Belgian GP report

Report The race started with the track still damp, but a clear dry line. Rain and thunderstorms were threatened for the race. At the start of the race it was Villeneuve who got the better start of the two Williams', and so took the lead, with...

Report

The race started with the track still damp, but a clear dry line. Rain and thunderstorms were threatened for the race. At the start of the race it was Villeneuve who got the better start of the two Williams', and so took the lead, with the Ferrari of Schumacher demoting Hill to 3rd. It all started to go pear-shaped for most of the field at the first corner, when Frentzen, Herbert and Panis tangled. Herbert was lauched in the air in the process. All three were out. A very bad day for Sauber with their new improved Ford-V10s. Coulthard wasn't happy to settle for 4th place, and made short work of Hill.

 Villeneuve Schumacher  Coulthard  Hill   Hakkinen Berger
 1 lap           0.883      1.992  2.554     3.480  4.110

Barrichello was to have a very eventful race, with him having to pit at the end of the first lap.

 Villeneuve Schumacher  Coulthard  Hill   Hakkinen Berger
 2 laps          1.509      2.432  3.662     4.932  5.587
 3 laps          1.188      3.023  4.193     5.818  6.452

Over the first few laps Villeneuve and Schumacher were in a race of their own, as they put in fastest laps. It was about now that the extent of Panis' crash at the first corner was known, when the Ligier was shown stuck in the tyre wall. It would be some laps before it could be removed. There were also worrying signs from Hill, with his car giving puffs of smoke in the Bus Stop chicane.

 Villeneuve Schumacher  Coulthard  Hill   Hakkinen Berger
 5 laps          1.439      4.344  6.225     7.642  8.062
 6 laps          1.290      6.030  7.006     8.404  8.910
 7 laps          0.457      5.331  6.657     7.986  8.533

On lap 7, Villeneuve came up to lap the final runner - Barrichello. In an especially worthy move he took him on the approach to the Bus Stop chicane. With Schumacher close behind, Villeneuve was trying very hard. Very hard. For several laps his right front tyre was locking at the Bus Stop chicane.

 Villeneuve Schumacher  Coulthard  Hill   Hakkinen Berger
 8 laps          1.069      6.157  7.749     8.967  9.713
 9 laps          1.113      6.500  9.114    10.055 10.669

Verstappen was into the pits on lap 10, as the mechanics examine the car. It was later reported that he had been suffering from a sticking throttle. This would be significant within a few moments of leaving, as the had a huge accident (which wasn't seen). The result was no left hand side of the car, and no wings. Verstappen got out of the car looking rather shaken, and was taken into an ambulance. The safety car was sent out, and there followed a number of rather confusing laps, when it wasn't exactly clear what was going on, or who was in what place. All the cars bar the two McLaren's stopped for fuel and tyre stops (the reasoning for this was later explained as the McLaren's couldn't go the distance with a stop that early). The only "drama" during all this was when Hill started to go into the pits, then didn't, and this move cost him any chance of being up with the front runners. He later pitted properly, but him the race was now lost. During his stop the front wing of his car was adjusted, due to the car suffering with understeer. Villeneuve had also reported that his right front tyre had been a problem. This seemed to be sorted during the pit stop until later on into the race. On lap 18, the safety car peeled off into the pit lane, and the race restarted:

 Coulthard Hakkinen  Schumacher  Villeneuve  Alesi Salo
 18 laps      1.817       2.257       4.484  5.525 8.789

The order prior to the restart had been: Coulthard, Hakkinen, Schumacher, Villeneuve, Alesi, Salo, Irvine, Berger, Brundle, Katayama, Hill, Lamy, Diniz, Rosset and Barrichello. Barrichello stopped again (his third stop), and had the suspension checked. Berger then went off at the Bus Stop chicane, but kept the car going, and rejoined the race. The McLaren's, whilst leading, were not really in front as they had yet to make their stops.

 Coulthard Hakkinen  Schumacher  Villeneuve  Alesi Salo
 20 laps      1.744       2.930       4.215  6.788 12.890

At this stage of the race clouds were gathering over the track. Clear shadows were seen on the track. Would the rain finally come? Hill was now in 9th place, and battling with Brundle for 8th. Before the start of the race Brundle had said that he "need(ed) a result today - very badly - for all kinds of reasons", and wasn't going to give up the place easily. Finally on lap 21 Coulthard pitted, and dropped back behind Hill. Diniz was the next to be out of the race.

 Hakkinen Schumacher  Villeneuve  Alesi  Salo   Irvine
  23 laps      2.233       3.566  7.148  17.814 19.749

About now it was reported that Verstappen was "OK. He is suffering with a stiff neck". Hakkinen decided to make an impression on the race, and set his fastest lap before pitting. Everyone had now pitted, and Schumacher was now leading the race. Hill was now having another go at Brundle as he went wide, and finally did it in a rather dodgy looking move. Irvine pitted for his second stop, and was out in 9.8 seconds, but surely the sign of a problem so early on...

 Schumacher Villeneuve  Alesi  Salo    Hakkinen Hill
 26 laps         1.448  6.560  21.350    23.011 24.173

Salo, a very creditable 4th place, was now holding up the fast pursuing Hakkinen and Hill. Hakkinen finally took him at LeCombe. Hill did likewise in the following laps. Schumacher was now in for his second stop, as was Alesi. Schumacher rejoined the race with Villeneuve now in the lead. Salo also pitted, and so his run in the top 6 was over. One person whose race was totally over though was Irvine. Again. The Ferrari stopping again with smoke from the transmission again. Barrichello was back in the pits again as Villeneuve came in for his stop. It would be very close when he rejoined. Both cars came past the pit exit at the same time, and in a frighteningly lurid move, the Ferrari of Schumacher jinked across the nose of Villeneuve who had just kept the lead on exiting the pits and so lost the lead.

 Schumacher Villeneuve  Hakkinen  Alesi   Hill   Coulthard
 33 laps         0.939     8.068  10.309  10.973    21.365

Hill was yet to stop. Ideally he needed to keep his 5th place. He had said before the race that he could finish second to Villeneuve in every race and still win the championship. Equally he could finish 5th to his 2nd in this race and have the same effect.

 Schumacher Villeneuve  Hakkinen  Alesi   Hill Coulthard
 34 laps         0.549     8.332  11.307  PIT     22.406

Hill was now in the pits, and in the process Coulthard moved up to 5th. Hill fell back to 6th. The race was now over for Brundle, however, who toured back to the pits. It was now reported that Verstappen had left the circuit in a helicopter to the local hospital with his neck in a brace for precautionary x-rays. The clouds were now gathering over La Source. Berger, now up to 6th, was battling it with Hill. Both were massively faster than the field, setting a string of fastest laps. Coulthard was the next to go out, allowing Hill back up to 5th place, and the 2 points he needed to Villeneuve's 6.

 Schumacher Villeneuve  Hakkinen  Alesi   Hill   Berger
    39 laps      0.634    11.219  14.684  31.955 34.860
 40 laps         1.170    11.935  15.714  31.325 34.188

Villeneuve continued to put the pressure on Schumacher, but then he seemed to either settle back or had a problem. The wheel locking was clearly visible again. Berger was not going to settle for 6th place, and continued to harry Hill. And so to the finish, which Schumacher won with a large margin over Villeneuve.

1. Schumacher 1h28m 15.125 seconds 2. Villeneuve 3. Hakkinen 4. Alesi 5. Hill 6. Berger 7. Salo 8. Katayama 9. Rosset 10. Lamy

-- 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

F1/TouringCars http://web.ukonline.co.uk/Members/stephen.baines/index.html

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Tiff Needell
Teams Ferrari , Sauber , McLaren , Williams