786
8Jos VerstappenArrows1’26.793
9Eddie IrvineJaguar1’26.818
10Jacques VilleneuveBAR1’27.025
11Jarno TrulliJordan1’27.164
12Giancarlo FisichellaBenetton1’27.253
13Pedro DinizSauber1’27.301
14Johnny HerbertJaguar1’27.461
15Jean AlesiProst1’27.559
16Ricardo ZontaBAR1’27.772
17Nick HeidfeldProst1’27.806
18Mika SaloSauber1’28.110
19Pedro de la RosaArrows1’28.135
20Alexander WurzBenetton1’28.205
21Marc GeneMinardi1’28.253
22Gaston MazzacaneMinardi1’29.174

Race

Race day dawned foggy. So foggy that the pre-race warm up session was delayed as the medical helicopter couldn’t land at the circuit. Attending celebrities and VIPs had to make their way into the track via shuttle bus and the drivers’ parade was cancelled. Sad times indeed.

Race day was unexpectedly sunny after days of rain
By race time the weather had cleared Barrichello converted the advantage of pole position to lead into (Silverstone’s rightful first corner) Copse, ahead of Frentzen and the McLarens. Villeneuve made another flying start, leaping up to sixth, whilst to the crowd’s dismay Schumacher slipped down to eighth. His younger brother was among those who moved ahead, then took Villeneuve for sixth.

With most of the front runners making single pit stops for fuel and tyres, much of their work had to be done on the track, both in terms of passing and taking of clear air to over- and under-cut rivals.

Frentzen’s lap 24 pit stop crucially released Coulthard into clear air to hunt down the race-leading Ferrari. After closing up for several laps, the McLaren pilot made a bold move on Barrichello into Stowe on lap 30 – Coulthard after the event saying the pass was inspired by the similar move Nigel Mansell made on Nelson Piquet to claim the 1987 race – and immediately started to build up a lead.

Of the top runners Hakkinen was the first to pit on lap 31, followed a couple of laps later by Coulthard – both McLarens having no delay in the pits. For the Ferraris it was more dramatic, a hydraulic issue sending Barrichello into a spin on his in-lap, followed by retirement a lap later. Meanwhile Schumacher was flying on low fuel trying to make up for his slow start.

Once all the planned pit stops were complete Coulthard led the way from Hakkinen and Schumacher, with Frentzen in fourth (the highest of the two stoppers), from Ralf Schumacher and Button in the last of the points positions. Frentzen’s run didn’t last much longer with the Jordan stuck in gear, the German eventually forced into retirement after dropping down the order.

In the latter stages of the race the tension was between the leading duo, with Hakkinen steadily eating into Coulthard’s advantage, the race leader suffering gearbox glitches. However Coulthard had enough of a lead to take the chequered flag ahead of his teammate by 1.4 seconds. The Schumachers followed them, Michael ahead of Ralf and Button in the other Williams. Jarno Trulli claimed the final point for Jordan on a day when they might have hoped for much better at the track opposite their factory.

Coulthard therefore took up the running as the closest threat to Schumacher, the pair separated by 20 points with 130 still available. A largely trouble-free home race for McLaren had brought the title fight to life.

Having started its European season unusually in Britain, F1’s next stop would be the Spanish Grand Prix at the Circuit de Catalunya two weeks later. That was just about enough time for most of the Silverstone crowd to escape the car park quagmires and get back home.

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Race result

PositionDriverCarLapsTime / gap / reason
1David CoulthardMcLaren601:28’50.108
2Mika HakkinenMcLaren60+1.477
3Michael SchumacherFerrari60+19.917
4Ralf SchumacherWilliams60+41.312
5Jenson ButtonWilliams60+57.759
6Jarno TrulliJordan60+19.273
7Giancarlo FisichellaBenetton59+1 lap
8Mika SaloSauber59+1 lap
9Alexander WurzBenetton59+1 lap
10Jean AlesiProst59+1 lap
11Pedro DinizSauber59+1 lap
12Johnny HerbertJaguar59+1 lap
13Eddie IrvineJaguar59+1 lap
14Marc GeneMinardi59+1 lap
15Gaston MazzacaneMinardi59+1 lap
16Jacques VilleneuveBAR56Gearbox
17Heinz-Harald FrentzenJordan54Gearbox
18Nick HeidfeldProst51Engine
19Ricardo ZontaBAR36Spun off
20Rubens BarrichelloFerrari35Hydraulics
21Pedro de la RosaArrows26Electrical
22Jos VerstappenArrows20Electrical

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2000 British Grand Prix championship standings

A personal recollection

I was lucky enough to watch this race in the Paddock and Paddock Club. At this time my dad worked for Arrows sponsor Orange, who arranged full access for the weekend. We were therefore fortune enough to be spared the grim experience many other fans endured trudging through the car parks – our only disappointment was the cancellation of our helicopter transfer on the Sunday morning (I’ll set up a JustGiving page for those who which to help compensate for the emotional trauma).

The wet weekend was more tolerable in the Paddock Club
It was awesome. In these pre-selfie days I collected autographs and managed to meet the entire grid. Michael Schumacher made a particular impression: He was particularly polite and obliging, as were the overwhelming majority of drivers. Having spent much of the past decade in professional paddocks in a more formal capacity, I remember and slightly miss the rush of being in that environment as a truly geeky fan.

It has doubtless changed massively now, but back then, once in the paddock the drivers were quite accessible – they certainly weren’t surrounded by teams of PRs, trainers and garage feng shui consultants like today. The motorhomes by today’s standards were pretty understated, and the core business of the paddock was very much going motor racing.

I’m sure Paddock Club has evolved too, but it was pretty much everything you’d expect it to be – impeccable wining and dining, with mixed tables of business executives and the celebrities they’d invited to promote their brands and not a lot of conversational common ground.

No-one in Paddock Club was much interested in the race particularly and drifted away from the grandstand a few laps in, whilst I found it a bit of an odd environment to watch F1; to such an extent that we went to Castle Combe the next day afterwards to get our ‘proper racing’ at a clubbie.

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Author information

Ben Evans
Motorsport commentator Ben is RaceFans' resident bookworm. Look out for his verdict on the latest motor racing publications on Sundays....

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11 comments on “Coulthard stops Schumacher’s winning run amid Silverstone’s April showers”

  1. This was the first Grand Prix my Dad took me to when I was 11. Stood on a muddy bank, pinned to a fence watching the cars come under bridge. Remember it like it was yesterday 🙂

  2. Great read as usual, thanks. Especially the personal account. I’m so jealous for my younger self who would have given anything for that experience back then..!

  3. leading McLaren team principal Ron Dennis, who ordinarily make Mr Tumble seem downcast, to lose his usual ebullience.

    Hmmm…. I was quite young then so is it possible I’m misremembering how Ron acted in the early 2000’s

    The distraught crowd responded by giving Schumacher a uplifting cheer as the news was announced.

    That clears it up, clearly some satire going on in this report. Loving this series, especially the little bits of humour and personal recollections added in.

    1. Have to agree, pleasant read @yossarian – the tone is quite enjoyable to read this reminder of that race weekend, one that fell in a period that due to studies I had less time and access to F1, and so have less memories of to savour for myself, which makes this nice to have a personal account.

      The finishing bit of the description was a nice way to end that, on point, with a nice recall to the first paragraph that set the scene

      …two weeks later. That was just about enough time for most of the Silverstone crowd to escape the car park quagmires and get back home.

  4. Love these articles, but what’s with the constant references to Ron Dennis’ mood?

    1. I include these updates because it was so disheartening to see the man behind such zingers as;

      “When I came into motor racing so many things were a black art. But black art was a cloak for ‘we don’t really know’. It was intuitive engineering. I decided to make it a science. We will develop science to take away uncertainty to make winning a certainty.”

      and

      “From our perspective, and ours is more qualified because we are not hiding from our inadequacies, it is statistically not borne out that we have huge reliability problems”

      Less than his usual Justin Fletcher-esque self when interviewed on TV during difficult run at the start of the season.

      It’s also because its the only running joke in my drafts that isn’t libellous

  5. My Dad nearly lost a Ford Sierra to the legendary Silverstone mud.

  6. I remember reading on a magazine of the era that Bernie was fuming after that weekend and threatened Silverstone to improve the facilities. That in itself isn’t unusual but I didn’t know it was him in the first place who put Silverstone in April. What was the reason behind it (if there was one)?

    1. Jonathan Parkin
      23rd April 2020, 20:42

      Apparently according to Louise Goodman it was because Easter was late and the season had to finish in October so there was a Calendar squeeze and the choice for that weekend was either France or GB.

      At the time there was a dispute over the hosting rights between the circuit’s owners, the BRDC and Bernie Ecclestone and it was allegedly this dispute that caused the race to be in April.

      As Bernie chose the race slot it was effectively his fault, but he blamed everybody else causing me to lose any respect I had for him

    2. In addition to the stories about bernie dropping the BRDC in it, I seem to recall Austria was also mentioned as a potential race for that slot in the calendar but niki lauda (or possibly keke rosberg) laughed the suggestion off saying he’d enjoyed some of his best skiing in the tyrol in April and the idea seemed to have been forgotten, hence Silverstone got ‘volunteered’. As it turned out there was bright sunshine in Zeltweg all weekend whereas Northamptonshire suffered the infamous deluge.

  7. Pretty boring race from what I remember… The main talking point was the super quagmire/ultimate mudfest mayhem taking place outside!

    Didn’t this happen again more recently (2012 maybe?) and for Saturday qualifying fans were told not to attend?

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