Race Report At the start, it looked like Hill had blown it. Both the Benetton's of Berger, and - after an even more impressive start - Alesi were ahead of him. Coulthard, a little further back, was also ahead of Villeneuve. A bad start to the...
At the start, it looked like Hill had blown it. Both the Benetton's of Berger, and - after an even more impressive start - Alesi were ahead of him. Coulthard, a little further back, was also ahead of Villeneuve. A bad start to the Williams teams race. Verstappen had an even worse race, and became the first retirement. It later transpired that he had attacked the rear of Herbert's car, and the consequence was retirement. Bad luck was also to hit Herbert later on in the race.
For the first quarter of the race it looked like we were in for a torid time. No overtaking, and certainly no major efforts to overtake. Between laps 1 & 9 the only mover was Olivier Panis, who dropped from 12th to last after a pit stop on lap 7 to replace flat spotted tyres. Berger, Alesi and Hill all set fastest laps during the early stages, and non appeared to have the upper hand on the other. Then, on lap 11, just as sleep was setting in Coulthard almost had a go at Schumacher. Surely not. But yes, Coulthard then had a few actual goes at the Ferrari. Further back, Diniz had also woken up and was attacking Frentzen. The race was starting to get underway.
On lap 14, Hakkinen pitted from 8th place and had an 8.3 second stop. Then just as he started to pull away, then car had better ideas and had to be pushed away. It later transpired to be a transmission problem. This became academic, as the car was pulling onto the grassy verges as soon as it had escaped the pit lane. Ferrari were ready for that rarest of things in recent races, a pit stop. Irvine was the first to come in, and managed it in a steady 9.9 seconds. Clearly the team had become a little rusty.....
McLaren were now also ready for a stop from Coulthard, who came in from 6th and was out again in 7.6 seconds. Frentzen was next to pit in 7.1 seconds, with Herbert not long behind, with a very long stop. Herbert's transmission had been playing up from the start, and the car didn't much fancy going anywhere. Herbert, however, said that he didn't believe the prang with Verstappen was to blame.
By lap 17 the order was Berger, Alesi, Hill, Schumacher, Villeneuve, Barrichello, Brundle, Coulthard, Irvine, Diniz, Frentzen and Panis (who had rapidly made up the places lost earlier in the race).
The Williams team were now ready for Hill's stop. Coulthard, a little further back, had a bit of a moment locking his wheels and wobbling around, allowing Barrichello into his place. All of the top 3 came up behind the Minardi of Lamy in formation, and took him without any difficulty. Hill soon pitted, and took 8.1 seconds in the pit - clearly a first of two pit stops. Katayama was next to recieve instructions from Radio Ecclestone to liven up the show, and he did it in admirable style. At Turn 1, the Tyrrell lept all over the place, and into the tyres at the other side of the track. Williams were now ready for Villeneuves stop, whilst Diniz was next to retire.
Berger Alesi Schumacher Villeneuve Hill Coulthard 21 laps 1.513 20878.000 21.805 23.812 44.213
On lap 22, Barrichello pitted in 10.4 seconds - could this be the first of the one stoppers. Schumacher's pit was also ready for his one and only stop, whilst Alesi pitted in 10.3 seconds. Schumacher and Villeneuve pitted in formation, and left with the Ferrari only just nosing its way out of its pit before the Williams roared past. Schumacher, therefore, only just kept his place.
Brundle was in trouble. The right-rear wheel had thrown it's Goodyear, and he was limping back towards the pit. Villeneuve, meanwhile, on the track made short work of Schumacher and was up a place. Rosset was in the pits, and out in 11.8 seconds. Damon Hill after this flurry of activity found himself in the lead, and busily extending it with a string of fastest laps, starting with a 1m47.047 on lap 23, and whole string in the 1m46's over the next few laps. All the time he was extending his lead over Berger ready for his second stop. The stop the Benettons would not be making. By lap 26, Hill had 7 seconds over Berger, this was extended to 9 seconds by lap 28. Herbert was now struggling into the pits. A bad weekend for the Briton.
Irvine was next into the pits, with Lamy close behind. With Irvines 36 second lead over Barrichello he wouldn't have to worry about the length of the stop. Hill had now extended his lead to 11.7 seconds, and 12.9 seconds on lap 31, with the "L2" board out for him. Coulthard pitted from 4th, and was out in 7 seconds. Hill was working hard on his lead, and had it to 14.7 seconds, then 16.377. Not likely to be enough to keep his lead. A battle looked to be shaping up. By the time he pitted it was 17 seconds. The Benettons came into view, and crossed the line as he was leaving his pit. He rejoined the race between the two Benettons.
Irvine's awful run of luck in the Ferrari continued, with his engine expiring in a big cloud of smoke. Progress is clearly been made at Ferrari. Hill, meanwhile, was attacking Berger with gusto, and was clearly the faster of the two with the benefit of fresher tyres. With 8 laps to go, Hill was all over the gearbox of the Benetton. At the 1st Chicane, Hill was on top of the Benetton and looked set to lunge. He dived from side to side to find a way past the Austrian. Hill's pit put out a board with "Pump On" for him. Hill was harrying the Benetton for all it was worth, and he was clearly determined to get it. Next time around the pit had the "Mixt 4" board out for Hill. 5 laps to go, and the two were up to lap Lamy. Got past with no problems. Hill had the "Pump Off" next time around. Coulthard was also making a battle of it with Schumacher, as Berger and Hill take Frentzen. Hill dived this way and that trying to get by - without much look. It really was a battle and a half. On lap 43, in the most cruel way, Hill took the lead. The Renault engine in Bergers car let go in the biggest way without any warning. Hill took the lead, but even the most hard hearted couldn't help but feel sorry for the Austrian in his best race of the season. Coulthard wasn't happy to settle for 5th place and was charging after the Ferrari of Schumacher, and trying for all it was worth. Utimately it didn't pay off, but it did make for a cracking battle.
And so to the line, where Hill took his 20th win of his career, and after what looked set to be a turgid race at first came one of the best races of the season.
1. Hill 2. Alesi 3. Villeneuve 4. Schumacher 5. Coulthard 6. Barrichello 7. Panis 8. Frentzen 9. Salo 10. Brundle 11. Rosset 12. Lamy 13. Berger
-- 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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