Report On the formation lap Panis failed to get away and as a result had to start from the back of the field. At the start both Williams' made good starts. One driver made a flier of a start, and his name was Alesi. He rocketed up from 8th on...
On the formation lap Panis failed to get away and as a result had to start from the back of the field.
At the start both Williams' made good starts. One driver made a flier of a start, and his name was Alesi. He rocketed up from 8th on the grid to 2nd, and then 1st by the first chicane. Hill was having non of this, and retook the place. Allsorts of shinanigans were going on, and the repurcussions would be felt during the race. A hideous selection of tyres lined the chicanes, and these were hit with gay abandon. Hakkinen also was doing well, and was up to third. Villeneuve was down to fourth already. Coulthard had the indignity of being the first retirement as a result of Villeneuve hitting the tyre-lined chicanes. Villeneuve also suffered from this during the race, and was already down to 5th place.
Hill was setting the pace early on in the race. The biggest concern was the tyre-lined chicane, which now had tyres flying across the track. Cars were swerving in all directions to avoid it. This was not Formula One, more like Hannah Barbera's Whacky Races. Panis, however, was charging up the field and up to 15th by the end of lap 2.
Hakkinen had a problem with his front wing, which was wobbling in all directions. Coulthard later said he thought that this was due to - yes you guessed it - the tyre-lined chicanes. Panis retired, good progress now gone to the wall. Irvine was up to 7th and looking at a points position. He soon got it with Hakkinen pitting for a new wing, and losing 14 seconds in the process. Hill was already up to Katayama and ready to lap him. In the process, Alesi almost caught him. Berger was next to retire. By the end of lap 5 we had a top 5 of Hill, Alesi, Schumacher, Villeneuve and Irvine. But farce was the name of the game today, and Hill retired after hitting (no prizes for guessing) the tyre-lined chicane. Alesi was now the race leader, but a leader with a determined Schumacher on his trail. On lap 7 Lavaggi pitted and retired. Frentzen followed a lap later after over cooking it on the exit of a corner. 6 down in 8 laps. Schumacher, however, was all out for Alesi, and charging for all it was worth. Villeneuve was in all reality out of contention. The Williams team suspected that "something" had got a "little bent" after his excursion across the tyre-lined chicanes.
Alesi Schumacher Irvine Villeneuve Brundle Barrichello 10 laps 1.629 11.143 17.713 18.959 20.254
Salo was the next to retire on lap 11. The tyres were making a big play in this race, with one sitting in the middle of the track waiting for someone to come along and hit it. A marshal, though, managed to sucessfully retrieve the thing before that happened. Villeneuve pitted for new tyres and a quick look, and out in 8.8 seconds - not a very thorough check! Villeneuve was now down in 10th place, and any hope of making an impression on Damons championship lead was gone.... Lamy was the next one out, making 8 in 13 laps. Sound familiar? Herbert now found himself in 6th place. On lap 17, Katayama made his first of two stops - the only driver to run this strategy.
At the front of the pack Alesi was being harried by Schumacher heavily. It really was a thrilling battle. Villeneuve was not having much fun at the back of the field, being chopped by Katayama whilst lapping him. At the front(ish) end Diniz made a play for Herbert and took him for 6th place. Soon afterwards Hakkinen was also past Herbert and up to 7th place. Villeneuve was now running in 9th place, but 20 seconds shy of 6th placed Diniz. Irvine was next to join the list of retirements after (all together now) hitting the tyre-lined chicane. The leaders were now up on the Arrows of Rosset, and after a while found a way past. Brundle was now up to 3rd, with Barrichello behind (and close), Diniz in 5th, and Hakkinen now in the points in 6th.
Diniz was the first of the front runners(!) to pit, followed soon afterwards by Brundle who rejoined in 6th place. The Alesi-Schumacher train come upon Villeneuve and lap him (this surely must have made Frank cry). Alesi pitted from the lead on lap 31 in 9.0 seconds, with the Ferrari and Jordan teams ready for Schumacher and Barrichello respectively. Alesi rejoined the race in second place comfortably, as Barrichello pitted in 9.9 seconds. It was now well past half-distance, and still the Ferrari had yet to stop. It finally did on lap 33 of 53 laps, and rejoined in the lead. The team have clearly made big strides on speed, if not on total reliability. The top 6 now was Schumacher, Alesi, Hakkinen, Barrichello, Brundle and Diniz. Brundle soon took fourth again.
Schumacher Alesi Hakkinen Brundle Barrichello Diniz 33 laps 6.841 43.261 55.017 56.131 1m02.621
Herbert was one of the luckiest men of the race on his approach to the tyre-lined chicanes, having a very lurid moment, but managing to escape hitting it by the skin of his teeth. He soon collected himself together and was after Diniz in 6th place. Rosset soon joined the early bath brigade with a trip across the kitty litter. With 13 laps to go Schumacher became the luckiest man of the grand prix, hitting the tyre-lined chicanes and surving - and surving to the end. Villeneuves problems were revealed around this time as being tracking related, and as a result the car was eating tyres for breakfast, lunch, tea and supper - all in one sitting. His race looked desparate with 32 seconds between him and 6th place on lap 47. Schumacher continued to lead, and threw in tremendous looking laps (though probably rather risky in the current Ferrari), and went on to the flag to win. The tifossi were delighted and took to the track, though before all cars had finished the race...
1. Schumacher 2. Alesi 3. Hakkinen 4. Brundle 5. Barrichello 6. Diniz 7. Villeneuve 8. Verstappen 9. Herbert 10. Katayama
-- 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