RACE DEBRIEF

    Eddie Irvine’s breakthrough win in F1 is the subject of our race stream on Wednesday evening as we get ready to show the 1999 Australian Grand Prix on F1.com, Facebook and YouTube. It was one of F1’s great races of attrition – here’s why you should tune in...

    Twenty-two drivers lined up on the grid the 1999 season-opener in Australia, yet just eight of them would take the chequered flag. What happened in between was one of the most riotous, action-filled Grands Prix in recent history – a properly crazy race with some seriously big upsets.

    How they stood before the race

    Obviously it was all-square points-wise going into the first race of the 1999 season. But with McLaren having won both the 1997 and 1998 Australian Grands Prix, and coming into the season off the back of a dominant performance in pre-season testing with their Adrian Newey-designed MP4-13, the first race of the year seemed to be a formality to be endured before either David Coulthard or reigning champ Mika Hakkinen scooped up the winners’ trophy.

    LISTEN: Mika Hakkinen on Schumacher, Senna and recovery from injury

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    The MP4-13 was lightning fast in testing

    The background

    The McLaren cakewalk appeared to be even more likely after qualifying in Melbourne, with Hakkinen beating Coulthard to a dominant pole position at Albert Park, 0.484s ahead of the Scot, and a full 1.319s ahead of the next best, the lurking Ferrari of Michael Schumacher in third.

    Behind, a brilliant effort from Rubens Barrichello in the Stewart SF3 saw the Brazilian take fourth ahead of the Jordan of Heinz-Harald Frentzen, in the equally swift-looking Jordan 199.

    Eddie Irvine was a lowly sixth in the second Ferrari, while Alex Zanardi, back in F1 for the first time since 1994, could only manage 15th for Williams.

    PODCAST: Rubens Barrichello on being pranked by Senna and almost signing for McLaren

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    Barrichello did a great job to line up fourth for Stewart

    Four key moments

    1. The start – The chaos in Melbourne was up and running even before the Grand Prix got underway, with polesitter Hakkinen forced to swap to the spare McLaren minutes before the race start. Then on the grid, onlookers watched in disbelief as both Stewarts did a synchronised munching of their Ford engines, forcing the start to be aborted.

    With just one spare SF3 available, Johnny Herbert was forced to miss out, as Barrichello claimed the T-car. Then finally, when everyone was ready for the next formation lap, neither Hakkinen nor Schumacher could pull away cleanly from the line, Hakkinen eventually getting going and re-passing his rivals to take up his pole position spot, while Schumacher was pushed by his mechanics, meaning he'd have to start at the back of the grid.

    At the start proper, Hakkinen then got away problem-free, while in his 100th Grand Prix start, Jordan’s Damon Hill connected with Jarno Trulli at Turn 3 and was out.

    2. Coulthard retires as Villeneuve crashes – It all kicked off again on Lap 14. Running a comfortable second to Hakkinen, with the McLarens having streaked away from the rest of the field, Coulthard started to slow, before pulling into the pits and out of the race with a hydraulic issue.

    On the other side of the track and at exactly the same time, 1997 champ Jacques Villeneuve’s rear wing decided to part company with the split-liveried BAR 01, sending him spinning wildly around before coming to a stop – a nasty moment that Villeneuve fortunately walked away from.

    LISTEN: Jacques Villeneuve on pushing limits, his father’s influence & more

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    The Safety Car was on heavy rotation mid-race

    3. Hakkinen’s race goes to pot – With the Safety Car having been brought out to sweep away Villeneuve’s car, leader Hakkinen then appeared to toy with the second-placed Ferrari of Irvine at the restart, cruising down the pit straight as the pack jostled behind him.

    It wasn’t a ruse, though, and as Irvine blasted past the McLaren and into the lead, Hakkinen limped around the track with a terminal throttle issue that would force his retirement a few laps later.

    4. Irvine overcomes another Safety Car to win – With drivers retiring in their droves behind him, new leader Irvine was forced to endure another Safety Car just a few laps after the first one when the Williams of Zanardi spun into the wall. Debris from that accident then most likely caused a puncture that put the seal on Michael Schumacher's dismal afternoon, with the German relegated right to the back of the field, having climbed as high as fourth.

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    Eddie Irvine takes the chequered flag for his first F1 victory

    So with Hakkinen, Coulthard and Schumacher all out of contention, it was left to Irvine to romp to his maiden victory, as he led home the eight classified finishers – including Schumacher, who finished last. Behind Irvine on the podium came Frentzen for his 10th F1 rostrum appearance, while Ralf Schumacher was third for Williams.

    READ MORE: Click here for the full race results from the 1999 Australian Grand Prix

    The headlines

    Irvine’s ‘home’ win – It took Eddie Irvine 81 Grand Prix starts to take his first F1 victory, including three win-less seasons with Ferrari. So to claim victory at the opening race of 1999 as his rivals faltered was a sweet moment for Irvine – especially with a surprisingly partisan crowd watching.

    "To win your first race here, where there are so many Ferrari fans and so many Paddies [Irish people] and there are even Ulster flags out there, which is great – this was like a home Grand Prix,” said Irvine, adding: “Michael did all the pre-season testing, made the car reliable for me and I get the glory, which is great.”

    Asked why he was popular in Australia, meanwhile, Irvine joked: “Probably because there are so many Irish convicts here.”

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    Irvine flanked by Frentzen and Ralf Schumacher

    READ MORE: 10 moments of Michael Schumacher brilliance

    Disappointment for McLaren – Having run comfortably first and second for the opening part of the race, the rest of McLaren’s Sunday afternoon quickly dissolved into a wound-licking exercise. “I am very disappointed because all the effort the team has put into making the car so competitive was not rewarded,” said Hakkinen.

    Coulthard reflected along similar lines: “I feel really sorry for the team which has worked day and night to provide us with such a fantastic car for the first Grand Prix.”

    However, reporting on the race, Atlas F1 remarked that Hakkinen “still had a big smile on his face, as he knew the car was so good”. The Finn would eventually be crowned champion that season for a second time running.

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    Irvine celebrates with his 'countrymen'

    Embarrassment for Stewart – Ahead of the race, Stewart Technical Director Gary Anderson had been asked whether he had any reliability concerns about the team’s Ford Zetec V10s. “At the moment we don't have anything that's jumping out at us,” replied Anderson.

    That picture would change by the end of the weekend, where despite Barrichello finishing a decent fifth, Herbert was clearly miffed at not even making the race start. “It's very frustrating that both cars should be struck down on the starting grid,” said Herbert. “For me it's a bad way to end a very promising weekend.” At least he’d enjoy a race win with the team later in the season…

    WATCH: Race highlights of the 1999 European Grand Prix

    How to watch

    Relive one of the great season openers when we stream the 1999 Australian Grand Prix on F1.com, Facebook and YouTube at 1800 UTC (1900 BST) on Wednesday, June 3.

    And if you want to watch more classic Grand Prix action you're in luck, as we’re offering F1 TV Access FREE for 30 days. That’s right, 1,400 hours of unrestricted, on-demand F1 content available to stream right now, including race highlights, season reviews, on-boards, qualifying highlights and much more! Click here for more details.