Report As at Monaco the race started under a cloud. Very big clouds, and they were pouring rain. Unfortunately, the race also paid a lie to the accepted gospel that rain and cars good racing make. This was to be a rather tedious affair. All the...
As at Monaco the race started under a cloud. Very big clouds, and they were pouring rain. Unfortunately, the race also paid a lie to the accepted gospel that rain and cars good racing make. This was to be a rather tedious affair. All the runners were to start on wets - not even Verstappen opting for slicks. Goodyear had decided not to run the monsoon tyres, but the FIA were deliberating whether to start the race behind the pace car. In the end they didn't and a normal start was used. On the formation lap, Mika Salo was left stranded on the grid, and was allowed to start in the spare car.
As the lights went out, it was a Williams that took the lead, however Alesi was charging, and was up to second, behind Villeneuve. Hill was down to third with Berger following, and both Ferrari's behind him - Irvine leading Schumacher after a bad start from the German. Before even the first corner, Lamy was already off the track after a collision with Coulthard. Both were out of the race. Fisichella's Minardi was also badly damaged, with the left-front wing dangling precariously. Panis pitted at the end of the first lap and was out of the car. By the start of the second lap Irvine was also out of the race, having gone onto the grass, and was left stranded, unable to get traction against the wet grass. The retirements by the end of lap two looked like Monaco II - Lamy, Rosset and Coulthard on lap 1; Irvine, Panis and Fisichella on lap 2.
And so by the end of lap 2 it was still Villeneuve in command, with Alesi, Hill, Berger, Schumacher, Barrichello, Herbert, Frentzen, Brundle, Diniz, Verstappen and Hakkinen behind. Herbert then spun his Sauber on to the gravel, but kept it going, and rejoined the track. On the next lap Hill did the same thing. Meanwhile, in the lead Villeneuve was under pressure from Alesi, who was in charging form. A little further back, Schumacher was after Alesi after disposing of Berger, and Hill's own little problem.
Villeneuve Alesi Schumacher Berger Hill Barrichello Lap 7 0.771 1.519 8.657 11.766 16.666
Hill was off the track again, and back on the track again. It wasn't looking like a good race for the Englishman. Schumacher was making a race of it at the front, and was after Alesi with big attacks, trying to go around the outside of the French-Scicillian, who was already wide in the corners. Finally, the German got by, and was after Villeneuve.
Villeneuve Schumacher Alesi Berger Barrichello Frentzen Lap 9 0.458 1.952 8.234 15.604 21.510
Katayama was the next to join the list of retirements, whilst Hill was a desperate 8th, and 28 seconds behind Villeneuve, with Verstappen ahead of him. On lap 12, Hill spun for the third and final time on the exit onto the pit straight. The car sluing into the barrier, and he was out. Hill was later to admit that he made mistakes during the race. Schumacher was driving an inspired race at the front, and was soon into the lead ahead of Villeneuve, and streaking away. His Ferrari a clear 4 seconds a lap faster than everyone else in the field. Read that again - Four seconds is a huge difference in lap times, and this advantage he was to maintain for a long time. Verstappen, meanwhile, was worried that he hadn't spun, and so on lap 16 he did a full 360-degrees to prove he could do it. Diniz also joined the gravel fans, leaving the track, around the outside of the trap by the barrier and back onto the track. Salo also joined in the fun, and also redecorated the front end of the car a rather attractive shade of brown. Just to add to it, Herbert does likewise, spinning off, narrowly misses the tyre-wall, and rejoins the track. So by lap 17 the race was down to 10 runners - Schumacher, Villeneuve, Alesi, Berger, Barrichello, Frentzen, Verstappen, Hakkinen, Herbert and Diniz. Schumacher was now 3 seconds a lap slower. He didn't have to worry, as the rest of the field slowed down by the same amount, maintaining his 4 second a lap cushion.
Schumacher Villeneuve Alesi Berger Barrichello Frentzen Lap 23 37.150 40.043 44.556 52.126 1m02.496
Herbert was next to join the list of retirees, taking the runners down to 9. Schumacher pitted at the end of lap 23, and was out in 7.2 seconds. He kept 20 seconds of his lead, and then extended it out again over the next few laps. He was by far one of the earliest pitters of the front runners. After the rest of the field (all 8 of them) had done their stops, Schumacher was still busily extending his lead. By lap 29 the order was Schumacher, Villeneuve, Barrichello, Alesi, Berger, Frentzen, Verstappen, Hakkinen and Diniz. Villeneuve then pitted, and dropped to 4th. Barrichello was now up to second. On lap 42, Schumacher made his second stop - he was some 67 seconds ahead of Barrichello prior to the stop. Rubens then went into the pits, and rejoined in 4th. A minor shake-up at the front of the field meant it was now Schumacher, Alesi, Villeneuve, Barrichello, Berger, Frentzen, Verstappen, Hakkinen and Diniz. That was about as exiting as it got over the following laps.
Berger and Barrichello were soon out, along with Verstappen reducing the runners to six. Diniz was now in the points.... This clearly riled Eddie Jordan, as they tried to fix the clutch of Barrichello, sensing points in the offing, and soon the runners were seven again. This was short lived - or rather Barrichello's clutch was, and this time he stopped on the track. For the last few laps the only minor attraction was Villeneuve trailing after Alesi. It was never going to amount to a proper attack, but added a little excitement to what had been a rather tedious race. The only other thing to get you going was if the race would run full distance or to 2 hours. The pace that Schumacher was going at, though, meant it finished just 11 seconds shy of the the two hour mark.
1. Schumacher 2. Alesi 3. Villeneuve 4. Frentzen 5. Hakkinen 6. Diniz
-- 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