At the start of the race, the track was wet but drying. No-one dared to try to start on slicks, however. Schumacher got away well, with Alesi and Hakkinen close behind. Inoue spun on the first lap, but did continue. Lap 1: Schumacher Alesi ...
At the start of the race, the track was wet but drying. No-one dared to try to start on slicks, however. Schumacher got away well, with Alesi and Hakkinen close behind. Inoue spun on the first lap, but did continue. Lap 1:
Schumacher Alesi +1.586 Hakkinen +3.393 Hill +4.659 Irvine +6.302 Coulthard +6.678
Schumacher Alesi +2.916 Hakkinen +8.139 Hill +8.918 Irvine +11.390 Coulthard +11.934
It was on lap 3 that both Ferraris were awarded stop-go penalties for jumping the start. Blundell was having a storming drive, from 23rd on the grid to 16th by lap 5. Alesi, after his stop-go rejoined in 10th place, behind Frentzen. Alesi then swarmed all over the back of the Sauber. Meanwhile, Berger came in for his 10 second penalty. The Ferrari mechanics, however, were preparing for a pit stop. Alesi got ahead of the Sauber for 9th place, and then made inroads into the Benetton of Herbert. He finally got by at 130R, and then came in for slicks - on a still damp track. He rejoined the race in 10th place.
Alesi was a joy to watch around the track, but then he spun. He was disputing 10th with Pedro Lamy, tried to get by, but touched and went off the track. Alesi was soon back on Lamy, and took the place. Whilst this was happening, the Benetton of Herbert and the Williams of Hill were in for fuel and slicks. What followed was most interesting. Alesi was the only one of the drivers to stop for slicks who was making any real use of them - lapping 5 seconds clear of the next fastest driver (Schumacher on wets). On lap 10, Schumacher came in, allowing Hakkinen into the lead, and Irvine to move up to second. Coulthard followed Schumacher into the pits also. On lap 11, Alesi set a fastest lap of 1m51.404 - this was 10 seconds a lap faster than the other runners! Then, Alesi kept a 5 second a lap advantage over the field, as he caught and prepared to take the Williams of Hill.
The Williams was not having an easy time of it. Alesi, on the other hand, was loving every minute of it, and in a quite inspired and daring move he took Hill around the outside at the chicane! A most brilliant move. Hakkinen now pitted for his slicks, and surrendered the lead. Alesi, however, was determined to make the day his, and was lapping still 3 seconds a lap faster than the field. This was a class act, and I for one cannot wait to see the performance of Alesi in a Benetton. Remember, Alesi had already by now stopped twice, once for a stop-go penalty, and once for tyres. He was effectively 30 seconds down on the rest of the field. Positions on lap 12:
Schumacher Alesi +6.862 Hill +9.760 Hakkinen +18.248 Irvine +23.655 Coulthard +25.737
Katayama, still suffering from dislocating his thumb by sticking it in the gear change mechanism, stuffed the car into a wall, and was out. By now, Berger was on the tail of Herbert, and attacking. Alesi was making inroads in the other Benetton, now only 4 seconds behind. Then 3, then 2...... Positions on lap 15:
Schumacher Alesi Hill Hakkinen Coulthard Irvine Barrichello Frentzen Berger Herbert Salo Panis
On lap 16, Barrichello goes out. He spun on the wet, somehow got ahead of Irvine in the process, and bashed the left rear of his team mate. He then continued across the track, out of control, and into the wall and retirement. This wouldn't be the last time Irvine was assaulted in this race. After many laps in the 1m47 bracket (and clear of the field), Alesi found a extra couple of seconds on lap 18, and banged in a 1m45.858s. This was absolutely magic. Alesi was doing things in the Ferrari that made Schumacher and his Benetton look quite ordinary. Lap 20:
Schumacher Alesi +1.971 Hill +11.832 Hakkinen +25.807 Coulthard +31.826 Irvine +46.053
Frentzen was now into the pits with his front wing missing. He had a drama on the track which involved attacking Irvine's right rear side of the car. Irvine now had a matching pair, and looked to be the one everyone was aiming at. On lap 21, others in the field started to find the sort of times that Alesi had. First it was Coulthard (1m44.941), then Alesi retalliated a lap later with a 1m44.552. Then Schumacher found it also, taking the fastest lap to 1m44.281. A lap later, Alesi found more time again, and took the battle to 1m43.659s. It seemed whenever anyone found a couple of tenths on Alesi he could find another half second on top of that. This was a driver clearly enjoying himself. Then, tragedy, Alesi's Ferrari started to belch massive amounts of smoke, and he was out. Alesi had been the star and class of the field, but the Ferrari let him down.
Schumacher was now relatively unchallenged, with second being Hill, a mere 20 seconds behind. On lap 27, Mika Hakkinen set a fastest lap, 1m43.395, and then pitted. As Hakkinen took this fastest lap, we saw one of the rarest sights in F1, Ronzo smiling. He would be smiling more by the end of the afternoon. Irvine, meanwhile, had pitted for a look at the car, and had a piece of the rear wing torn off to correct it.... Things are mighty technical in Formula One. Finally, Schumacher comes in for his stop. This allows Hill into the lead, but this was rather academic as he had yet to make his stop. Lap 33:
Hill Schumacher +9.926 Coulthard +14.479 Hakkinen +41.034 Herbert +1m08.509 Irvine +1m16.465
On lap 34, Coulthard pitted and rejoined still in third. Hill then pitted, but was passed whilst in the pit lane, and dropped to second. Situation normal. Diniz, meanwhile, quietly reitres. His job of being lapped done. Then, whilst the marshalls are dealling with the Forti at Spoon, Hill comes bouncing off the gravel, collects it and drives around the outside of the trap to rejoin the race. Another mistake from Hill? Possibly not this time, as at a similar time Schumacher was radioing into the pits to say that the track was wet around the back of the track at Spoon. Hill rejoins in 4th place, and then pits for a new nose cone. All this sounds very familiar. Whilst Hill is in the pit, Blundell also does the same at Spoon. Hill rejoins the race in 5th. Coulthard, feeling some sympathy for his team-mate, decides to make him not look such a clot, and do the same at Spoon also. He rejoined, but then at 130R, his side-pods decided they didn't like having so much gravel in them, and dumped it onto the track for his rear tyres to spin on. Nice one. Frank didn't look too impressed in the pits. Frentzen also joins the Spoon club, and one started to wonder if everyone would be joining in. This was starting to look more like Mornington Crescent than Formula One. Hill, to add to his problems, was awarded a 10 second penalty for speeding in the pits. This became rather academic, as he soon spun at Spoon again. This time he was out. Flavio was now in the pits rejoicing. His team had won the Constructors Championship.
Around lap 44, it started to drizzle again around the front of the circuit. Lamy spins, possibly due to this, at the chicane. On lap 51, Ronzo announces that against all rumours, Mark Blundell will be driving a McLaren at Australia, and not Magnusson. And so, Schumacher won, but the drive of the race was surely that of Alesi. Had his car not given up, he would have surely have won.
Schumacher Hakkinen Herbert Irvine Panis Salo Blundell Frentzen Badoer Wendlinger Lamy Inoue
-- 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