Nurburgring, September 25, 1999 - The only thing that has been more consistent than Jacques Villeneuve in recent FIA Formula One races is the weather at Nurburgring. Notorious for sudden showers and rainstorms that sweep out of the Eifel...
Nurburgring, September 25, 1999 - The only thing that has been more consistent than Jacques Villeneuve in recent FIA Formula One races is the weather at Nurburgring. Notorious for sudden showers and rainstorms that sweep out of the Eifel Mountains and onto the German circuit, the vagaries of Nurburgring dictated a topsy-turvy qualifying session today, with lap times dropping a whopping dozen seconds in the last third of the qualifying hour.
Consistency has become Jacques Villeneuve's stock-in-trade in the recent races on the FIA Formula One circuit, and that was the case today in free practice and the official qualifying session for the European Grand Prix. Jacques was seventh fastest in the morning warm-up, and eighth in qualifying, and will start Sunday's race from the fourth row.
Like all teams, British American Racing were faced with a wet-dry quandary as the Q session got under way. The Nurburgring circuit was drenched by a previous rain and some isolated showers, and all teams were using slower, but more stable rain tyres, during the first half-hour. With a little more than 20 minutes remaining in the 60-minute qualifying session, Rubens Barrichello of Stewart had the fastest lap of one minute, 31.703 seconds on the 4.556 km/2.831 miles circuit which drains poorly.
At that point, Ricardo Zonta went out and turned in a lap of 1:32.895 and was ninth provisionally. It would be the last turn of the track in the "30s" as the water evaporated and teams frenetically switched over to dry set-ups. Within five minutes, the fastest lap had dropped eight seconds, and by the end of qualifying, Heinz-Harald Frentzen of Jordan was on the pole with a blistering 1:19.910, a full 12 seconds faster than the leading time just 20 minutes before.
Zonta was able to cut 10 seconds off his time to 1:22.267, but dropped back to 17th place. Jacques Villeneuve, on the other hand, was on the "edge" of the points once again, in eighth with 1:20.825, sandwiched between Damon Hill (Jordan, 1:20.818) and Ferrari's Eddie Irvine (1:20.842).
Joining Frentzen on the first row for Sunday's race is David Coulthard of McLaren, while defending champion Mika Hakkinen (McLaren) and Ralf Schumacher of Williams are third and fourth respectively and on row two. The European Grand Prix closes out the European leg of the 1999 calendar. After Sunday's race, the teams complete the 16-race season with events in Malaysia and Japan.
JACQUES VILLENEUVE - 1:20.825 - 8th "There was a lot of traffic right at the end, but my best lap was clear and the car again felt very strong. My first and third sectors were almost as fast as Frentzen's, but I made a mistake in the second sector and backed off a little. Without that, I think we could have set a fourth quickest time, not eighth. The car feels well balanced between front and rear, and I'm very happy with the handling. The new clutch should allow me to get a good start in the race and be aggressive. We may have a problem if it rains because we haven't got much experience in the wet with this car, but it feels good and I'm pretty confident for the race."
RICARDO ZONTA - 1:22.267 - 17th "Qualifying in these conditions is like a game because the person who waits longest will have the most advantage. I am very disappointed with this grid position because, although we improved the set-up since this morning, it was not good enough for us and I always had too much understeer. 'Rocky' Rocquelin, my stand-in engineer for this weekend, is doing a great job, considering that it is his first time as a race engineer, and the qualifying conditions today were difficult. I will try my best in the race on Sunday to make up for my low qualifying position."
CRAIG POLLOCK, Chairman & CEO, British American Racing "We took a risk holding Ricardo back until late in the session to give him the best chance. It is a pity that our drivers are not closer together, but reliability is one hundred per cent and that is encouraging for the race."
ROBERT SYNGE, Team Manager, British American Racing "The session was a lottery, of course. We had to wait for the track to dry, but that meant that traffic became a problem during the last few minutes. However I think we are about where we would have been if it was completely dry, and the weather conditions probably did not make a great deal of difference for us."