Formula 1

Classic British Grand Prix: 1999

3 Mins read

Think back to a time when Michael Schumacher was only a double world champion, and Mika Hakkinen had the number 1 on his McLaren. Jenson Button was not to enter Formula 1 until the next year, Fernando Alonso the season after that. Lewis Hamilton was just 14. The year is 1999, it is 11th July, and it is Round 8 of the 16 race Formula 1 season. The venue: Silverstone, Great Britain!

Mika Hakkinen was hunting down his second world championship title, and was eight points ahead of Michael Schumacher in the standings. The German had won his two titles at Benetton in '94 and '95 and was now trying to turnaround the fortunes of Ferrari, along with Ross Brawn and Jean Todt.

Hakkinen started the race from pole position, while Schumacher was alongside him on the front row of the grid, and the race promised to be an enthralling event which could be a turning point in the championship battle.

David Coulthard and Eddie Irvine, the respective teammates of the two title challengers, were occupying the second row. Another Brit, Damon Hill, was sixth on the grid, just behind his Jordan teammate Heinz-Harald Frentzen.

Rubens Barrichello, Pedro de la Rosa and Jarno Trulli, along with Schumacher, were the only other current drivers on the grid that day. Other notable names were Ralf Schumacher, Jacques Villeneuve, Jean Alesi, Johnny Herbert, Alessandro Zinardi. Luca Badoer was also on the grid, occupying the back row in a Minardi, something he also did for Ferrari in two races last season.

This 1999 British Grand Prix will be remembered for two reasons: David Coulthard won his home race for the first time, and Michael Schumacher broke his leg, losing his chance of the title that year.

The German made a poor start off the grid, with both Coulthard and Irvine getting past him. This was the period at Ferrari where there was an obvious number one driver, and team orders were clearly deployed and executed. Therefore, it was no surprise when Schumacher made a move to get past his teammate into Stowe.

Schumacher, however, went off the track, bounced across the gravel, and slammed into the tyre barrier with immense force. A brake failure on the F399 was responsible, and the world sat and watched as the medical car rushed to the scene and the marshals draped the car in tarpaulin to hide the damage (and the sponsors logos).

As Schumacher left the scene on a stretcher, he waived to the crowds to signal his injuries weren't too serious. It was later confirmed that he had a broken leg, and he missed the next six races.

The grand prix restarted, and Irvine got ahead of Coulthard off the line, moving up into second. Hakkinen initially led the race unchallenged, but was forced to retire after his left-rear tyre came off.

The Finn was heading around Luffield as he felt something loose on the back of his car. The MP4/14 twitched around the corner, and suddenly the Bridgestone tyre was seen bouncing across the track, across a gravel trap, and into a tyre wall. It ricocheted off this wall and flew straight back onto the track. A brave marshal retrieved it under waved yellow flags.

Hakkinen dived into the pit lane on three wheels, and his pit crew replaced the fourth in a 24 second stop. He then tried to carry on, but had to retire for safety reasons.

Hakkinen was out but Eddie Irvine had a pit stop problem which dropped him down the order, and he couldn't take advantage of the McLaren retirement. Irvine finished second behind Coulthard. With the six points that they awarded for P2 back in those days Irvine went level on points with Schumacher, who by that point was being treated in a Northamptonshire hospital.

This was the most recent British one-two finish at a British Grand Prix, something that Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button will be looking to rectify next weekend. There was further British success down the field too in 1999. Damon Hill came fifth in his last grand prix at Silverstone, and also managed to lead a lap while the frontrunners were out of position having just had pit stops. It was a high point in an otherwise tricky final season for the 1996 world champion. Johnny Herbert, the fourth Brit in the field, could only finish eleventh in the Stewart-Ford.

Incidentally, at the next race in Austria, the finishing order of the top two was reversed, and that was the last British one-two finish in Formula 1 prior to this season's Chinese Grand Prix.

Schumacher's return was at the penultimate race of the 1999 season – the inaugural Malaysian Grand Prix on October 17th. Eddie Irvine was challenging Hakkinen for the title, coming into the weekend just two points behind the Finn in the driver's standings.

The rejuvenated Schumacher stole the show though. He took pole position in Sepang by nearly a second from Irvine, and although he let the Irishman past him in the early stages of the race, controlled the rest of the field and was only a second behind his teammate at the checkered flag.

The German also took second place at the final race of the season in Suzuka, but couldn't prevent Hakkinen from claiming his second title. Schumacher went on to win the title in the next five seasons, becoming statistically the best driver ever to participate in the sport.

Eddie Irvine left Ferrari at the end of the 1999 season, and his seat was filled by Rubens Barrichello.

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David is an occasional contributer to the site on matters related to Formula 1. You can follow him on twitter at @Dr_Bean.
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