San Marino GP Report (Stephen Baines)

Race Report Luca Badoer was to start the race in the new Forti FG-03. Jean Alesi was also in a new car, the T-car, as his race car was damaged in an off in the morning. Ross Braun, the technical director of Benetton, said that he thought the...

Race Report

Luca Badoer was to start the race in the new Forti FG-03. Jean Alesi was also in a new car, the T-car, as his race car was damaged in an off in the morning. Ross Braun, the technical director of Benetton, said that he thought the race may be decided by brakes, rather than any other matter. Another variable for this race was the speed limit in the pit was to be only 50mph, rather than the usual 75mph.

At the start Villeneuve made an awful start, with his wheels spinning wildly. It was Coulthard who would make the flyer again, and this time he got his car into the lead, and kept it there. Hill made a good start, or at least good enough for second, whilst Schumacher was down in third place. All the front three were pulling away from 4th place man Salo. Villeneuve's race was already a disaster. He had flat spotted the tyres and was already in to change them.

 Coulthard Hill   Schumacher  Salo   Berger Barrichello
 1 lap     0.760       0.900  3.547   3.697       5.603

Schumacher made his way past Hill to second place, whilst Berger did likewise with Salo.

 Coulthard Schumacher  Hill   Berger  Salo  Barrichello
 2 laps         0.446  2.407   3.932  6.141       6.422
 3 laps         0.495  2.300   3.707  6.747       7.188
 4 laps         0.656  2.378   3.750  7.477       8.262
 5 laps         0.579  2.629   4.126  8.173       9.158

During the early stages of the race it was clear that Coulthard and Schumacher had a performance advantage. It was quite possible that they would be running three stops, and Hill a two stopper. Villeneuve, at the very back of the field, was setting the pace with a fastest lap of 1m30.300.

Behind the top 6 it was all very close, with Alesi, Irvine, Brundle and Verstappen separated by fractions. At the front, Berger was now starting to make progress on Hill. Coulthard seemed settled in first place, and kept a 0.5 second margin of Schumacher with ease. Both clearly pulling away from Hill. On lap 9, Coulthard set a 1m30.046, and with it showed Schumacher he could extend the lead at a whim to 0.9 seconds. Schumacher retaliated the following lap with a 1m29.897. Hill joined in the fun on lap 13, with a 1m20.815, and Villeneuve a 1m29.665 a lap later. By lap 16, Hill had made a big jump on Schumacher and was only 3 seconds behind him.

On lap 19, Hakkinen was the first of the front runners to pit. Verstappen meanwhile was having a very long stop. It was now becoming clear that the leaders must be on a two stop strategy, and with it Hill looked far from a likely winner. Badoer was the first driver to fall foul of the traffic cops, with a 10 second penalty for speeding. Alesi came in on lap 19, and became the first driver in some time to change 5 wheels, when the steering wheel was changed also. On lap 20, Coulthard pitted, and with it allowed Schumacher into the lead. Schumacher pitted a lap later, and rejoined ahead of Coulthard despite a slower stop, but behind new leader Hill and Berger. Hill had yet to make his first stop.....

For lap after lap Hill continued to lead, with no sign of any intention of pitting. Alesi fell foul of the speed trap and also got a 10 second penalty. By lap 22 thoughts were changing. Could Hill be not intending to stop, but be going for a 1 stopper? At the back of the grid, Lamy also joined the ranks of those who chose to swell Max Mosley's coffers with a speeding in the pit penalty. On lap 24, Salo's engine gave up the ghost, and he retired from a deserving sixth place. On lap 25, the Williams team were ready for Villeneueve. He pitted, whilst Hill had a clear 0.8 seconds a lap on Schumacher, setting a 1m29.199 in the process.

Luca Badoer decided to boost the image of Forti. It was the first time that this team had been accused of being speedy. The Williams pit were ready on lap 28 for a stop, but the tyres were still covered. A one stop Hill looked a distinct possibility.

Hakkinen, in a lurid moment, spun his car off the track, only to rejoin again and do the same thing soon after. Finally, on lap 30, Hill pitted - was it the only stop? Surely not with only a 7.6 second stop. Still, as he had a 22 second lead over Schumacher he was able to leave the pits, still holding onto first place. Fisichella's Minardi gives up, and splats on the track. Hill's once comfortable 22 second lead was now just under a second after the stop. Schumacher was breathing down his neck. Hill soon set to the task of extending this, and it was soon up to 1.4 seconds. Within the space of a couple of laps both of the Saubers were to pull into the pits and retire.

By lap 40, the Ferrari mechanics were ready for a stop for Schumacher. He stopped in 11.7 seconds and rejoined behind Coulthard. Coulthard soon afterwards made his stop, but stalled it, and lost the advantage. By lap 43, Hill had 26 seconds over Schumacher, and was working on extending it. The Williams crew were ready for Villeneuve. There was unfortunate drama in the TWR/Arrows/Footwork pit, with Dave Lowe, one of the mechanics being injured when the fuel nozzle was not removed from Verstappen's car, and he was knocked over and broke his arm. It also came to light that fuel was spilt in the process.

Villeneuve pits from 7th place on lap 44, a remarkable recovery. Gerhard Berger also pits on the same lap, and manages to stall it. By lap 45, Hill had 28.7 seconds over Schumacher, and this was to extend further as the German was stuck behind a vacant Hakkinen and Diniz, who were busily engaged in their own little battle. The pair would later rewarded with a 10 second blocking penalty. An inspired Ukyo Katayama reitred from sixth place with an engine problem.

Alesi brain fade of last week continued this week, when this time it was Panis who suffered at his hands in a move that was clearly never going to work. Williams were now ready for a pit stop for Hill - he was to have a second after all - and had 41 seconds in order to change tyres, change the cassette in the stereo and offer some all fuel points to exchange for trophies at the end. He did it on lap 49 in 8.3 seconds, and retained his lead confortably.

Schumacher was now up to and about to lap Alesi. Alesi eventually ran wide onto the dirt, and Schumacher slipped by. With 8 laps to go Hill had 22 seconds over the German. He lost about a second a lap over the coming laps, but it was of little significance. On lap 56, Panis suffered a mechanical failure - possibly as a result of Alesi. On lap 60, Villeneuve pulled into the pits and retired from sixth place (it was clearly jinxed this race). Hakkinen also soon retired with some sort of engine/drivetrain problem. And so to the finish, with Hill crossing the line, and Schumacher... Well, Schumacher's car ran well up until a couple of corners before the finish, when all at once the right front wheel locked solid. The car was to cross the line in second with a wheel that didn't move in maybe half a mile.....

1. Hill 2. Schumacher 3. Berger 4. Irvine 5. Barrichello 6. Alesi 7. Diniz 8. Hakkinen 9. Lamy 10. Badoer 11. Villeneuve

-- 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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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Luca Badoer , Jean Alesi , Tiff Needell , Ukyo Katayama , Dave Lowe
Teams Ferrari , Sauber , Williams , Benetton , Minardi