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The Ferraris and the fury of Malaysia, 1999

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Andrew Benson | 08:00 UK time, Wednesday, 1 April 2009

We are showing the 1999 Malaysian Grand Prix as the latest event in our classic races series.

The video highlights of that race are embedded in this blog - and the other four races we picked out can be found below.

The 1999 event was fascinating but, to fully understand what happened, you need to know a little bit of the back story, which is steeped in politics and rumour, like so much of Formula 1.

This was the event that marked Michael Schumacher's return after a three-month absence with a broken leg, an injury he sustained in a crash at the British Grand Prix.

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Watch highlights from the 2000 Malaysian Grand Prix.
Watch highlights from the 2006 Malaysian Grand Prix.
Watch highlights from the 2007 Malaysian Grand Prix.
Watch highlights from the 2008 Malaysian Grand Prix.

It was his fourth season at Ferrari, and the team were still some way from emerging as the dominant force they would become in the early 2000s.

They had yet to break their title drought and the long gap back to Jody Scheckter's championship victory in 1979 was becoming a very large albatross around Ferrari's neck.

There were high hopes Schumacher would finally get the job done in 1999 but his Silverstone crash left team-mate Eddie Irvine to try to beat McLaren's Mika Hakkinen to the title.

The Northern Irishman should have had no chance - Hakkinen had him completely handled on pace - but a series of errors by the Finn and McLaren kept the race open, and with just the Malaysian and Japanese Grands Prix to go, Hakkinen led by only two points.

Throughout the summer, there were rumours that Schumacher did not want to return to the cockpit that season - why, the reasoning went, would he want to help Irvine, a journeyman with nowhere near his talent, become the man to break Ferrari's drought?

When Schumacher tested the Ferrari at Monza in late summer and set some quick times, only to say his leg hurt too much to return, the rumours intensified. And they were not helped by a series of mixed messages coming out of his camp.

Then, out of the blue, in the days immediately preceding Malaysia, Ferrari announced that Schumacher would race - and that he would be helping Irvine to win the title.

The rumour mill went into overdrive. Stories began to emerge from Italy that Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo had rung Schumacher at his Swiss home to check how his recovery was going.

Michael's daughter, Gina Maria, answered the call, it was said, and told Montezemolo that daddy couldn't come to the phone because he was playing football...

When Schumacher finally spoke to Montezemolo, the story went on, he was made aware in no uncertain terms that he would be getting on the first plane to Kuala Lumpur.

Schumacher and Ferrari shrugged off the claims and, whatever the truth, he arrived in Malaysia looking fit and healthy - and proceeded to wipe the floor with everyone in qualifying.

The Ferraris were one-two on the grid - and Schumacher, on pole, was more than a second faster than David Coulthard's McLaren in third.

In the race, Schumacher played the perfect team role in letting Irvine past for the victory and holding up Hakkinen throughout the Grand Prix.

Typically, his tactics in doing so were dubious - and Hakkinen was privately furious at some of the tricks to which he had been subjected.

But the drama was a long way from over.

Hours after the race, the Ferraris were disqualified - which gave Hakkinen the world title.

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The car's barge boards - the curved fins between the front wheels and sidepods - were found to exceed the allowable dimensions. Technical director Ross Brawn emerged from the back of the garage, held up the offending piece of bodywork and admitted the team's culpability.

So it was with some surprise that F1 greeted the subsequent information that Ferrari were appealing against their disqualification.

It seemed an open-and-shut case, but Ferrari's canny presentation convinced the judges of the FIA Court of Appeal - even if no-one else was fooled - and Irvine and Schumacher were reinstated.

That meant Irvine went to Suzuka for the final round with a two-point advantage - but Hakkinen, with Schumacher unable to keep pace, drove a brilliant race, and was deservedly crowned for the second year in succession.

Even then the speculation continued.

Why did Schumacher not take the fight to Hakkinen? Was it because he couldn't? Or because he wouldn't?

Why was the Ferrari so much slower than it had been in Malaysia? That couldn't be explained by the barge boards - it was widely accepted that, though they broke the rules, they gave no performance advantage.

There were rumours of illegal traction control - a regularly recurring claim about Ferrari in the late 1990s - and of an underbody that flexed down at speed, increasing downforce.

To this day, no-one - apart from those at the top of Ferrari at the time - really knows what happened.

I have strong personal memories of Malaysia '99, as well. I was still a full-time travelling F1 journalist then, and the prospect of the first race in south-east Asia made it a fascinating trip.

But I got an eye infection not long after arriving - it flared up on my birthday, the Friday, if I remember rightly - and although the F1 doctors sorted me out with some ointment, I was periodically in agony for the rest of the weekend.

The extreme humidity and heat did not help - and, trawling the paddock for information after the race, I got a stab of pain in my eye.

I sat down on the grass to wait for it to subside, and the first person to come along was Sauber driver Jean Alesi.

Now, Jean is a lovely bloke, but - as many people who have worked with him will attest - he doesn't always get the right end of the stick.

An emotional man who wears his Sicilian origins on his sleeve, Alesi put his arm around my shoulder and, thinking I had been overcome by the drama of the day, said: "Yes, I know, it's been an emotional day, hasn't it? Here, come inside."

And he took me into the Sauber offices, and handed me over to their physio, Josef Leberer.

Wrong idea, as it happens, but right solution. The cool atmosphere in the air-conditioned offices and a chance to sit down got my eye back to an acceptable state within a few minutes, and I was able to get back to work.

A memorable weekend, all in all.


  • Comment number 1.

    Great videos, I enjoyed watching them.

  • Comment number 2.

    Nice one Andrew, thanks for sharing your memories from your Autosport days.

    The most distinct memory from your Autosport days is when you assigned to work with Mike Gascoyne attempting to become a race engineer at Tyrell days during a cold, miserable Silverstone!

  • Comment number 3.

    What about the 2001 Malaysian Grand Prix? Schumacher's drive from the back in a monsoon was pretty special, even if the Ferrari was way better than any other car.

  • Comment number 4.

    Re: ashers_92, I'm anticipating a few similar responses.

    It's a fair enough question, but before you all wade in asking me the same thing - as you did on my previous blog! - I should reiterate that there were certain Malaysian races that we were unable to offer to you, for resources and technical reasons related to the fact that we were not the rights holders at that time. I'm afraid Malaysia 2001 was one of them.

  • Comment number 5.

    Great to see these "Old Races" but where's 2004? Button's first Podium, hopefully he will take his first win here on sunday. What we're going to do about the Chinese races wasn't the first one in 2004. I wonder which one will win, my money is on 2007, I'm not a Hamilton fan but that race was his best ever win and maybe 2006 Schumacher's last win.

    Fantastic stuff BBC keep it up!!!

  • Comment number 6.

    A small thought-
    Great footage and a brillaint service. However, on some of the newer tracks, would it be possible to see some of the classic races that have been wrongly cut from the calender? Ones such as San Marino and Canada spring to mind.

  • Comment number 7.

    Um, paulsf1fix, Hamilton very much didn't win the Chinese GP in 2007, as he ended it in the gravel trap at the pit entrance. His win, which I agree was outstanding, was in 2008.

    Good article about Malaysia '99 - there was so much going on that season that it's still very hard to know what to make of it, but it's likely to have a place in history for a whole load of reasons which have little to do with what happened on the track.

  • Comment number 8.

    Nice highlights!

    I don't think there's really been an amazing Malaysian GP yet but those were pretty good. I look forward to this weekend, looks like it's gonna be a wet race.

    I'm pretty sure the top 5 Spanish and Monaco GPs will be really good I can't wait lol.

  • Comment number 9.

    I'm sorry, but what exactly were we "picking"... as far as I can see we only have 5 short highlights showings? That seemed a waste of voting if you ask me...

  • Comment number 10.

    I agree D.M.N. - it was a bit strange to pick a race and have all five put on the website and red button with the approximate same length.

    But Andrew Benson only described his experiences about the 1999 event (which won).

    I can see the same happening for China and Bahrain before the European season kicks off. I can already guess which Spanish and Monaco GP races will be shown (if they are put on the list). Can't wait!

  • Comment number 11.

    That's not quite the whole story now is it. For the obvious negatives that Shumey had - here he showed his class.

    He wiped the floor with everyone that day and he had no write to... if I remember correctly his problem was slowing his car up so much to give Irvine the win.

  • Comment number 12.

    I went to one of these Malaysian GPs. Cannot remember the year but it was very wet and Ferrari won. But I do recall it was one of the years traction control was banned. Standing by the trackside it was obvious Ferrari were running some form of traction assist, you could hear it. The way they came out of the corners you could see it too. How did they get away with it?

  • Comment number 13.

    Rewatching Massa messing it up in '07 was fun but ow come we haven't got extended highlights of the '99 race?

  • Comment number 14.

    I think the 1999 race highlights should win due to the Ferrari's "no, after you" tactics, and of course seeing Damon Hill (briefly) in one of his last F1 races.

    With regard to hightlights, will we get more comprehensive highlights a la AUS 86 and 94?

    I hope so, because I can't wait to see Monaco 92, Britain '94 and Spain 96.

  • Comment number 15.

    Rewatching Massa messing it up in '07 was fun but ow come we haven't got extended highlights of the '99 race?


    The reason the Australian races were extended was because the timing (1986 and 1994) meant the Grand Prix highlights programmes made by the BBC could be used. As the Malaysian races (and Bahrain, China, Turkey etc) started when ITV had the rights, the BBC obviously couldn't make a new highlight programme for each race. I think you might agree it would waste a lot of time trawling through past races from the last 12 years and attaching radio commentary in the appropriate places.

  • Comment number 16.

    Point taken regarding post '96 highlights programmes.
    Glad I taped post '96 races.

    I'll always remember Jacques Villeneuve's comments regarding Massa's ability to handle an F1 car - he can't even drive one safely in a straight line (Massa's period in the Sauber cars)

  • Comment number 17.

    Hang on one can Malaysia 2001 be 'unavailable' yet you got Malaysia 1999 which was also on ITV?
    How can you be having problems?
    Murray and Martin in a more exciting race then the panzy Ferrari 1999 race...may dig out that 2001 DVD to see it again!

  • Comment number 18.

    Yeah Sorry MrNeutron I got this race mixed up with Japan 2007, Please accept my apologies...

  • Comment number 19.

    Also I thought... Wouldn't the BBC have the tapes from when these races were on ITV? because they still had the rights to the radio broadcasts, surly they can put the original soundtrack to the video tapes but even this sounds like an editors nightmare!!! the only way round it, had they kept James Allen it would have been a lot easier but please don't go down that route!!! THE European rounds will probably be from 1996 Maybe???? we could have a blog devoted to this? Monaco 1996 or 1992 is where money is on and the same for Spain as these follow on after these tricky ITV covered races.... We could be on this forever.....

  • Comment number 20.

    "A small thought-
    Great footage and a brillaint service. However, on some of the newer tracks, would it be possible to see some of the classic races that have been wrongly cut from the calender? Ones such as San Marino and Canada spring to mind."

    great idea. There are many tracks missed from the calendar this year that have provided classic races. You could have 2 or 3 races from these tracks and then the best 2 races from say, Bahrain or China due to the general lack of good races to show highlights of on these newer tracks.

  • Comment number 21.

    It seems ridiculous to ask us to 'vote' for our preferred race when all the candidates will be shown in the same length anyway.

    For these races where footage doesn't exist prior to 1996, we preferably need to vote for a classic guest race from another circuit. If that isn't possible, the vote winner needs to be extended in length or voting needs to be scrapped.

    For 1997-2008 ITV have recordings of their highlights shows from when they broadcast the sport. Since they seem prepared to allow the BBC to use their commentary, could the vote winner use an edited version of ITV's highlights? ITV were prohibited from showing graphics over the World Feed so all you would have to do is edit out the start, finish and interviews - a relatively simple exercise.

  • Comment number 22.

    Viewing the ITV’s highlights would be great for the winner, though if resource limitations make this implausible that’s of course understandable.

    Thank you for the Malaysian GP edits and sharing your memories of 1999.

    I would encourage the BBC to consider, if possible, our suggestion of having a miscellaneous-nation BBC highlights as a voting option for race countries with limited histories. The next two (China and Bahrain) as well as Turkey, Singapore, and Abu Dhabi later in the season would be prime candidates.

  • Comment number 23.

    I do agree with the choices but two other moments stand out in my mind. The first 5 laps of 2001- the monsoon. The other moment was Fisichella going to the wrong grid slot an unbelievable error. Love Malaysian Gp never know whether it will be wet or dry, although the races have not normally been affected by rain, in reality we are due a wet Malaysian GP. Good luck teams, all of them. Malaysian is the race that i respect the F1 teams to compete in because its only a few days after Australia and in that heat is truly a physical masterclass of man and machine. Think cars who've adapted well to KERS will do well at this track. Toyota after the strong showing in Australia, despite problems i think will be quietly confident. Mclaren and Renault i think will be doing a rain dance because otherwise i think they will struggle to get out of Q2 in Qualifying and finish in the any higher than the low points positions. We'll see.

  • Comment number 24.

    Yes, I would also like to request if possible:

    1) BBC highlights of race countries not featured for Bahrain and China. I would love to see the 1984 race that Keke Rosberg won.

    or if not..

    2) ITV highlights with the ITV stuff edited out if need be.

  • Comment number 25.

    I would like to watch the classic highlights of other races for the next two countries as well. Who wants to see past China/Bahrain zzz? Just kidding, though it would be good to watch old San Marino or Detroit..

    Can BBC show ITV highlights? I don't think that's possible.

  • Comment number 26.

    I was looking forward to a full highlights show again, but I guess as the races were during the ITV tenure, we can't have them. Think 1999 was the correct winner, but none of the 10 MAS GP's really stand out for me!

    Just one question, how come we can have the Murray Walker and Martin Brundle commentary for the races, but not the James Allen and Martin Brundle commentary, but we can listen to James in the pits for 2000 and 2001?

    Is it because Murray and Martin are BBC men as oppose to James who is whatever he is now

  • Comment number 27.

    Hi all

    To address a couple of your general remarks here.

    1) Why are there not longer highlights? This ties in with what I have been saying already about it being difficult for us for technical and resources issues to handle the races when we did not have the rights. I am not going to go into detail, but we simply do not have the capacity to re-cut 30-minute highlights for the races from 1997-2008. I understand that is frustrating for you, but we simply cannot justify it. But, yes, for all the classic races from the years when we do have highlights, we will show the full Grand Prix highlights programme from that time if that is the race picked as the one to showcase.

    2) What are we going to do for the newer races? For China, Bahrain and Turkey we will pick races from those events - and yes I know that might not mean five choices, or it might mean just picking from all the races there have been at those tracks. But for Singapore and Abu Dhabi we are investigating your suggestion to pick from generic great races in the past.

    I hope that makes it a bit clearer for you.



  • Comment number 28.

    Thanks for clarifying those things Andrew. I accept there are those limitations and still look forward to the short edits to come for Bahrain, China, and Turkey.

    If possible, be sure to have classic European GPs on hand for the round of Europe this year. Remembering great races like Mansell's first win at Brands Hatch in 1985, as well as Senna's victory at Donnington Park 1993 were classified as the "European Grand Prix".

  • Comment number 29.

    I remember Malaysia 2001 vividly. I'm sure its been said here before. But i remember both Ferrari's flying off at the same turn when it started to rain. Cars were aquaplaning everywhere, especially down the last straight before the final corner. Schumacher came in for his stop but had to queue behind Barrichello and just made it before the safety car came out. Then they were at the tail of the field, Michael took Rubens and nursed his intermediate tyres for a very long time and won the race, classic times!

    One other memory is Malaysia 2002 when Schumi was qualifying and lost the back end on the fast chicane and somehow stuck it on pole...wonderful

  • Comment number 30.

    As I stated in a previous post I agree that the 2001 race with the monsoon soon after the start was probably the better race, but the 1999 race was incredable for the reasons that you have highlighted in the background material. Thankyou for sharing these memories with us.

    post # 28 - I would add the 1985 and 1997 European Grand Prix's to that list.

    Post # 14 - I would recomend Monaco 82, Britain 86 or 08, and Spain 86 or 92.

    Anyway that is a debate for later in the season. Thankyou for sharing your memories with us. Personally I enjoy to remenisce and am enjoying your blog. Good job.

  • Comment number 31.

    Shame about the techy problems with the 2001 footage but great highlights again, particularly enjoyed the 1999 footage.

  • Comment number 32.

    The 1999 season was fascinating. It was very much a case of speed verses reliability, as well as a bit of luck. The McLaren was the quickest car on the circuit, dominating practice and qualifying. The Ferrari - although it didn't have the speed of the McLaren - was proving to be the more reliable car, more importantly for Irvine who picked up 2 wins and a 2nd when Hakkinen retired due to technical problems. Coulthard was dogged with problems throughout the season - the story of his life at McLaren - with six retirements due to technical problems. There is a view held by many that the Ferrari was a bucket of bolts but I don't agree to this; it was hardly a Minardi. By 1999, Ferrari had come a long way since Schumacher and Brawn joined the team.

    The stats for this season make very interesting reading. Irvine and Ferrari were by far the more consistent whilst Hakkinen and McLaren blew hot and cold, with Hakkinen finally winning the WDC by 2 points. A classic case of speed versus reliability.

    Sadly, the "barge board" incident overshadowed this season.

  • Comment number 33.

    Andrew, if I could put forward another idea, would it be possible - for China, Bahrain, and Turkey rounds - to give the fans a choice of either showing 5 minute clips for all races, or else showing the voted race in full on BBCi?
    I realise the difference is about 25-30 minutes for the edits vs about 90 minutes for the full race, though as the BBC showed about 90 minutes worth of highlights for the Australian round, I wondered if the full race might be possible if it's the fans choice?

    If you don't get to read on this old thread, I'll post it on the next blog.

  • Comment number 34.

    I should add to the above, the main point of 'full race' against extended highlights which you've already given a reason for not showing, would be that the full race obviously requires little time and resources in editing. Surely about as much as the 5 minute edits(?)

  • Comment number 35.

    OT sorry, but has anyone else noticed the MotoGP headline about Rossi being "angry to try to win".. classic! Say it in an Italian accent and then try to spot the glaring mistake! Anyone peckish?

  • Comment number 36.

    Didn't really comment on the race itself first time around. My personal memories of the back end of the '99 season were of only reluctantly supporting Irvine as a Brit even though he was the main Brit in the title race that year(I think DC had fallen out of contention by Malaysia).


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