French GP report

Race Report After yesterdays changable weather, the race looked set for a dry race. Both Williams and Benetton were to race the new RS8B engine. And the drama at the end of qualifying yesterday in the Ferrari garage? It was Eddie Irvine's car...

Race Report

After yesterdays changable weather, the race looked set for a dry race. Both Williams and Benetton were to race the new RS8B engine. And the drama at the end of qualifying yesterday in the Ferrari garage? It was Eddie Irvine's car that was deemed illegal. The barge boards were too high (some 15mm apparantly), and so he was to start at the back of the field - behind the two Forti's.

The cars set of on the formation lap, and the pole sitter Schumacher, hit a problem. His engine gave in a spectacular manner, and so the German would not start the race. From the off it was Hill who commanded the race, taking the lead at the first corner, and pulling away well from the Benetton of Alesi, followed by Hakkinen, Villeneuve, Berger and Brundle. By the end of the first lap, Irvine had moved up the field from 21st to 16th, and looked set to make good progress up the field.

 Hill   Alesi  Hakkinen  Villeneuve  Berger Brundle
 2 laps 1.887     3.839       4.491   5.889   6.939

Montermini was the next person to pull out of the race. At this early stage in the race there was some concern about Hill's car - the Benetton of Alesi following him was being covered in fluid - could Hill be about to go the way of Schumacher?

 Hill   Alesi  Hakkinen  Villeneuve  Berger Brundle
 3 laps 2.449     5.059       5.677   7.226   8.928

Hill, unconcerned by this, set a fastest lap of 1m19.241 on lap 3, and continued to pull away from the field. Fisichella joined the list of retirements. A small puff of smoke was then seen from the rear of the Williams of Hill.....

 Hill   Alesi  Hakkinen  Villeneuve  Berger Brundle
 5 laps 3.089     6.316       7.184   9.283  11.912
 6 laps 3.228     6.763       7.715  10.137  13.264
 8 laps 4.169     8.306       9.411  11.768  16.247

On lap 5 the Ferrari of Irvine pulled into the pits and retired, it later was reported that this was probably a transmission problem of some sort. Another torrid race for Maranello. The talk of the race, however, was Pedro Diniz, who was making the most of the race, and was running in a realistic 8th place! On lap 9, Verstappen took a trip across gravel traps on both sides of the circuit before coming to a halt. Hill, meanwhile, was busily building his cussion, and pulling away from the field. Brundle, further back, was fighting off a determined Coulthard. The McLaren has clearly made big steps forward over the last couple of weeks, and looked a real challenger for the Jordan - and a step closer to the Benettons. Hill by lap 13, had stabilised his lead over Alesi to 6 seconds, and keeping it there. Luca Badoer was the first proper stop on lap 14, and looked set for a 3 stop race. Panis, clearly incensed by having Diniz ahead of him, was after Barrichello. Barrichello, in turn, was after Diniz. The three tearing round after each other.

Coulthard continued to make a big effort to get past Brundle, who was fairly maintaining his lead. On lap 19, the pits stops started in earnest, with Panis pitting in 8.1s, followed by Salo. Brundle was pushing, pushing, pushing to take a lead over Coulthard. Ulitmately it would be decided on pit stops after Coulthard had a major attack at the Adelaide Hairpin, and failed. Barrichello was the next front runner to pit in 8.4 seconds, followed by Alesi on lap 22, in 7.3 seconds. Hill now had a 17.3 second lead over Hakkinen, whilst Villeneuve was all over the McLaren. The two came upon a Minardi, and were lapping it. Villeneuve sensing a chance, tried to make the most of it, and tried to get by. In the course of the next few laps the front runners made there stops - Lamy, Brundle, Berger, Rosset, Coulthard. The latter rejoining ahead of Brundle, and so taking the place he was desparate for. The top 6 by lap 27 were Hill, Hakkinen, Villeneuve, Alesi, Berger, Diniz.... Hill was next to pit, and Hakkinen followed him - allowing Villeneuve to take the lead until his stop. Villeneuve now sets a string of fast laps, trying to give himself a cussion for his stop.

On lap 28, unfortunately, the rejuvenated Diniz retires. Finally on lap 29, as Hill set a fastest lap of 1m19.042, Villeneuve pitted, and rejoined ahead of Hakkinen.

 Hill    Alesi   Villeneuve  Hakkinen  Berger Coulthard
 31 laps 10.734      14.456    16.620  19.601    42.748

On lap 32, Badoer retired from the race. Brundle was now under major attack from Panis - clearly out to prove a point after their battles last year. Ukyo Katayama was the next of the runners to retire. Gerhard Berger, meanwhile, made short work of a 3 second gap to Hakkinen and was on the trail of 4th. Villeneuve, meanwhile, was after a Benetton, and eventually took Alesi for 2nd place. Panis now had to pit for the 2nd of his three stops. After this stop Panis set a fastest lap of 1m18.712 on lap 38.

Villeneuve was now on for Hill, and after blood. He had to contend with the Minardi of Lamy, and after battling to get by made a hand movement that suggested the Portugese's passtimes.

Lap 42: Hill, Villeneuve, Alesi, Hakkinen, Berger, Coulthard, Brundle, Barrichello, Panis, Frentzen, Salo, Herbert, Rosset, Lamy

On lap 43, Benetton were ready for another stop. Alesi was the one to take this, in 10 seconds dead. Berger was busy on the race track, chasing after Hakkinen, and finally taking him in a beautiful manoevre. Hill, still leading at the front, was now 12 seconds ahead of his team-mate. Villeneuve was soon to break this down, and Panis again was charging after Barrichello. Eventually the Frenchman got by, and took 8th. This battle held up Hill, and helped his team-mate to close up.

On lap 47, Panis was after Brundle, but 8 seconds away. Berger made his stop on this lap, as did Salo. Hill eventually got by an uncooperative Panis in a very lurid move. Villeneuve was now 9.4 seconds behind Hill, as Barrichello pitted from 9th. Villeneuve was now charged up, and setting a string of fastest laps, culminating with a 1m18.610 on lap 48. Williams were now ready for pit stops, and Villeneuve was the first to stop. Brundle followed in to Jordan, as did Coulthard to McLaren. On lap 53, the board was put out to Hill. He came in the next lap, with a very tidy 7.2 second stop. He was back into the lead without Villeneuve being anywhere near.

Lap 54: Hill, Villeneuve, Alesi, Berger, Hakkinen, Coulthard, Brundle, Barrichello, Frentzen, Salo, Herbert, Rosset, Lamy

Panis was in for his third stop, as Frentzen took a day trip to the beach, and got out to play in it. On a closer examination it looked like the left-rear suspension had gone, raising the right-front wheel, and stopping the car from steering. By lap 61 Hill had took his lead to 13 seconds, and comfortable it looked too, as Villeneuve was trapped behind Panis. Panis did not make it easy for the Canadian to get by, but eventually he did let him by. And so it settled down to the flag, with very little to get het up about, when Hill coasted across the line to victory - his 6th from 9 races.

1. Hill 2. Villeneuve 3. Alesi 4. Berger 5. Hakkinen 6. Coulthard 7. Panis 8. Brundle 9. Barrichello 10. Salo 11. Herbert 12. Rosset 13. 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


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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Luca Badoer , Gerhard Berger , Tiff Needell , Ukyo Katayama
Teams Ferrari , McLaren , Williams , Benetton , Minardi , Jordan