Until the start of the race all had looked well for a true championship challenge - the top three inseparable in qualifying. The two protagonists had promised no dirty tricks, and had been warned by Bernie and Max not to do anything stupid. The common feeling amongst most F1 commentators was that Schumacher this year deserved the championship. By the end of the afternoon most felt it had gone to the moral victor as well as the actual victor.
The race started well for Schumacher’s challenge, with him taking the lead from Villeneuve by the first corner, Villeneuve dropping back to 4th as Frentzen and Coulthard made their way though for 2nd and 3rd. Schumacher pulled away, and held a comfortable 2 second lead, extending it to 5 by lap 13. By then Villeneuve had closed on and taken Frentzen and was up to second. Hakkinen now had Frentzen on his tail, whilst Hill was catching Coulthard for 5th place. The top 6 of Schumacher, Villeneuve, Frentzen, Hakkinen, Coulthard and Hill seemed quite settled for the afternoon - until the pit stops at least. Ferrari were preparing for a stop on lap 21, and Schumacher was coming up behind Marques. Marques - very sportingly - pulled over to allow Schumacher through. Unfortunately the German was wanting to pit, so unintentionally was hindered. Schumacher rejoined the race ahead of Coulthard. Hill also pitted, and Villeneuve briefly held the lead.
The following lap Villeneuve pitted upon coming across Marques, and rejoined the race behind Coulthard. Frentzen now lead the race from Hakkinen, who had Schumacher making progress on him. Frentzen was really quite slow at the front - probably tactics to allow Villeneuve to catch up. Coulthard soon pitted, and Villeneuve was now hanging onto the back of Schumacher. The order was now Frentzen, Schumacher, Villeneuve, Berger, Hakkinen and Coulthard. Job done, Frentzen soon pitted, rejoining the race in 6th place.
Schumacher and Villeneuve now came upon Katayama, who very sportingly pulled very wide and slowed right down to allow the title chasers through. Verstappen did likewise, even going off the road to let them by. No one wanted to be involved in deciding the championship - apart from Fontana who let Schumacher through cleanly, but Villeneuve had to fight his way past. Some might suggest it is a total coincidence about the engine in the Sauber... Villeneuve lost 2 seconds on one backmarker. Ferrari already were having problems - it was reported that a television crews communications system was upsetting Ferrari's telemetry!
Up to lap 38 and the two leaders were up to a private battle between Ralf, Nakano and Fisichella. The pair get by reasonably cleanly with only minor hold ups. Ralf, however, was in trouble with the car puffing badly, and slowing rapidly. He was unable to help his brother this afternoon. Into lap 43, and Schumacher pitted and rejoined in second, Villeneuve taking the lead until his stop. Villeneuve was not so lucky rejoining, briefly in second, until Coulthard took him rapidly. Soon after Coulthard also pitted, restoring the battle at the front. So far so good.... Villeneuve was now charging and catching Schumacher at a ferocious rate. Alesi, further down the field, took a brief trip across the gravel. At the end of lap 47 Schumacher held a scant 0.4 second lead over Villeneuve, the following lap the Canadian took the German and into the lead. Schumacher clearly rattled went off and then turned in at Villeneuve - all the onboard shots and camera angles appeared to be quite clear that Schumacher made a decisive move to turn into Villeneuve. Result? Ferrari hits Williams. Fortunately it only touched the barge boards and side pod and so Villeneuve could fight on. Schumacher beached himself in the gravel and was out. The question was now whether the Canadians car had been damaged at all in the collision.
For a couple of laps Villeneuve was careful and slowed down to assess the car. For a while the pit crew thought he may have a slow puncture. All appeared well, and so he then pushed again at the front. By the time 10 laps were left Villeneuve was some 5 second ahead of Coulthard and appeared well. Then he let Nakano by (who had been lapped). Hakkinen was gifted second place by Coulthard. Hakkinen then had first given to him by Villeneuve on the last lap. Surely it was some coincidence that Ronzo and Williams had met a few laps earlier.... Result? Hakkinen won from Coulthard, with Villeneuve third - but enough to win the championship. As I said at the start, before the race most would have said that Schumacher deserved the championship this year. After todays race few would say he would have deserved it if he had got it this year - and for many it may make them think again about '94.
1. Hakkinen 2. Coulthard 3. Villeneuve 4. Berger 5. Irvine 6. Frentzen 7. Panis 8. Herbert 9. Magnussen 10. Nakano 11. Fisichella 12. Salo 13. Alesi 14. Fontana 15. Marques 16. Verstappen 17. Katayama
-- 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