MONZA, Italy -- Heinz-Harald Frentzen thrust himself into the Formula One title reckoning on Sunday by winning the Italian Grand Prix after defending world champion Mika Hakkinen spun off the course while holding a commanding lead.
Hakkinen still leads the championship standings. The Finnish
driver is tied at 60 points with Ferrari's Eddie Irvine, who earned
one point from a sixth-place finish.
But Frentzen's second victory of the season left him just 10 points off the pace of the two leaders with three races remaining in the season. Hakkinen remains top of the standings because he has scored four wins to Irvine's three this year.
|An emotional Mika Hakkinen kneels in the bushes next to the track after spinning out Sunday while leading the Italian Grand Prix.|
"Theoretically, I can win it now," said Frentzen, who has 50 points, as he reflected on his luck. "There are three races to go and I am just 10 points behind and anything can happen. I certainly feel I have got a chance."
Irvine was just happy to escape with the single point he needed to draw level with Hakkinen.
"I know I got out of jail here today," admitted a relieved Irvine. "At the start of the race I would have been happy to end up five points behind in the championship. Instead, I am level. So I am very happy with that one.
"I was crying too at one stage, but in the end it is a good result for me and for the championship.
"Now we just have to hope our aerodynamic improvements work at the next race at the Nurburgring. We have to take on the fight where we can and when we can. It is not over yet."
Hakkinen, who took pole position once again for McLaren, had led from the start and built up a clear lead of nearly 10 seconds when he spun off on the 30th
lap, having lost control at the entry to the first chicane.
Hakkinen drove into the grass and could not restart his car. He walked past
stewards trying to console him and tossed his racing gloves.
The McLaren Mercedes driver made the same mistake at Imola in May and later said it was driver error again. The Finn said he had accidentally selected first gear instead of second at the entry to the chicane.
"There was nothing wrong with the car. I made a mistake, that's it, end of story," Hakkinen said. "I accept it and go straight to the next race and make sure I get the points that I need.
"The rear wheels partially locked up and I spun off with a stalled engine. Of course, I am very upset with myself. But I will make sure this is the last error I make
Frentzen took the lead after Hakkinen's mistake and drove his Jordan Mugen-Honda to victory in one hour, 17 minutes and 02.923 seconds. He finished 3.72 seconds ahead of fellow German and Williams-Supertec driver Ralf Schumacher in the 53-lap race.
"I don't know exactly what happened," Frentzen said. "But I saw him spinning off in the first chicane and I told myself, 'I can't believe it.' He had a seven-second lead in front of me, but by then the gap was consistent and he wasn't going any
faster. Maybe he lost concentration or something."
It was Frentzen's third career victory and moved him past McLaren's David Coulthard, who slipped to fourth in the standings with 48 points.
"Well, I can't believe it and I certainly didn't expect it," Frentzen said. "I wanted to be as quick as possible here and get the best result that I could. Still, I didn't put that
calculation through my head, but obviously these 10 points mean a lot to me, and especially to the team. They are facing the biggest success in their nine years as a constructor, and it is also the biggest period of success in my F1 career. I am
absolutely delighted, but I don't know how to express myself."
Ralph Schumacher, the younger brother of sidelined Ferrari star Michael was followed by Finland's Mika Salo -- Schumacher's substitute at Ferrari.
"I was having a fight with Mika (Salo), but I was able to hold my position," Schumacher said. "I have to say thanks to the team and also to my teammate (Alex Zanardi), who made it incredibly easy for me to get by him to drive my race. Without
his help I would not have been able to finish second today."
Salo was followed by Stewart-Ford driver Rubens Barrichello of Brazil and Hakkinen's
McLaren-Mercedes teammate, Coulthard of Britain.
Coulthard said he felt his two points earned were sufficient to keep him in contention in the title race.
"It was a difficult weekend for me and I had a lot of problems finding the right balance of the car," he said. "I was on and off the circuit all the time and I am glad to
have finished. It was not easy and on the first lap alone I went
off two or three times."
Hakkinen's departure ended the processional nature of what seemed to be a predictable 70th running of the race in Monza's former royal park and allowed Frentzen to take control.
The outcome, in hot sunshine in front of a race day crowd of 110,000 -- the organizers claimed a weekend total of 180,000 despite Ferrari's poor form -- was that the championship race remained as unpredictable as ever.
Before the race, drunken fans brawled and fans without tickets clashed with security, leaving 95 people injured. Most were treated for bruises and only two needed to be
hospitalized, medical officials at the track said.
Irvine to jump from Ferrari to Jaguar next season