Spa Francorchamps Grand Prix 1998: The Greatest F1 Race Ever?
Formula 1 is everything sport should be.
It relies on speed, thrills and automobiles. There are fierce team rivalries, bitter disputes between individuals, points to be gained and lost in a split second. To use a cheesy cliche, it is fast and it is furious.
There has been some fantastic grand prixs over the last few decades, a number of those came this year, most of all the thrilling finale to this year's championship where the title was lost and won in the last corner.
However, I take you back to 10 years ago, a time when I was addicted to Formula 1. You know the kind that get up at three o'clock in the morning to watch those races in different time zones. The kind that spend their £5 pocket money on the latest magazine, the kind that played the playstation game pretending she was in the driving seat.
Monza was always my favourite track. I knew it like I know the back of my hand. All that changed in 1998—since then I have a special place in my heart for a track in Belguim called Spa.
Anyone that tells you Spa 1998 was not entertaining does not know Formula 1. That Grand Prix had it all.
All weekend it bucketed down rain.
The front of the grid was an all Mclaren affair with Hakinnen and Coulthard. In third place there was the surprise package of Damon Hill in his Jordan Mugen-Honda with a certain Michael Schumacher lining up fourth in his Ferrari.
To say the start was pandemonium would be the understatement of the century. Coulthard lost control after been touched by another car and aquaplaned across the course leaving the field in mayhem.
While nobody was badly hurt, Rubens Barrichello's injured arm left him unable to join the restart along with Rosset, Panis and Salo whose teams have only one spare car and two broken cars. Two into one just doesn't go and the three drivers had to sit it out. Jordan was the only team to escape with both cars intact.
It took nearly an hour for the carnage to be removed from the track and by then all my family were watching—even those that did not get the point of watching cars going round and round for two hours.
So to the restart and lap one was again full of incident with Hakinnen and Herbert colliding taking out both cars. Once again the safety car was deployed.
The rain continued as did the drama.
The race settled down with Michael Schumacher leading from Hill, Ralf Schumacher, Alesi, Frentzen, Irvine, Diniz, and Fisichella. Trulli and Coulthard were among others circulating the track in the hopes that others would retire and they could snap up much needed championship points.
In and around lap 22, Michael Schumacher seemed to be in charge and on his way to another win barring an engine problem—after all he was the rain mastero, it was not as if he was going to crash.
Except Ferrari had the minor problem of Coulthard been infront of Schumacher, if not in the race at least on the track. Rumours say that Ferrari told the Mclaren garage to order Coulthard let the race leader and quicker driver Schumacher to pass.
In the 24th lap, Coulthard inexplicably slowed down on the straight to "let Schumacher through". Unable to clearly see the Mclaren in the rain and spray, the German crashed into the back of Coulthard losing his right front wheel.
Schumacher crept around the track on three wheels back to the garage, where he got out of his car and made a straight line for the Mclaren team and a certain Scotsman.
My thoughts "Go on Michael, tell him what for, he took you out—he slowed too dramatically to take you out."
You see I was as passionate a Michael Schumacher fan as you could find. He was and is one of my sporting heroes—I was one of those that did not see arrogance but determination and now he was taken out by Mclaren's B driver.
My anger turned to rage as I shouted at the television as pictures of the tussle in the pit lane continued to be aired.
That was until my family and I and everyone in Ireland realised what was happening.
Anger turned to joy, rage to delight—it was a Jordan one, two!!
The commentators screamed in disbelief, I screamed in disbelief, we all stared at the box in the corner in disbelief.
Jordan Mugen-Honda, the team from little old Ireland were leading a grand prix—the pinnacle of motorsport.
We sat through the remainder of the grand prix with hands over eyes, biting nails, hiding behind cushions as Hill would spin slightly off track as Ralf looked like he was going to take out his team mate in his determination to win.
Team orders came in that Schumacher was told to stay behind Hill not to ruin his historic day, not to break our hearts.
Flavio Briatore and other team managers went over to Eddie Jordan—the rockstar of F1—to tell him keep his cool and tell his drivers keep their cool.
Finally after a long 44 laps it was over, we had won. Hill and Schumacher were in that moment no longer English or German, they were one of us.
Finally after a long 127 races and seven years, Jordan F1 had won their first grand prix at the very top of motor-racing.
There was no Irish anthem on that day—it was not like they were going to win.
But they did win, we did win. Coulthard's tactics to take out Michael Schumacher became just another by-product on Jordan's way into the history books. Suddenly it all didn't matter that much.
Nowadays I still follow F1 but my heart isn't in it anymore.
You'll not find me up at three in the morning to watch a race, or spending my spare €5 on a magazine or pretending I'm the female Michael Schumacher as I play my playstation.
There is no real connection for me to this great sport anymore.
Michael Schumacher has retired, Damon Hill has retired, Ralf Schumacher has disappeared into thin air. Eddie Irvine and Jordan F1 are no longer there to fly the Irish flag.
But sometimes I think back to that day all those years ago and it brings the biggest smile to my face—all because a yellow car crossed a white line on a track in Belgium quicker than anyone else!
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