Report At the start of the race the two drivers at the front were also the two in contention for the championship. Pole-sitter Hill knew all he had to do was finish ahead of Villeneuve to clinch the title. Second on grid man Villeneuve knew he...
At the start of the race the two drivers at the front were also the two in contention for the championship. Pole-sitter Hill knew all he had to do was finish ahead of Villeneuve to clinch the title. Second on grid man Villeneuve knew he had to finish at least 4 points ahead of Hill to take it to Japan.
When the lights went out it was Hill that made the blinding start, and was pulling away from Alesi and Schumacher who both made superb starts. Villeneuve was down in fourth place. Pedro Lamy didn't make it off the grid, and was pushed to the pits, from where he set off a little while later. Each lap Hill took about 3/4 second from the second place man, and by lap 10 had 7 seconds over Alesi. By lap 12 this was 9.031. The first of the routine stops (and in this race routine meant 3 stops) was from Panis, followed by Katayama on lap 17. Lavaggi at the tail end of the grid was doing wonders for his sponsors, as he was lapped (eventually) by the leading group. Villeneuve would later be thinking that Lavaggi and co. were a good thing, as when Schumacher and Villeneuve came up to lap him, Schumacher edged ahead, whilst Villeneuve slungshot down the outside into the slot previously occupied by Schumacher, and so was up to 3rd place. Schumacher was not prepared to settle for this and did try to claim it back, though with no success.
On lap 17 Hill pitted with a 13 second lead, and was turned around in 7.7 seconds. He rejoined the race in 5th place behind Berger. Brundle was soon to follow from 11th, and the Williams team were ready for Villeneuve's stop. Villeneuve and Schumacher both pealed into the pit lane together, and so it was down to the teams. The Williams crew got Villeneuve out ahead of Schumacher as the pair left as they came in. Hill was now up to second place, with Alesi ahead yet to stop. Irvine was the next to stop, with Coulthard doing likewise. Alesi at this moment showed little inclination to come in as Hakkinen came in. Then finally Alesi came in, and clouted the curbs in the process, though appeared to escape undamaged. Hill was now back into the lead.
The McLarens of Coulthard and Hakkinen were in a battle with the Jordan of Barrichello, with the Jordan of Brundle ahead. Lavaggi (again) managed to hinder the battle, and so delayed Hakkinen a little. This interest was soon over, as the Jordan of Barrichello pitted for its routine stop.
It was now up to lap 34, and the Williams team were ready for their second round of stops. It would be Hill again who made the first stop, with Villeneuve a lap later. Hill rejoined the race behind Schumacher. The next lap when Villeneuve pitted, Schumacher again did likewise. Hill now had th lead again from Villeneuve, Alesi, Schumacher, Irvine and Berger.
By lap 37, Villeneuve was closing in fast on the Williams of Hill (1.479 seconds). The leading pair were again up to Lavaggi. This time Lavaggi doesn't get in the way, and the Williams' get by without hinderence, though Villeneuve started to position himself for a move on Hill.
On lap 43 Barrichello made his impact on the Grand Prix as the first retirement. Quite a difference to the last race! Schumacher was trying hard to get by Alesi. The pair came upon Lavaggi and Alesi tried to get by, Schumacher tried to get by the pair of them but failed. Irvine, enjoying some rare reliability at Ferrari made his next routine stop. Hill, meanwhile, at the front was keeping a slight 1.2 second gap over Villeneuve. Not really enough as he would have liked. In keeping with the new directive from Bernie, Alesi and Schumacher pitted together. Schumacher managed to get ahead of the French-Scicillian in the process. Berger was the next to pit from fourth, as Coulthard pitted from 6th.
On lap 49, Hill was issued with the "in" board by his pit. McLaren had more to worry about with both of its drivers making unscheduled stops on the same lap after Hakkinen touched the rear of Coulthard. The former damaged his nose wing in the process. It wasn't immediately clear what problems Coulthard had had. Hill made his scheduled stop and was out in a non-too spectacular 8.8 seconds. A lap later Villeneuve was in and out in 8.0 seconds, but also with a more aggresive in/out style. It paid off, and Hill passed the exit at the same time (virtually) as the Canadian exited. The latter took the lead, and never looked like losing it from then on, apart from odd moments such as the near collision with Brundle (who had moved out of Villeneuve's way, and such was his surprise of a back-marker moving out of the way he narrowly avoided hitting him to thank him).
Brundle pitted soon afterwards, as Hakkinen retired. Coulthard now found himself back in a distant 14th place. The whole complexion of the race had changed, with Villeneuve either pulling away at the front, or Hill settling in for second and almost guaranteeing the championship. Confused reports from Williams put this down to either Hill not being aggressive enough, or Hills clutch being a tad dicky, or various other oddities.
After a few laps of tedium, Irvine and Berger liven up the race with the help of Lavaggi. Berger tried to slingshot past Irvine, did it, but then got it all wrong and allowed Irvine back into 5th place again, where he stayed to the flag.
1. Villeneuve 2. Hill 3. Schumacher 4. Alesi 5. Irvine 6. Berger 7. Frentzen 8. Herbert 9. Brundle 10. Panis 11. Salo 12. Katayama 13. Coulthard 14. Rosset 15. Lavaggi 16. Lamy
-- Stephen M Baines
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