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Belgian GP report

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This was a race that gave the lie to those who say modern motor racing cannot be exciting. All you need are a few special ingredients: a circuit where you can overtake, a mixed up grid and a little of the weather. Those magic ingredients...

This was a race that gave the lie to those who say modern motor racing cannot be exciting. All you need are a few special ingredients: a circuit where you can overtake, a mixed up grid and a little of the weather. Those magic ingredients gave a Grand Prix which you can only dream of. From the off there was action, hardly a respite during the whole race. That the result in the end was somewhat to be expected, during the race you always knew that something was going to happen.

It all started with the off. The lights turned green, and Hakkinen attacked Berger, this allowed Alesi to take the lead at the first corner. At Eau Rouge, Herbert attacked Alesi, but Alesi kept his lead. Berger and Hakkinen attack Herbert for second and first, while suddenly Herbert had the lead, with Alesi, Berger, Hakkinen, Coulthard and Hill behind (the top six covered by a tad over 2 seconds). Stop. Pause. Think about it. In half a lap we had more action than in the whole of many a race this year. Coming so soon after the No Overtaking Zone which is the Hungaroring, this made a refreshing change.

At the start of lap 2, Hakkinen spun and retired. He later said that he lost traction. Alesi meanwhile decided that he didn't fancy seeing a Benetton in the lead yet - he'd rather wait till next year - and battled past Herbert to retake the lead again. Berger decides he also would like to join the action, and attacks Herbert for second but doesn't quite get it. By lap 3, Coulthard was all over the Ferrari of Berger. It was easy not to think of further back during all this action, but meanwhile Schumacher was making progress, up from 16th to 10th. Alesi puts in a fastest lap of 1m58.104. Positions on lap 3: Alesi Herbert Berger Coulthard Hill Blundell Irvine Panis Brundle Schumacher Frentzen Barrichello

The clouds were at this point deciding whether to add to the action - and they were gathering fast over the circuit. Coulthard takes a massive lunge at the Ferrari of Berger at La Source, and takes him, and moves onward to the Benetton of Herbert. Hill also gets by Berger. Meanwhile Schumacher is up to 8th. On lap 5, Alesi came into the pit, allowing Herbert back into the lead again. Alesi rejoins the action with a very odd looking front wheel. He pulls off at the same point as Hakkinen, and retires. It later transpires that the suspension had been damaged during a slow puncture. Schumacher continued to make big progress up the grid, and was now battling with Irvine for 6th. Irvine did a wonderful job of keeping the Benetton at bay. Coulthard meanwhile swarms all over Herbert at the front, but Herbert keeps the door firmly shut on the Williams. Positions lap 6: Herbert Coulthard Hill Berger Blundell Irvine

Herbert under pressure overbreaks and spins off the track and somehow rejoins, however he has lost the lead to Coulthard who starts to pull away. Herbert manages to spin again at the Bus Stop, this time with the help of a Ferrari. In the spin, he also causes the McLaren of Blundell to stop, allowing others to get by the Brit. Schumacher was now up to 5th, still behind Irvine. Lap 8: Coulthard Hill +1.959 Berger +11.022 Irvine +12.267 Schumacher +12.716 Herbert +15.890

Coulthard bangs in a fastest lap on lap 8, of 1m54.322s. The Irvine-Schumacher battle really comes alive, with the Benetton swarming all over the Jordan for all it was worth, but was making no progress at all into the lead of the Jordan. On lap 10, Coulthard bangs in another fastest lap, 1m53.979s. The difference between the fastest time of Coulthard and Schumacher in 5th was a massive 3 seconds. You couldn't say the Jordan was holding up the Benetton, it really did seem to have the match for it at this point of the race. On lap 11, Schumacher finally gets by the Jordan at the Bus Stop, and then starts to pull a bit of a lead. Coulthard bangs in a 1m53.412s. Coulthard well and truly had the race under control.

By lap 13, Schumacher had caught the Ferrari of Berger, and swarming all over it. On lap 14, Barrichello came in for a 12.7 second stop. Coulthard meanwhile slows down, and down, and stops. He was later to say that the gearbox failed. A shame, as Coulthard really seemed to have answered his critics here. Hill now had the lead, and Herbert came in for a 8.2 second stop. Schumacher was all over the Ferrari of Berger, who was nothing of any of the Benettons moves. Hill came in on lap 15 for a 10.4 second stop, with Berger and Irvine following. Schumacher now had the lead. Lap 16: Schumacher Hill +4.023 Panis +20.021 Brundle +21.162 Frentzen +23.367 Blundell PIT

On lap 18, Schumacher came in for a 9.2 second stop. Hill now had the lead again, and a healthy 14 seconds at that. On lap 20, Berger started to slow down, and pulled into the pits - he was to rejoin later. Frentzen managed to miss-time his stop perfectly, as he left the pits it started to rain. Hill Schumacher Panis Brundle Herbert Frentzen Irvine Blundell Boullion Berger

On lap 21, Hill came in for rain tyres, whilst Schumacher continued to slide around the track in the lead. Hill appeared to have made the right move, as he was soon on Schumacher and fighting this way and that, but the German was not going to let him have it easy. Meanwhile there was drama in the pits. Herbert left his pit and almost hit a Jordan mechanic moving away from a burning Jordan. Once again the refuelling has shown the dangers. Irvine had come in for his stop, and as the fuel nozzle was removed it leaked a couple of litres of fuel and caught fire. The mechanics were quick on the ball, and soon had the fire under control. In a wonderful piece of understatement, Eddie Irvine was interviewed about what he thought as he was in the car, flames around him: "I saw the flames and I thought 'Shit! This things on fire!'". Positions on lap 22: Schumacher Hill +0.643 Brundle PIT Panis +38.491 Herbert +45.934

Schumacher was blocking Hill this way and that. As he tried, Hill was constantly being pushed almost off the track. It was a masterly piece of driving - remember, Schumacher still was on slicks on a sodden track. As they approached the Bus Stop on lap 24, Hill tried again, but failed again to get by. The Williams was clearly faster, but it is a different matter to actually get by. Finally, Hill gets by the German at Eau Rouge, forcing Schumacher off the track, but he soon rejoins. A fighting Badoer and Lamy (team mates) have a coming together, with Badoer flying over the gravel and making sudden adjustments to the suspension geometry. Positions on lap 24: Hill Schumacher +2.948 Brundle +35.407 Panis +36.928 Herbert 43.451 Blundell 1m04.587

On lap 25, Berger finally retires from the race. Whilst this was happening, and unseen (but before the Bus Stop) Schumacher got by Hill for the lead, and Katayama got ahead of Blundell. Schumacher Hill Brundle Panis Herbert Katayama Blundell

On lap 26, Hill was in for a 11.7 second stop, and was back on slicks again, 28 seconds behind Schumacher. Blundell came in for a 7.0 second stop, but took no fuel on board. Meanwhile an inspired Katayama was up to 4th. Then the rain gods decided to make a mockery of those who had just been in for tyres as it started to rain again. And boy, how did it rain. It rapidly was turning into a lottery. Herbert was amongst the first in for wets, with an 11.7 second stop. Times were suddenly 20 seconds a lap slower, and finally on lap 29 the safety car came out.

The idea was for it to collect the leader, but this took some time, during which time both Schumacher and Hill pitted for new wets. Katayama meanwhile redesigns the Tyrrell, removing the whole of the nose in the treacherous conditions. By the end of lap 30, the safety car finally collects the leaders. Hill was now right behind the Benetton (bar a Forti of Moreno who was inbetween). The lights went out, and the car didn't come in, but went around for yet another lap. Finally at the end of lap 32 the car goes in, and on 33 the race restarts. We could now have a true battle for the lead again. The officials have other ideas, and Hill gets a 10 second penalty for speeding in the pit lane. Brundle was now up to 2nd.

On lap 35, Hill spun exiting La Source, everything was now against Hill. On lap 37, Barrichello gets ahead of Herbert's Benetton and takes 6th place. Lap 40: Schumacher Brundle Hill Blundell Frentzen Barrichello

Frentzen was attacking Blundell, and fails. He tries again, and finally gets by at the Bus Stop. Hill was by now only 2 seconds behind Brundle as the come upon Moreno. Moreno makes a hash of letting the pair by, and suddenly Brundle had an extra couple of seconds grace. Lap 43, and Hill attacks for all it is worth, he tries again at Bus Stop, but again fails to get by. On the very last lap, he finally gets by to second. It was good clean driving from the pair of them. And so Schumacher got to the flag first and won. A wonderful race from all involved.

Schumacher Hill Brundle Frentzen Blundell Barrichello Herbert Salo Panis Lamy Boullion Inoue Diniz Moreno

-- Stephen M Baines

"I have a very positive outlook on life. I am one of the six percent of people who survive helicopter crashes." Alessandro Nannini F1 & TouringCars http://turnpike.net/metro/vollans/index.html

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