Imola, Saturday May 1, 1999 -- The British American Racing Team garage crackled with electricity and excitement today as Jacques Villeneuve turned in a series of outstanding laps to qualify fifth for Sunday's San Marino Grand Prix. He will start...
Imola, Saturday May 1, 1999 -- The British American Racing Team garage crackled with electricity and excitement today as Jacques Villeneuve turned in a series of outstanding laps to qualify fifth for Sunday's San Marino Grand Prix. He will start the race on the third row, the best showing yet for the team and a similar placing in the race would deliver the team's first-ever points in the FIA Constructors' and Drivers' World Championship standings.
Interim driver Mika Salo, replacing the injured Ricardo Zonta, was 19th overall in the team's spare car after a hydraulics problem in the morning's free practice session grounded his regular car.
McLaren and Ferrari swept the first four spots as expected, but it was Villeneuve's performance that electrified the crowd at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari. In his first sortie, 20 minutes into the hour-long session, the Canadian turned in a time of one minute, 28.803 seconds, but that time evaporated in the hot sun when the other top drivers followed him onto the track, and Villeneuve was relegated to 12th.
And then it happened. Thirty-two minutes into qualifying, the Lucky Strike driver clipped nearly a full second from his previous time with 1:27.883, and vaulted into fifth. He remained there for almost a quarter hour while only the McLarens and Ferraris seemed capable of matching his BAR Supertec 01 car, and then turned in a blistering 1:27.313 on his next lap, 10 minutes from time. With two minutes remaining, Villeneuve was out in a pack of eight drivers trying to better their previous times, but couldn't improve on what he had already accomplished.
Finn Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard of Scotland gave McLaren a 1-2 sweep of the front row, with 1:26.362 and 1:26.384 respectively, and the Ferrari duo of Germany's Michael Schumacher and Eddie Irvine of Ireland were right behind with 1:26.538 and 1:26.993. With five drivers within a second of each other, Sunday's race promises to be a cracker.
Jacques Villeneuve -- 1:27:313 (5th) "It's been a long time since I have had such a good qualifying lap. I am very pleased because this is the first time since the start of the season that we've been able to push the car without having to make many changes. I could always push it harder and harder and the car reacted well because we had a very good set-up. We are confident for Sunday but it's a long and hard way to the finish. The guys in front of me are definitely quicker, but in general we've been better during the race than in qualifying. So let's hope it will be the same on Sunday and that we will finish the race."
Mika Salo -- 1:29:451 (19th) "I am happy for Jacques, but I am disappointed because I had hoped to do as well also and did not expect to qualify in 19th position. We did have a really good car all weekend, but after the first run we had a hydraulic pressure problem and I had to get in the spare car which was set up for Jacques who has a very different driving style to me. But I am used to starting from the back of the grid so I hope to have a good race and try for a good result."
Craig Pollock, Managing Director, British American Racing "The team has been great all weekend and the car looks as if it's getting there. We had a little bit of a worry in first session this morning, but the work of the engineers and the drivers has been exceptional. Reliability is obviously getting better so it is a question of carrying on in the right direction. Mika's situation was very unfortunate. It turned out to be a hydraulics problem which is beyond our control and he only had one lap in a car that was set up for Jacques. Considering all that, Mika has done a good job."
Denis Chevrier, Race Support Manager, Supertec "Today we introduced the A-spec engine for all our three teams. It has worked fine and we are particularly pleased that Jacques was able to exploit it by securing a very encouraging fifth place. We are very satisfied as it seems that there is very good potential."