French GP qualifying report

Qualifying Report The weather at Magny-Cours was changable. It was hot one minute, and cold the next. The skies also looked like they would burst open at any second. It was a very changable session, but thankfully the rain didn't arrive....

Qualifying Report

The weather at Magny-Cours was changable. It was hot one minute, and cold the next. The skies also looked like they would burst open at any second. It was a very changable session, but thankfully the rain didn't arrive. It did, however, have an impact on how the teams tackled the session.

Hakkinen was out early on, and was on pole by 5 minutes. He was soon displaced by Berger, and then Hakkinen took it back again with a 1m17.373. Alesi was also out and flying, inside Hakkinen's splits, and then to the line he took pole with a 1m16.963. A little while later, Hill also set a pole time of 1m16.924, only to be displaced by Schumacher seconds later with a 1m16.611. By now the top 9 was Schumacher, Hill, Alesi, Hakkinen, Berger, Brundle, Barrichello, Salo and Irvine.

Hill looked set to take pole, and was inside Schumacher's times. He missed out - just - with a 1m16.700s. Villeneuve then put in a 1m17.233 for 4th. All this with only 10 minutes gone. Panis also was mighty, and was up to 6th +0.910 on Schumacher. Hakkinen looked like a man possessed, and was around in 1m16.634 to take second from Hill. Alesi was also flying, and took Schumacher's pole, only for him to snatch it back a second or so later with a 1m15.989s. Irvine's car looked like it was a kart, being pitched this way and that, to move himself up from 13th to 7th with a 1m17.443s. Hill was out again, and trying for pole. He was faster than Schumacher on the 1st and 2nd splits, but lost out on the final split with a 1m16.160 for 2nd. The next time around Hill looked set for pole, only to be hindered by a Minardi, leaving the Englishman diving for the pits. Panis, showing how much he knows the circuit, set a 1m17.390 for 7th. By now the grid was looking a little like normal: Schumacher, Hill, Alesi, Berger, Hakkinen, Villeneuve, Panis, Irvine, Barrichello, Brundle, Salo, Frentzen, Diniz, Katayama, Coulthard, Verstappen, Herbert, Fisichella, Rosset, Lamy, Badoer and Montermini. All drivers were within the 107% qualifying time. There was now 34 minutes remaining.

Brundle has been a changed driver these last couple of races, and was soon up ahead of his team-mate with a 1m17.187 to move him up to 6th place. His next lap around looked impressive, until he came to the hairpin and slowed big-time. He was into the pits.... Villeneuve was now back on the track, and a good half second away from pole. Coulthard, meanwhile, moved himself up to 7th, then Villeneuve went off the track. The car slewed onto the curbs, and the grass. It then jumped and bumped all the way to a tyre-lined concrete wall, which made a major redesign of the car. Villeneuve was out of the car and alright. A McLaren narrowly avoided being speared by the (literally) flying Williams. The session was stopped to repair the damaged wall. Williams were now busily readying the spare car in the pits for Villeneuve. This was to involve new pedals, wheel and seat. The Canadian's use of the hand-clutch meaning that the spare set up for Hill was of no use to him.

Eventually the tyre-wall was repaired, and cars returned to the track. Barrichello was on a blinder, and only 0.1 seconds off Schumacher's times at the first split. This was up to 0.7 by the second split, and over 1.7 seconds at the line. This was repeated on his next lap. Villeneuve was also out on the track, and looking for times. He was a couple of seconds of the pole time. Coulthard was also back on the track, improving but remaining in 7th place. With 11 minutes to go the grid was: Schumacher, Hill, Alesi, Berger, Hakkinen, Villeneuve, Coulthard, Brundle, Panis, Irvine, Barrichello, Diniz, Salo, Frentzen, Katayama, Verstappen, Herbert, Fisichella, Lamy, Rosset, Badoer and Montermini.

Panis looked good (again), and on the first split of his flyers was only 0.048 seconds off pole. This extended to 3.2 by the second split.... Hill was now out and using his last few laps. It was a tense moment, as on the first two splits he was comfortably inside pole, only to lose it on the last section by 0.069s, 0.204 and 0.275 seconds respectively. The middle attempt looking good, until Hill came upon the Sauber of Herbert on the approach to the final corner. Drama was going on in the Ferrari camp. Charlie Whiting had been present and questioning the front wing (apparantly the diffuser). The car was put in the garage and out it came with a few changes. Schumacher was back on the track and looking for a time. He failed in his attempt with a 1m16.708s......

-- 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


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