Spain’s Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya is something of a special track to us here at Badger. We were there for testing at the start of this season, and back in 2012. In fact, our super founder Adam loved it so much that he returned to the venue for that season’s race, when Pastor was faster, taking his maiden win in the sport.
Now, we’re looking back in time to other marvellous happenings at the track – although this one precedes Badger’s existence by seven years; the 2001 Spanish Grand Prix.
In truth, I was only a little fella when this race happened; a wee lad of 7 discovering how cool things with tyres and engines were. My idols in infancy were the immortal McLaren pairing of Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard in those resplendent silver-and-black cars, and they’d managed to secure second and third on the grid respectively, putting them in great shape to challenge for victory.
This race was something of a historical landmark for F1; it was the first race since 1993 where Traction Control, Launch Control and other driver aids were permitted on the cars, ushering in a power-crazed era of V10s, low-downforce, and cars that were easier to drive – although please take the word ‘easy’ with an ocean of salt.
These aids were thought by many at the time to be more beneficial to Ferrari than anyone else, and lo and behold it was the Prancing Horse’s favourite son Michael Schumacher that got the best getaway at the start of the race. That start was delayed however, as (to my horror) one of the McLaren legends – the Scottish one – had an issue on the grid, and was force to start from 22nd and last.
Coulthard then had a further hindrance to his race when he smashed his front wing on the first lap trying to make up ground, practically writing off any chance of points. Heinz-Harold Frentzen stalled on the grid on the proper start, but otherwise it was a pretty mundane lights-out.
Schumacher pushed hard and stretched out a gap to Hakkinen, and it looked like the World Champion would control the race from early on. Things seemed even more desperate for his rivals later on in the race when he put on a set of brand new tyres for his final race stint. The fresh rubber would theoretically give him immense amounts of grip to truly dominate the last third of the race.
However, without being worn-in, that final set of tyres took forever to reach their peak performance, and on a cold, overcast day in Barcelona they simply didn’t work. Schumi began to fall back; Mika Hakkinen easily took the lead.
“YES!” thought I, in biased infant form. Mika Hakkinen hadn’t won a race since August the previous year, when he used Ricardo Zonta as an overtaking aid at Spa, and so it looked like the Flying Finn would take his first victory of the season, increasing his points tally by 250%.
The last lap came around; Hakkinen had a 30-second lead over Schumacher. A lap of honour, surely!? Well, there was a blaze of glory, but not the type you’d hope for. Nobody had told Mika’s clutch that it would be necessary for it to continue working on the final lap of the race, and as he went into the first corner it duly exploded, along with his chance of any points.
He had lapped everyone except Schumacher by the final tour, but he was not far enough ahead to secure any points. Schumacher passed him with glee, as did Juan-Pablo Montoya after he’d just been lapped by the McLaren. It did, however, give Coulthard an extra point for 5th place, and a first podium for the BAR team in the shape of Jacques Villeneuve.
The record books will show ten points for Michael Schumacher and none for Mika Hakkinen, although the winner was gracious enough to acknowledge the bad luck of his adversary.
Just four points from the first five races of the 2001 season left the Flying Finn without a modicum of hope for his Championship challenge, and he ended up taking a sabbatical at the end of the year.
It remains to be seen when he will return from that sabbatical, after 14 years, to once again challenge for victory at the Spanish GP, but you can bet that it probably wont be this weekend!