It’s normal in life to have ups and downs. No matter what you do and from what perspective you see things, emotions are like a rollercoaster. You are sky high one day, at the bottom the other. Of course, Formula 1 cannot be an exception to the rule. Recently we had the pleasure talking to Ossi Oikarinen about the 1998 Belgian Grand Prix weekend at Spa.
Ossi was working for the Arrows team with Mika Salo and Pedro Diniz behind the wheels of the Arrows A19 cars that were designed by John Barnard with Mike Coughlan overseeing the track activities. It was a tough time for the team, with parts arriving at the last minute for the practice session on Friday. But hard work paid off in the end and the cars were ready for FP1. The spirit was fantastic.
Heading into Free practice all the teams were shocked having seen Jacques Villeneuve lose control of his Winfield Williams and hitting the tyre wall hard. The Canadian driver described that crash as his “biggest crash in F1”, but thankfully he walked away without injury.
One day later, it was the time for Ossi to experience something similar. This time, it was Mika Salo’s Arrows that crashed heavily in Eau Rouge. It was a big accident, leaving the damaged car spinning on the track after hitting the barrier. The TV pictures clearly showed that the left part of the car was ripped off as a result of the impact on the left side of the turn while climbing the hill. The session was stopped and Mika was taken to the hospital to undergo medical checks. Thankfully, the checks showed that Mika had no problem and he was cleared to race. “Oh yes, his brain was still there”, laughs Ossi.
After the good news, the tension at the Arrows garage was again high. What could have caused the failure?
“We had to understand what went wrong and what the cause of the failure was,” says Ossi. “Of course, back in 1998 we didn’t had the amounts of data real-time, so we had to wait for the car to come in and download the data.”
After inspection, the crash was to a fault with the push rod titanium end, which pulled clear out of carbon pushrod.
“We tried to strengthen the connection between the titanium and carbon by wet laminating more carbon over the connection, but this was just a band aid which was for sure a very risky solution,” says Ossi.
The team worked very hard to make it happen and prepared both the cars for the raceday, with the fix to avoid another failure.
“Of course, it was not the best choice performance wise, but we had to ensure that both the drivers would be safe”, adds Oikarinen.
The T-Cars were used at that time, so the decision was made to assign Mika the spare car. The team gave its absolute best to prepare the cars and transfer all the setting from the destroyed one to the T-Car. On race day the team was back in high spirits.
“We had to build the ‘new’ spare car overnight from the spare chassis. The work started at 02.00 on Sunday morning for the mechanics, with an engine that had to be flown from the UK at Spa via helicopter, so we could have the car ready for warmup”, remembers Oikarinen.
Hard rain hit the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on Sunday and the decision was taken to start the race without delay, keeping the schedule. Surprisingly the cars started from the grid without using the safety car. After Turn 1, David Coulthard’s McLaren had a contact with Eddie Irvine, driving for Ferrari. Suddenly, and with the problem the spray has created, the fans witnessed one of the biggest crashes in F1 history.
The drivers involved that suffered damage were, along with David Coulthard (McLaren) and Eddie Irvine (Ferrari), Alex Wurz (Benetton), Rubens Barrichello (Stewart), Johnny Herbert (Sauber), Olivier Panis (Prost), Jarno Trulli (Prost), Mika Salo (Arrows), Pedro Diniz (Arrows), Toranosuke Takagi (Tyrrell), Ricardo Rosset (Tyrrell) and Shinji Nakano (Minardi).
Three of the teams, Arrows, Prost and Tyrell had both of their cars out, so they had to give the T-Car to one of them. Salo was not given the T-Car as he used the advantage in order to race, so Pedro Diniz got the car to start. The restart and the development of the race was once again dramatic, with the biggest story the collision Schumacher and Coulthard. A furious Schumacher was visiting McLaren garage to have “a word” with the Scotsman.
The race end found the two Jordan Mugen Hondas driven by Hill and Ralf Schumacher taking a memorable 1-2 with Jean Alesi in a Sauber Petronas reaching the 3rd step of the podium.
Only 8 cars out of 22 made the checqued flag with Pedro Diniz getting 2 points for Arrows, finishing in the 5th place behind HH Frenzten in Williams Mecachrome. “Certainly if we had Mika driving the car in the place of Diniz we would have got more points out of this race”, said Ossi.
It was certainly a weekend to remember, with the ups and downs. Although the team got 2 points, it could have been a better one. Definitely a rollercoaster!