Michael Schumacher and Ross Brawn have been the driving force behind the 1998 Hungarian GP victory for Ferrari after changing the strategy and defeating McLaren drivers Hakkinen and Coulthard.
After 11 of 16 races in 1998, Hakkinen had 16 points lead ahead of Schumacher, who had to win in Hungary in order to prevent the Finn from further increasing his advantage.
This did not seem like a likely scenario because the McLaren drivers secured another front row for the Hungarian Grand Prix ahead of third Schumacher, which was not a good sign for the German because you can’t overtake at Hungaroring unless you are significantly faster than your rivals.
Hakkinen won pole position (1:16.973), 0.158 seconds ahead of Coulthard and 0.393 seconds ahead of Schumacher while fourth Hill in Jordan was already 1.241 seconds behind.
At the start, two McLarens and Schumacher retained positions which was by no means good news for the German, and after the first pitstops that ended in the lap 28, Hakkinen was four seconds ahead of Coulthard.
But because of the problem with his car, Hakkinen’s advantage has diminished though Coulthard has done everything to slow down Schumacher and thus protect his teammate.
Schumacher and Ferrari have decided to change the strategy and in the lap 42 German dives into the pitlane after being told by Ross Brawn on the radio that in 19 laps he must build the 25 seconds.
McLaren responded, albeit too late, calling Coulthard in lap 44 and Hakkinen in lap 46, but Schumacher came out in front of both of them and had a clean path to try to build the advantage he needed.
Lap after lap, Schumacher was driving fantastic laps and was about a second faster than McLaren drivers – 15 laps before the end he led 27 seconds before his third and final stop. He returned into the lead to the delight of Ferrari fans. In the lap 60, Schumacher clocked the fastest lap, 1:19.286, eight tenths faster than Villeneuve and 1.2 s faster than the McLaren drivers.
Schumacher won with 9.433 seconds ahead of Coulthard and 44.444 seconds ahead of Villeneuve and Hakkinen after problems with dampers managed to finish sixth and grab the last point. Thus, his advantage after Hungary was reduced to only seven points, four races before the end of the championship. McLaren continued to lead the constructor with 23 points more than Ferrari.
“I thought we would be competitive today, but I did not even dream of leaving Hungary with just seven points behind in the championship,” said Schumacher.
“This was one of my most impressive victories thanks to the Ferrari fans after the race, and all the hard work on six-day test in Fiorano really paid off.”
“The team has again chosen the right strategy, although at first I was not sure whether our plan will work because I got stuck behind Jacques and David. In the end, the team made the right decision. Of course we benefited from the problems of our rivals though I was able to keep up with McLarens during the race. “