The United States Grand Prix: Round 16 of 17 in the 2001 Formula One World Championship. Heading into the race, Ferrari driver Michael Schumacher leading the Drivers’ Championship by 107 points ahead of McLaren driver David Coulthard in second place with 57 points ahead of Ferrari driver Rubens Barrichello who was in third place with 54 points.
In qualifying, Michael Schumacher claimed his tenth Pole Position of the season ahead of the Williams drivers of Ralf Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya who qualified in second and third placs.
It was one of the closest qualifying sessions this season with provisional Pole changing between drivers with Montoya the first to claim provisional Pole followed by Hakkinen then Barrichello. Michael Schumacher’s first attempt wasn’t good enough but his brother Ralf Schumacher managed to claim provisional Pole from Barrichello.
On his second run, Michael Schumacher took provisional Pole only for Hakkinen to better his time by a mere 0.002 seconds but in his 3rd run Michael Schumacher took Pole position for good.
Mika Hakkinen qualified in fourth place ahead of Rubens Barrichello and Nick Heidfeld in fifth and sixth places. David Coulthard only managed 7th fastest behind an impressive Nick Heidfeld in eighth place ahead of the Jordan drivers of Jarno Trulli and Jean Alesi who rounded off the top ten qualifiers.
After waging a tremendous qualifying battle with Schumacher on Saturday and securing a front-row starting position, Häkkinen dug himself a hole on cool but sunny race day on Sunday.
First, he slid off the track into the guardrail at the end of the infield straight in the morning warmup, damaging his McLaren’s suspension and requiring a heroic job by his crew to get the car ready to race. Three hours later, he learned that his failure to wait for the green light to begin the warmup session had caused his best qualifying lap to be taken away which dropped him from second to fourth position on the grid.
At the start, crowd favorite Juan Pablo Montoya pulled his Williams from third spot around the outside of Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari into Turn 1. Side by side through the initial right-hander, the two avoided contact by inches as Schumacher closed the door and seized the advantage into the left-handed Turn 2.
It soon became clear however; that the fastest car on the track was the Ferrari of Rubens Barrichello who was ostensibly carrying a light fuel load and on a two-stop strategy. The Brazilian took second from Montoya beginning Lap 3, then passed Schumacher two laps later for the lead.
While Barrichello was making his way to the front, three of the field’s youngest drivers, Sauber teammates Nick Heidfield and Kimi Raikkonen, along with Jordan driver Jarno Trullli entered the braking zone for Turn 1 three-wide on the second lap. Räikkönen became the meat in the sandwich and had his front wing broken by contact with Trulli. He retired immediately after pitting for repairs, while Heidfeld and Trulli were undamaged and both eventually ended up in the points.
Once in the lead, Barrichello quickly opened up a considerable gap back to Schumacher and by his first pit stop on Lap 27, he led by 12.5 seconds. He returned from the pits in fifth place, behind the two McLarens; as Schumacher returned to the lead. Meanwhile Montoya was flying as his Michelin tires began to gain traction and provide him an advantage.
On Lap 34, just a lap after nearly losing control in Turn 4, Montoya took the lead by outbraking Schumacher down the inside of Turn 1 as they approached the Minardi of Alex Yoong.
Almost immediately, Montoya built a 2.3-second advantage, recording the fastest lap of the race before pitting on Lap 36 and returning in fifth. Once again, Schumacher led, this time from Häkkinen, with neither car having visited the pits.
Just two laps later, immediately after Ralf Schumacher had spun and stalled his Williams in Turn 6, the crowd on the front straight groaned as Montoya moved over to the pit wall and rolled to a stop.
When Schumacher stopped on Lap 39, the McLarens were briefly first and second ahead of Barrichello. Coulthard surrendered second place by pitting on Lap 42 and returned in fourth, while Häkkinen took control of the race by staying out until Lap 46.
At Häkkinen’s stop, Barrichello led again until his second stop on Lap 50, when Häkkinen took the lead for good, having won the strategy battle with the World Champions.
As Barrichello returned from his second stop in second place, he seemed to be the only one with a chance to challenge Häkkinen. Both Williams were gone, and the teammates of the two front-runners were showing no signs of mounting an attack, but it seemed the Brazilian might indeed have the speed to chase down the Finn’s McLaren.
The gap dropped steadily, down to 2.2 seconds on Lap 61 until smoke started to appear intermittently at the back of car number 2. The engine note on the long front straight each time by made it clear that the usually bulletproof Ferrari was on its last legs.
On Lap 71, with Coulthard closing in, Schumacher could hope no longer that his teammate would limp home in second. The German took second from Barrichello, and on the next lap, Coulthard took third, just a few turns before the Ferrari seized and spun on the infield straight.
It was a disappointing end for Barrichello, whose chance for second place in the Driver’s Championship slipped further away, but a tremendously popular and rewarding win for Mika Häkkinen.
Having endured a frustrating and unproductive season, not a Championship contender for the first time in four years, and one race away from a voluntary “sabbatical” from racing, Häkkinen basked in the crowd’s glow, for what would prove to be the last time ahead of Michael Schumacher in second place and David Coulthard in third place.
Jarno Trulli’s three points for fourth place moved Jordan ahead of the Honda-BAR Team in the Constructors Championship that year. Jaguar driver Eddie Irvine finished in fifth place which was his his first time in the points since making the podium in the Monaco GP and Sauber driver Nick Heidfeld’s sixth place was a fitting reward for a fine weekend.
The 2001 United States Grand Prix saw Mika Hakkinen achieve his final win in Formula One after a fantastic career which saw him achieve two world championships and twenty Grand Prix wins. Hakkinen drove a good race and showed the world once again that when he has the car underneath him, he can deliver.
For me, Hakkinen will always be my hero and he was the reason why I got into the sport in the first place and I will always be thankful for this. And it was amazing to see him win a race before he took his sabbatical and then finally announced his retirement from racing. I will never forget how much I cheered for him that day and how emotional it was seeing him win.
This race will always be remembered for being the first international sport/race event held in the USA after the September 11 attacks. It was also the final Grand Prix commentated by the F1 legend that is Murray Walker for British television which also brought a tear to my eye as I grew up with his amazing and unique style of commentary that is still much loved, remembered and missed by the F1 world still today.
And as the 2001 World Championship leaded towards the next round in Japan at the Suzuka Circuit, Schumacher was leading the Driver’s Championship by 116 points ahead of Coulthard with 61 points and also ahead of Barrichello who had 54 points in third place.