British Grand Prix Review

Round 10: Title Chase Heats Up as Ferrari Fall
by Toby Waller

1996 FIA Formula One World Championship - Round 1O
British Grand Prix
Silverstone, Towcester, England

Whilst the British Grand Prix was an unusually dull race, the result injected some excitement back into the driver's championship. Damon Hill came to Silverstone with a twenty-five point lead, and was expected to dominate the weekend. He left with his points lead diminished to fifteen, however, after he spun off with a suspected wheel bearing problem and Jacques Villeneuve, second in the championship, went on to take victory. Michael Schumacher's suggestion that the championship is over proved to be inaccurate - the battle between team-mates Hill and Villeneuve looks like continuing for at least the next three races. Shock of the weekend, though, was yet more retirements for Ferrari - the scarlet chargers trailing smoke, before pulling off in the early stages of the race. Whilst the action on track was decidedly lacklustre, the action off it was intense as Benetton contested the race result - the complaint, incorrectly dimensioned wing flaps on the victorious Williams. Despite a long, nerve-wracking wait for the adjudication by the stewards, the result still stood and Villeneuve could continue to celebrate a well earned win.

Saturday Qualifying

Nigel Mansell said that home support gained him a second a lap. If this is true, then Damon Hill used that support to full advantage to obtain his sixth pole of the season and his third home pole in a row. As expected, Hill's main opposition came from his Canadian team-mate Jacques Villeneuve. On a circuit that Villeneuve knows well from pre-season testing, he proved a strong rival to Hill and made it the fifth all Williams front row this season. Despite driving to the limit of the car, and beyond, he was beaten to pole by the narrowest of margins - a mere 0.195s.

Michael Schumacher provided his usual sterling performance in the ill handling Ferrari, despite a brief delay in his running to replace a damaged under-car plank. He was unable to match his time set earlier in the session, though, and lined up behind the Williams cars once again. "I expected to qualify in this position" Schumacher said after the session, "I have to say it is satisfying to be ahead of the other English teams who do most of their testing here." Schumacher's team-mate Eddie Irvine continued his difficult season in the second Ferrari, ending up tenth - almost 1.5s behind the German - after a fifteen minute delay for FIA scrutineering. The surprise performance of the session, though, went to Mika Hakkinen, posting fourth quickest time with a scintillating 1m27.856s lap in the short wheelbase spec McLaren. Hakkinen's team-mate, David Coulthard, performed less well, lining up ninth on the grid. The Benettons were also well down the field, Gerhard Berger lining up seventh and Jean Alesi lining up fifth. The Jordan team suffered a positive change of fortune, despite the absence of designer Gary Anderson - sixth for Rubens Barrichello and eighth for Martin Brundle.

Damon was naturally delighted to get his home pole: "It couldn't be better - it's fantastic." He was obviously confident for the race, but sounded a note of caution: "The serious business starts on Sunday - pole is a bit of fun really. Jacques was determined to get ahead of me, and there's a lot of hard work to do. Michael [Schumacher] has also showed that he's not that far away."

The afternoon left a bitter taste in the mouth, though, as the Forti team - struggling from a lack of finance that eliminated them from the running in the practice sessions - made a heroic attempt to qualify their cars. Both drivers spun off before setting competitive times, however, and the team packed up early once again, possibly for the last time. In yet another twist to the session, it was announced that Riccardo Rosset would start the race from the back of the grid after he failed to stop for scrutineering during the session. If the race was going to be as exciting as qualifying, then we were in for another cracker...

Final Qualifying Times

1   Damon Hill            Williams-Renault    1m26.875s
2   Jacques Villeneuve    Williams-Renault    1m27.070s
3   Michael Schumacher    Ferrari             1m27.707s
4   Mika Hakkinen         McLaren-Mercedes    1m27.856s
5   Jean Alesi            Benetton-Renault    1m28.307s
6   Rubens Barrichello    Jordan-Peugeot      1m28.409s
7   Gerhard Berger        Benetton-Renault    1m28.653s
8   Martin Brundle        Jordan-Peugeot      1m28.946s
9   David Coulthard       McLaren-Mercedes    1m28.966s
10  Eddie Irvine          Ferrari             1m29.186s
11  H-H Frentzen          Sauber-Ford         1m29.591s
12  Ukyo Katayama         Tyrrell-Yamaha      1m29.913s
13  Johnny Herbert        Sauber-Ford         1m29.949s
14  Mika Salo             Tyrrell-Yamaha      1m30.102s
15  Jos Verstappen        Footwork-Hart       1m30.102s
16  Olivier Panis         Ligier-Mugen Honda  1m30.167s
17  Riccardo Rosset       Footwork-Hart       1m30.529s
18  Pedro Diniz           Ligier-Mugen Honda  1m31.076s
19  Giancarlo Fisichella  Minardi-Ford        1m31.365s
20  Pedro Lamy            Minardi-Ford        1m31.454s

Cars over 107% time of 1m32.956s
21  Andrea Montermini     Forti-Ford          1m35.206s
22  Luca Badoer           Forti-Ford          1m35.304s

The Race

Despite brief showers in the morning, the afternoon was cool and dry - ideal conditions for racing. On the grid, Hill appeared confident and was smiling and waving to the 90,000 capacity crowd. The prospect was there for a titanic battle between the Williams drivers - Villeneuve particularly keen to avenge his Canadian defeat on Damon's home turf. Hill confirmed the strong, but amicable, rivalry: "My feeling is that the race will be between me and Jacques. You can't discount Schumacher, but his car has not looked terribly good round here all weekend."

As the lights were extinguished, the better Williams off the grid was Villeneuve's. Hill appeared to suffer from excessive wheelspin and, as he struggled to control his car, was engulfed by the field, ending up fifth by the first corner behind Schumacher. Mika Hakkinen was a fast starter, but so was Jean Alesi, behind him in fifth. The Frenchman, famed for his lightning reactions off the line, was threatening Villeneuve's lead by the first corner. Gerhard Berger, eager to score some more points for his Benetton team, lost seventh place at the start as Eddie Irvine scythed through the pack from tenth. At the end of the first lap, the order was Villeneuve, Alesi, Hakkinen, Schumacher, Hill, Barrichello, Irvine, Berger, Brundle, Coulthard, Frentzen, Herbert, Verstappen, Katayama, Diniz, Panis, Salo, Fisichella, Rosset and Lamy. It was looking like a repeat performance of the European Grand Prix in April - Villeneuve leading, and Damon behind Schumacher after a poor start. The Englishman was all over the back of the Ferrari, and Schumacher was looking under serious threat. That is until lap three, when the scarlet Ferrari began to smoke visibly. Despite a fortnight of intense reliability testing, it appeared as though the Ferrari would fail to finish once again. Schumacher explained after the race: "Something silly happened - an oil-ring came loose and I lost all hydraulic power. I couldn't use my throttle or change gear so I was forced to come back to the pits in sixth." The German was typically optimistic about another mechanical failure for Ferrari: "This is racing - It can happen, it's bad luck. Nobody likes to see Ferrari losing, everybody likes to see Ferrari winning and that's our target."

Another painful Sunday afternoon for the Ferrari management was made worse when Irvine retired just two laps later, smoke pouring out of the back of the Ferrari as it crossed the start/finish line. Eddie Irvine managed a good job of hiding the despondency that the entire team must be feeling right now: "I just saw a lot of smoke coming out of the back of my car. It's really disappointing at this stage, because we haven't had any engine problems." After the previous spate of failures, there is probably something of a crisis atmosphere at Ferrari and Jean Todt is surely set to be the unfortunate victim of further Italian press criticism. The Frenchman was naturally dissapointed: "It's a nightmare. We don't seem to be able to give Michael the quality of car his driving skill deserves. He's happy to work through it, but we have to learn these lessons quickly." With Schumacher's home race - the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim - up next, the Ferrari team will be under intense pressure to provide a car that is reliable, as well as competitive. With a number of major revisions being expected on the car, the team will have to get it right first time ... or else. Todt was fully aware of this: "I guarantee things will be better in Germany. They need to be."

With Schumacher out of his way, Hill started closing the gap to Hakkinen in third. He soon caught the Finn, and was all over the back of the McLaren going into Stowe. Villeneuve, meanwhile, was making superb use of his lead and light fuel load, gaining a second over the rest of the field every lap. Damon was suffering from a heavy setup, a result of him adopting a one stop strategy, and was having trouble keeping up with the McLaren: "I was on a heavier fuel load than the guys in front of me and I think that, being stuck behind Mika, I could get under his wing going onto the back straight but then he'd just pull away. I was pretty well stuck where I was - there was nothing I could do except wait for the pit stops." He didn't have to wait long, though, as Villeneuve made the first of his two stops on lap 24. It was a short stop but, as he exited the pit lane, Hill drove by to take third. As Villeneuve battled to close the gap to Hill, and Hill fought to close the gap to Hakkinen, the Englishman spun off. The initial fears were that Hill had succumbed to the pressure of the situation, but from his cheerful demeanour as he waved to the fans it was clear that he had merely suffered an unfortunate mechanical failure: "I had a bit of a sensation there was something wrong with the front of the car for about three or four laps. Going into Copse corner I think something seized on the left front. It just pitched me off the road and that was that. I still thought I was in with a shout. I really, really wanted to win here, but it wasn't to be and that's the hard truth about motor racing."

Still, despite the home favourite gone, there was a race to be won and the first three were at it hammer and tongs. Alesi now had a comfortable cushion to Hakkinen that was extended further when the Finn made a late first of two stops on lap 27. The Frenchman was also in for his only stop on lap 30, the lead returning to Villeneuve. The field was now fairly strung out, and hopes of a battle for the lead were diminishing quickly. In fact, such was Villeneuve's lead that he was able to make his second stop and rejoin still in the lead, comfortably ahead of Alesi. The Frenchman was having a hard time holding off his team-mate Berger, and the situation was complicated by them both having brake problems. As Alesi's wheel began smoking, it soon became apparent that his situation was terminal. The Benetton pulled into the pits, another disappointing retirement for Alesi. Berger was told by his mechanics to cool his brakes, and he backed off to protect his second place. With Hakkinen also backing off, the top three ran to the line in order. Rubens Barrichello, David Coulthard and Martin Brundle were the remaining points finishers.

After the race, Villeneuve was naturally delighted with his second Grand Prix victory: "I'm very happy. After the first win we had a few good results, but most of time second behind Damon, so I really wanted to put one on him." Despite his huge lead, it was obvious that the Canadian had worked hard for it early in the race: "It was important to keep pushing until my second pit stop to see where we were." Gerhard Berger made a welcome return to the podium, and confirmed the problems he is having at Benetton: "It's been a hard season for me, and my team, and that's why we are very happy about the result today." Mika Hakkinen was another long absent face from the podium, and was also delighted with the result: "It is a fantastic feeling." After the Finn's huge crash at Adelaide last year, it was great to see a result fulfilled from the early season promise.

With the next race being Schumacher's home Grand Prix, we can expect another fanatical, sell out crowd. Ferrari are confident of improved form, and reliability, and Damon Hill will surely be having to push hard for a victory on the German's home turf. Despite no previous experience of the track, Villeneuve may struggle initially but he'll also be up there by Sunday. The remaining six races have the potential to be the best of the season.

British Grand Prix: Lap-by-Lap

Lap 1: Hill makes a poor start, letting Villeneuve into the lead. Alesi and Hakkinen make good starts and follow the Canadian into the first corner.

Lap 3: Schumacher, his car smoking visibly, slows and pulls into the pits. Eddie Irvine follows two laps later with what appears to be a similar problem. It is the sixth Ferrari retirement in three races.

Lap 10: Villeneuve now ten seconds ahead of the battle for second and third between Alesi, Hakkinen and Hill. The Englishman, on a one stop strategy, is being slowed by Hakkinen, who is planning to make two stops, and is losing time to Villeneuve.

Lap 21: Hill close enough to Hakkinen to begin making lunges into Stowe.

Lap 24: Villeneuve makes the first of two stops [9.5s], rejoining just behind Hill. The front four are separated by a mere 4s.

Lap 26: Hill, suffering a fatigued wheel bearing, spins into retirement at Copse.

Lap 27: Hakkinen pits [6.9s], handing second to Villeneuve. The Finn rejoins in fourth behind Gerhard Berger who has made good use of the retirements and his one stop strategy to move up from eighth.

Lap 30: Alesi makes one and only pit stop [10.4s]

Lap 32: Berger pits [10.4s] and rejoins 7.6s behind Alesi in third. The Frenchman is 3s behind Hakkinen, who is in turn 30s behind race leader Villeneuve. Rubens Barrichello and David Coulthard are fifth and sixth.

Lap 41: Villeneuve makes second stop [7.4s] but rejoins still comfortably in the lead.

Lap 43: In a repeat of the French Grand Prix, Benetton team-mates Gerhard Berger and Jean Alesi are battling for third place. The Frenchman is looking good for a podium finish until he suffers a brake problem that causes his retirement. Hakkinen makes his second stop [7.4s] promoting Berger into second, 20s behind Villeneuve.

Lap 46: Berger, suffering brake problems of his own, is told to "Cool Brakes" by his mechanics.

Lap 50: Frentzen and Herbert - on one stop and two stop strategies respectively - battling for eighth.

Lap 61: Villeneuve wins British Grand Prix, 20s ahead of Berger in second and 50s ahead of Hakkinen in third. Victory briefly contested by Benetton team, complaining of front wing irregularities, but result made official after long deliberation by stewards.

Final Results

1   Jacques Villeneuve   Williams-Renault      1hr33m00.874s
2   Gerhard Berger       Benetton-Renault      + 19.026s
3   Mika Hakkinen        McLaren-Mercedes      + 50.830s
4   Rubens Barrichello   Jordan-Peugeot        + 1m06.716s
5   David Coulthard      McLaren-Mercedes      + 1m22.507s
6   Martin Brundle       Jordan-Peugeot        + one lap
7   Mika Salo            Tyrrell-Yamaha        + one lap
8   H-H Frentzen         Sauber-Ford           + one lap
9   Johnny Herbert       Sauber-Ford           + one lap
10  Jos Verstappen       Footwork-Hart         + one lap
11  Giancarlo Fisichella Minardi-Ford          + two laps


DNF Jean Alesi          Benetton-Renault        lap 44
DNF Olivier Panis       Ligier-Mugen Honda      lap 40
DNF Pedro Diniz         Ligier-Mugen Honda      lap 38
DNF Damon Hill          Williams-Renault        lap 26
DNF Pedro Lamy          Minardi-Ford            lap 21
DNF Riccardo Rosset     Footwork-Hart           lap 13
DNF Ukyo Katayama       Tyrrell-Yamaha          lap 12
DNF Eddie Irvine        Ferrari                 lap 5
DNF Michael Schumacher  Ferrari                 lap 3

Fastest Lap Jacques Villeneuve  Williams-Renault    1m29.288s

Championship Standings

1   Damon Hill          63 points   1   Williams-Renault     111 points
2   Jacques Villeneuve  48 points   2   Benetton-Renault      41 points
3   Michael Schumacher  26 points   3   Ferrari               35 points
4   Jean Alesi          25 points   4   McLaren-Mercedes      32 points
5   Gerhard Berger      16 points   5   Jordan-Peugeot        13 points
6   David Coulthard     16 points   6   Ligier-Mugen Honda    12 points
7   Mika Hakkinen       16 points   7   Sauber-Ford           10 points
8   Olivier Panis       11 points   8   Tyrrell-Yamaha         5 points
9   Rubens Barrichello  10 points   9   Footwork-Hart          1 point
10  Eddie Irvine         9 points
11  H-H Frentzen         6 points
12  Mika Salo            5 points
13  Johnny Herbert       4 points
14  Martin Brundle       3 points
15  Jos Verstappen       1 point
16  Pedro Diniz          1 point

Toby Waller
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