With just four laps left in the 2000 Belgian Grand Prix, Mika Hakkinen made one of the greatest passes in Grand Prix history on Michael Schumacher. Schumi was out front as they made the turn around La Source. Down through Eau Rouge and on to Raidillon they sped. They both flew down the Kemmel Straight toward Les Combes at incredible speed with Hakkinen inching ever closer in Michael’s slipstream. At 200 mph Michael then dived for the inside to block Hakkinen, who almost rear-ended him in the process.
Michael was the master at this; it was his art form. He would weave purposely at the start of the race and cut people off so he could stay in the lead. He would even cut across competitor’s lines during the race (like Hakkinen) to try and keep others from stealing his points. That’s why he was so dominant – besides having the best equipment for most of his career – he made it difficult to pass him.
The rest of that lap saw Schumacher’s lead increase as he tore through the rest of the curving sinuous Belgian countryside. He was set up for the rain that had come with the start of the race, and that meant a high-downforce setting. Hakkinen went for a dry setting and more top speed. It would pay off.
The fourth lap from the end started much the same with Schumi ahead of Hakkinen through Eau Rouge and up onto the Kemmel Straight. Then came Zonta. The BAR-Honda driver never knew that he was about to be the meat in the passing sandwich Schumi and Hakk were about to create. Michael had no choice but to decide which side to pass on first, and went left. Mika chose the right and both put Zonta a lap down at the same time. But Les Combes being a right-hander, Mika had the better line and was now on the inside of Schumi. There was nothing left for it and Mika passed Schumi to take the lead and eventually go on and win the race.
And this brings me to my point. The only exciting passing that happens these days is when it rains. In the dry everyone simply races from the place they started to that place they will finish and if they do need to pass, no one tries anything daring, because “blocking” will result in a penalty. But why should it? Why make it easy for the person who is trying to get your points be able to pass without making it difficult for them?
In last week’s German Grand Prix, it was as if everyone just let Lewis Hamilton by. Especially Felipe Massa. It couldn’t have been easier for Lewis if no one was in front of him. I sat watching as he ate all the time in the world from Massa’s lead. I knew it was coming and there was nothing Massa could do, but he could have tried harder than he did. With the amount of effort Massa put into defending his LEAD, I could have made that pass! There is no doubt that Lewis is a remarkable driver, he has proven that time and again, but there is no reason that anyone in the lead of a race with a few laps left should let someone pass them that easily.
I say that every race should be run in the rain. Sure, Massa will be out of a job rather quickly, but it will separate the men from the boys. Rain makes Grand Prix drivers try things that they would never think to do in the dry. It makes them daring again. It makes them drivers. That race at Spa is a great testament to this because it started out wet and ended dry. It makes people try different strategies. Schumacher stayed with his wet set-up and lost. Hakkinen used a dry set-up and won. Tire strategies change too. Everyone watches for that one back marker who inevitably will try dry tires when everyone else is on intermediates or full wets. Will they fly off the track into a barrier (as everyone secretly hopes) or will they succeed and start setting fast laps? No one knows and that is what makes wet racing great: great for spectators, great for TV, great for drivers and great for passing.
There are other instances of this too. Hungary in ’06 was a wet/dry race, and more recently, Fuji last year, and Monaco and the British Grand Prix (the last three won by Hamilton) were almost deluges at one point. And these are much more memorable than most dry races. Rain brings out the best and makes Grand Prix racing the spectacle that it should be. If they could, I would wish for the FIA to schedule every Grand Prix for a weekend when it would rain. It would make racing so much more enjoyable.
For more wet races, look on youtube.com. Also, please watch the Hakkinen pass on Schumacher, because that will probably never happen again…not with everyone letting people go by at will.