Race Report Drama at the start of the race. Forty minutes before the start of the race it started to rain. And rain. And rain. Finally, with 10 minutes to go, the race starts to dissapate. With five minutes to go the clouds decided to make up...
Drama at the start of the race. Forty minutes before the start of the race it started to rain. And rain. And rain. Finally, with 10 minutes to go, the race starts to dissapate. With five minutes to go the clouds decided to make up for the previous 5 minutes and deluged the track. The race, however, did start on time. Diniz and Marques were starting at the rear due to various rule infringements. Johnny Herbert was to start from the pit lane. Montermini was also not on the grid.
At the start Hill got away cleanly - no repetition of Australia - and Villeneuve found himself slipped in in second place, with Barrichello dropping back a little. Alesi was also in charging mood, and was attacking the second and third place drivers. Alesi attacked Villeneuve very fiercly, a scene that would go on for some time. Barrichello meanwhile, was down in fourth place, with Schumacher behind. By the end of lap 1 Hill had a 2.7 second lead over the rest of the field:
1. Hill 2. Villeneuve 3. Alesi 4. Barrichello 5. Schumacher 6. Brundle 7. Frentzen 8. Verstappen 9. Coulthard 10. Berger 11. Lamy 12. Salo
The real star of the race so far was Verstappen, up from 13th to 8th in one lap. He was soon to make it 7th. The Minardi of Marques was out before the end of the first lap. Positions on lap 2:
Hill Villeneuve Alesi Barrichello SchumacherBrundle Lap 2 5.972 7.921 8.472 11.567 14.232
Hill, meanwhile, was busily setting fastest laps, with a 1m45.640. By the end of lap 3, such was Hill's visability that he had a 9.3 second lead over his team-mate. Alesi was continuing to harass the Williams of Villeneuve. Verstappen continued his masterly drive, with him now being up to 6th place. On lap 4 & 5 Hill set fastest laps, then Panis banged in one of his own. Barrichello meanwhile was busily lining up his attacks on Alesi. For several laps Barrichello took and then lost the 3rd place he craved for between the start-finish line and the Senna-S curve. It was now Frentzen that was doing the attacking. He had made huge inroads into Schumacher's tenure of 5th place. Positions on lap 8:
Hill Villeneuve Alesi Barrichello SchumacherFrentzen Lap 8 14.394 15.501 16.007 17.358 20.401
On lap 9, Frentzen banged in a fastest lap of 1m38.353 and was within 2 seconds of the Ferrari. The following lap he does the same again. Still a little further ahead, Alesi and Barrichello were still at it hammer and tongs. On lap 10, Verstappen set a 1m36.806. By now the Alesi-Barrichello battle was even hotter. There was hardly a Marlboro or B&H between the two cars, literally nose to gearbox. Barrichello took the lead, and lost it again at the Senna S's, as Schumacher also closed in to join the crocodile, with Frentzen in hot pursuit as well. This was a cracking race.
Hill Villeneuve Alesi Barrichello SchumacherFrentzen Lap 12 15.141 17.338 17.708 18.705 19.399
On lap 14 Verstappen set a 1m35.435, clearly a man on a mission. By lap 15, Frentzen was all over the Ferrari and clearly intent on taking it's place. The crocodile continued for lap after lap, taking the Forti of Badoer with barely a flicker, all 4 jinking from side to side looking for any possible advantage over the one in front, whilst trying to keep back the one behind. On lap 18, Verstappen pitted. It was to be the end of his race. He later reported that they had had a problem with the engine. On lap 20 there was also activity in the McLaren pit, with Coulthard having a Guerney flap removed, and slicks put on. A brave decision on a track clearly still covered in water. On lap 25 Schumacher also pitted. He stayed on wets. On lap 27, Rosset crashed out on the main straight against the Armco. A Forti meanwhile is intent on holding up Villeneuve for a while. This had the added benefit of allowing Alesi to catch up with the Williams, and with it the battle resumed. Alesi attacked and Villeneuve was off into the kitty litter. It looked like a mistake by the Canadian, with no touching by Alesi. Villeneuve had just tried too hard.
The leading 4 (Hill, Alesi, Barrichello and Frentzen) had still to make a stop, and the possibility of a 1 stop strategy was now looking likely. Coulthard got bored of slicks, and tried to cover them in grass. He succeeded, but didn't get back on the track. Hakkinen and Brundle both pit. McLaren, now a little warey, fitted wets. By lap 31 Alesi was taking huge chunks out of Hill's lead as Hill now was up against traffic, whilst the Benetton had a clear track. The lead was now a scant(!) 13 seconds. Then, suddenly, Alesi was no longer 2nd. Barrichello was 2nd, and Alesi 3rd. This was totally missed. Times showed him 11 seconds slower on the previous lap, presumably a spin or similar befell the Benetton. Frentzen was now pulling away from Schumacher, as Barrichello pitted for new wets, as did Irvine. By lap 36 only Alesi and Hill were still on their first set of tyres, and more importantly first fuel load. Williams were ready in the pits. Surely Hill would now stop. On lap 38, Alesi set a 1m35.148. There was further activity in the Williams pit as they took in the wets, and brought out the slicks. Hill must come in now? On lap 39 Alesi set a 1m35.132. Frantic efforts are going on in the Jordan pit, with the team cleaning up from a fuel spill. Finally on lap 39, Hill pits for his new slicks. The Williams surely has a bigger fuel tank this year compared to last years. The team has learnt from it's mistakes.
On lap 40, Schumacher decided wets were a mistake, and pitted again to fit slicks. Alesi sees the Ferrari join just in front of him (though a lap down give or take a metre). Schumacher couldn't move with his slicks off the dry line, and so when he did to let Alesi through a lurid moment followed. Hill found the benefit of the slicks, setting a 1m29.479 - some 5 seconds faster than his last on wets. Alesi now pitted for slicks also. So, on lap 43 Hill was back in the lead some 25 seconds ahead of Alesi. On lap 44, Hakkinen and Salo stop for new rubber, as Hill set a string of fastest laps. Alesi tried to match, but every lap Hill found another chunk of time. Irvine also changed to slicks, and Brundle joined in the fun. The fun didn't last long for Martin, as he stalled in the pits, but got going again. By lap 47, things had settled down a little in order, the main excitement being a fastest lap by Barrichello (1m23.890):
1. Hill 2. Alesi 3. Schumacher 4. Barrichello 5. Hakkinen 6. Salo 7. Panis 8. Irvine 9. Brundle 10. Diniz 11. Lamy 12. Katayama 13. Badoer
For lap after lap Barrichello hounded Schumacher, taking slice after slice out of his 3rd place. By lap 54 it was down to 1.6 seconds. The pace was also hotting up, with Alesi on 1m21.884 by lap 56. This didn't worry Hill too much, as he still held a healty 26 second lead to play with as he so desired. By lap 58, Barrichello was all over the Ferrarim and then he took the place, only for Schumacher to retake it at the Senna S's. Both come up behind a Forti, as Barrichello oversteered into the corner and spins off. A crying shame for a podium looked almost certain. By lap 63 the race had settled down, with Hill 21 seconds ahead of Alesi. On lap 66, Brundle lost his 7th place when the car spun off the track. Hill extended his lead to 23 seconds. And so on to lap 71, when Hill crossed the line and took the Brazillian Grand Prix, and with it a healthy lead in the drivers championship.
1. Hill 1h49:52.976s 2. Alesi 3. Schumacher 4. Hakkinen 5. Salo 6. Panis 7. Irvine 8. Diniz 9. Katayama 10. Lamy 11. Badoer 12. Brundle
-- Stephen M Baines
"[The Autosport sticker] started to peel off in the middle of Eau Rouge and it distracted me. In fact it was the first thing to hit the barrier" Tiff Needell - Jaguar XJR-15 Challenge - Interview with Autosport