The second half of the 2000 F1 season got underway with the Austrian Grand Prix, the fourth time the race had been run at the A1-Ring (now Red Bull Ring), the massively altered version of the old Osterreichring.
Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher continued to lead the championship, but his retirement from the French Grand Prix had helped McLaren duo David Coulthard and Mika Hakkinen to significantly close the gap.
As was the way prior to testing restrictions in the gap between races Silverstone, Mugello, Fiorano and Estoril had all been pressed into action as teams tried out new updates. Fortunately this burst of testing was incident-free, so there were no injury concerns heading into the Styrian hills.
That changed after the initial practice runs when Eddie Irvine withdrew from the weekend due to illness, subsequently diagnosed as a swollen intestine, and was replaced by Luciano Burti in the Jaguar.
2000 Austrian Grand Prix qualifying
Ferrari and McLaren set the practice pace, but the silver cars had a clear edge around the compact Austrian circuit. That certainly was the case in qualifying when Hakkinen took his fourth pole position of the season, sharing the front row with Coulthard.
The reigning champion appeared reinvigorated as the second half of the season with renewed zeal, a change team boss Ron Dennis ascribed to him being relieved of promotional duties for 10 days since the last round so he could take a holiday. They’d also made changes to his car, adopting parts of his team mate’s successful set-up, and the result was a superb qualifying performance. Three laps quick rough for pole position, and a margin of nearly four-tenths of a second on such a short layout, signalled Hakkinen was back to his best.
While Hakkinen ended his long, pole-less spell, his chief rival was out of sorts at a track where he tended not to produce his absolute best. Team mate Rubens Barrichello out-qualified Schumacher, the two Ferraris occupying the second the row. The latter had a frustrating session, not having the right balance with his car, resulting in a spin, and aborting his final run after an error.
Row three comprised Jarno Trulli who was continuing to find good pace in the Jordan, and Ricardo Zonta, who out-qualified BAR team mate Jacques Villeneuve by a mere two-thousandths of a second.
Elsewhere through the field there were plenty of adventures as drivers had to gamble on strategy to outrun the forecast rain (which in the event didn’t appear). Frentzen in the second Jordan was down in 15th having gone for a time early before the track conditions improved, whilst the Williams pairing of Jenson Button and Ralf Schumacher were 18th and 19th respectively, their cars struggling for grip.
|12||Pedro de la Rosa||Arrows||1’11.978|
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2000 Austrian Grand Prix
The weather remained cool and overcast for race day, which saw one of the more dramatic starts of season. Hakkinen got away well retaining the lead from team-mate Coulthard into turn one. Behind, however, was chaos.
Ferrari planned a two-stop strategy for Schumacher and asked Barrichello to let him through into turn two (thereby beginning something of a tradition for this pair of drivers in Austria). However the fast-starting Zonta was caught out by the slowing cars ahead of him, and punted Schumacher into a gravel trap. In the melee behind Pedro Diniz collided with Giancarlo Fisichella, while Trulli tangled into Barrichello.
A decade earlier, Schumacher had been wiped out in a first-lap shunt in an F3 race, but dragged his car onto the circuit and hopped out, prompting a red flag and restart, giving him a second chance. On this occasion, Schumacher drove his damaged F1-2000 out of a gravel trap, stopped on the racing line and got out. Had he tried to pull the same stunt again?
If so, he was unsuccessful. The Safety Car was deployed, and the marshals dragged Schumacher’s Ferrari away, along with Fisichella’s Benetton and Trulli’s Jordan.
This was a disaster for Schumacher – his third retirement in four races presented another open goal to the McLarens to close down the points gap. There was always the possibility they might run into each again, as they’d done at the same track 12 months earlier, but when the race restarted Coulthard avoided the temptation to make any rash lunges at his team mate.
Behind them the field had an unusual complexion: Mika Salo held third for Sauber, until he was passed by Pedro de la Rosa’s Arrows. Barrichello then demoted Salo as well, hauling his damaged Ferrari up to fourth by lap eight.
At the front the McLarens flew in formation, Hakkinen two seconds clear of Coulthard. Behind Ralf Schumacher pitted for a new front wing, whilst first lap miscreants Diniz and Zonta served stop-and-go penalties.
The next drama among the front runners was the retirement of de la Rosa on lap 32, the Arrows driver’s pace ultimately going unrewarded, although the race was another sign of the team’s positive trajectory. A few laps later the Prost pair, disputing the minor positions, managed to crash into each other. Three years earlier the four-times champion’s team had led this race convincingly, but had sunk to the back to the grid since.
The contenders for the win were all on one-stop strategies. By the time Hakkinen came in he was already over 10s clear of his team mate, and so retained his advantage once Coulthard had been through his pit cycle.
With the scheduled pit stops completed the order was Hakkinen, Coulthard, Barrichello, Villenueve, Button and Salo. The last two retirements came by way of Ralf Schumacher spinning off due to brake failure and Zonta with an engine failure. The only other action in the top six was an abortive move from Button on Villeneuve, which saw no change in position.
Hakkinen’s badly-needed win propelled him back into the title fight, just eight points shy of Schumacher. But he nearly lost it.
After the race his car was found to be missing one of the crucial FIA seals which proved its conformity to the rules. It was taken away for inspection and ultimately found compliant, but while Hakkinen kept his hard-won 10 points McLaren were stripped of them, and handed a $50,000 fine. They chose not to appeal – despite trailing Ferrari by just points in the team’s standings.
Schumacher’s championship lead was cut to just six points, with Coulthard still second in the standings. A less than thrilling race had nonetheless proved a pot-boiler for the title fight. But Schumacher could count on maximum home support at the next round, on the original Hockenheimring.
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2000 Austrian Grand Prix result
|Position||Driver||Team||Laps||Time / laps / reason|
|4||Jacques Villeneuve||BAR||70||+1 lap|
|5||Jenson Button||Williams||70||+1 lap|
|6||Mika Salo||Sauber||70||+1 lap|
|7||Johnny Herbert||Jaguar||70||+1 lap|
|8||Marc Gene||Minardi||70||+1 lap|
|9||Pedro Diniz||Sauber||70||+1 lap|
|10||Alexander Wurz||Benetton||70||+1 lap|
|11||Luciano Burti||Jaguar||69||+2 laps|
|12||Gaston Mazzacane||Minardi||68||+3 laps|
|17||Pedro de la Rosa||Arrows||32||Gearbox|
|19||Heinz-Harald Frentzen||Jordan||4||Oil leak|
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2000 Austrian Grand Prix championship standings
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