When the race started Alesi made the most of his pole position, whilst Frentzen held 2nd and Coulthard made another of his charging starts and was up to third, with Fisichella, Villeneuve and Hakkinen trailing behind. For the first few laps...
When the race started Alesi made the most of his pole position, whilst Frentzen held 2nd and Coulthard made another of his charging starts and was up to third, with Fisichella, Villeneuve and Hakkinen trailing behind. For the first few laps Alesi pulled around 0.4 second a lap over Frentzen, whilst Coulthard was stuck behind and unable to make further progress. Schumacher by the end of lap 1 was already up to 7th place from his rather lowly grid position.
On lap 4, Diniz had what appeared to be a relatively minor off - sideways - but was clearly damaged, pulling into the pits to retire. At the front Alesi kept his gap over Frentzen at around 2 seconds, whilst Coulthard was pushing hard for his place. On lap 8 the next accident occured, when Katayama somehow damaged his left front wheel (it was not clear if it was before or during the accident). The suspension was damaged badly and he retired. By lap 12, Alesi had a 2.9 second lead over Frentzen, and Coulthard continued to harry him for the place. In 5th place, Frentzen's team mate Villeneuve was being harried by Coulthard's team mate Hakkinen. Verstappen pitted on lap 12 and retired with a hydraulic problem, followed by Salo for a routine pit stop a couple of laps later (one of the few on a two stopper). By lap 20, the Frentzen-Coulthard train was pulling away well from the pack behind, and catching Alesi, bringing the gap down to 1.5 seconds.
The order stayed the same in the top 6 for all the way to the first round of pit stops - this what not the most memorable of races for overtaking. Villeneuve was the first to pit, rather early on around lap 27. Frentzen was now up to Alesi and trying to find a way past, whilst Coulthard was looking to Frentzen making a mistake. Frentzen soon followed Villeneuve pitward. Coulthards car was now starting to look a little ragged in second place. Fisichella (now third) pitted on lap 31, making the order Alesi, Coulthard, Hakkinen, Michael Schumacher, Berger and Irvine.
Alesi and Coulthard both pitted together, and yet again it was down to the teams to decide who would take the lead. The McLaren team won, and so Coulthard found himself effectively in the lead rejoining in 4th place, with Hakkinen, Schumacher and Berger (who had yet to stop) ahead. Alesi rejoined in 5th place, with Irvine in 6th. Hakkinen was now preparing for his stop, but had a rather bad in lap with traffic. Schumacher now had the lead, as Hakkinen rejoined the race. Schumacher pitted on lap 35 with a very fast 7.2 second stop, whilst Hakkinen was pit bound again. He apparantly flat spotted his tyres down to the canvas on a 10" x 5" area and the tyre went down.
Coulthard was now truly in the lead, with Alesi, Frentzen, Fisichella, Villeneuve and Michael Schumacher behind. Ralf Schumacher made an impact on the race on lap 39 when he took Johnny Herbert. The German was ahead of Herbert - just - and then pulled onto the line before he was fully clear of Herbert. Result? Both touched wheels, with the Sauber launched into a ferociously out of control slide down the track and into the wall. Herbert hopped out uninjured. Ralf's car for a little while looked OK, but he was into the pits for a check, went out for a lap and returned with the car pulling in to one side. Ralf was clear that Johnny should have moved out of the way by breaking earlier to let him by cleanly. The young German clearly has some things to learn still about motor racing.
For the rest of the race little happened. Hill's Arrows Yamaha had a rather major engine blow up, but otherwise the race continued in something of a procession. The order was Coulthard, Alesi, Frentzen, Fisichella, Villeneuve and Schumacher, and so it continued to the flag. Coulthard a deserving victor in a rather boring race.
-- 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