1996 FIA Formula One World Championship - Round 7|
Molson Grand Prix of Canada
Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Montreal
A great weekend for English sport with our football (soccer for the people across the pond) team stuffing the Scottish and Damon getting back down to the task in hand, namely winning races and the championship.
Before The Race
As usual in 1996, qualifying only really looked like going to either of the Williams pair or to Schumacher in the new high-nose variation of the Ferrari F310. Villeneuve made most of the running and spend almost the entire session on pole until Damon took it from him in the dying minutes of the session. Both Ferrari drivers have reported no real gain in time from the higher nose, but both seem to agree that the car is made more stable.
As usual, the Benetton pair were threatening the top 3 all weekend, but come qualifying, they were no threat, both drivers having brake failures in qualifying. It seems strange that with Schumacher and his team-mates, the Benetton's suffered almost no mechanical failures and now the cars rarely finish a race. Ferrari by contrast, had the worst reliability record possible over the last few years and this year (give or take a race or two) seem to be doing no worse than any other team. Strange isn't it?
Once again, the warm-up lap gave us a little bit of excitement, with Schumacher not even managing to make it off the line until most of the cars were half way around the track. The official reason was an electrical problem and this may have been the case, but the number one Ferrari never ran right for the rest of the race, but more of that later.
When all was said and done, the grid formed up for the start with the 3rd grid slot empty and the 23rd slot filled with a Ferrari (at least the Forti boys get to say they started in front of Schumacher at some point in their careers). When the lights went out, Villeneuve (2nd on the grid) made his normal explosive start, but unfortunately for him, Damon Hill also managed to time his start perfectly, and apart from quick look, Jacques had to settle for second place. At the end of the first lap, the running order was Hill, Villeneuve, Alesi, Irvine, Hakkinen and Berger. A quick starting Schumacher had taken 5 places in this lap and the commentators were already predicting a repeat of the Belgian GP in 1995 where he won from 16th on the grid.
On lap 2, the curse of the Ferrari's struck Eddie Irvine and he pulled over with an engine failure, elevating Martin Brundle and his Jordan-Peugeot to 6th place. The Englishman has had a hard season finding suitable setups so far, but everything seemed to go right for him in his 150th GP, making several place at the start and running faster than most of the other cars in the race.
Although both the McLaren-Mercedes and Mika Hakkinen were running better in Canada than in Spain, it was clear that Mika was holding up Berger and Brundle as Hill ran off with the race and Villeneuve and Alesi chased him. On lap 4, Berger found a way past and started to pull away at around half a second a lap, showing the difference in speed straight away. The next lap saw Brundle make his move, demoting Mika to 6th.
By lap 7, Schumacher had managed to make it up to 14th, but he was almost matched for pace by the cars in front and couldn't quite manage to get past them. Behind the slow Ferrari, Ukyo Katayama decided to give Ricardo Rosset a closer look at the Tyrrell-Yamaha and punted both the TWR Arrows and his own car into the gravel and instant retirement. Ukyo may be the best Japanese driver so far (mind you look at Suzuki and Nakajima) but he is surely not going to manage to hold onto his seat next year unless he does better.
At this point, Hill was over 5 seconds ahead of Villeneuve and was pulling further ahead every lap, with the fastest race lap falling to him nearly every lap. Before and after the race he commented that his car was perfect for the whole of Sunday, and the way he drove certainly proved this. Lap 11 saw the retirement of Jos Verstappen, allowing the TWR-Arrows team to pack up early and prepare for the flight home. Also on lap 11, Rubens Barrichello managed to overtake the McLaren of Mika Hakkinen and put both Jordan's into the top 6. The top six, on lap 16 were Hill leading Villeneuve by 7 seconds, who was ahead of Alesi by 5 seconds, who was in turn leading Berger by 1.5 seconds. 4 seconds behind Berger was Brundle who had a 5 second lead over his teammate, Barrichello.
On lap 21, Barrichello pitted for the first time taking on fuel and tyres in what looked like the first of 2 stops. At this time, Frentzen's Sauber-Ford dropped out for an unknown reason. Unfortunately for Barrichello, lap 22 saw him back into the pits because of a clutch problem. The team did their best with the car and sent him out again, only for him to return on lap 24 to retire, the clutch finally breaking. This wasn't the best time for the Jordan team however as lap 24 was Brundle's scheduled stop and, with the help of a Sauber mechanic, the crew pushed the car aside to give Martin room to stop. In the interests of completeness I feel obliged to point out the demise of Montermini's Forti on lap 24 as well. The Forti team has been sporting a new green colour scheme courtesy of sponsor Shannon. Shannon currently run cars in F3 and F3000 in Europe and are looking to expand into F1. Rumours suggest that Forti is their way in, with the experience the team already have being invaluable to Shannon.
Schumacher was up to 9th by this point, courtesy of retirements and pit stops, but was circulating at between 3 and 4 seconds slower than the leaders. Lap 28 saw Hill pit and relinquish his position to Villeneuve, but managing to hold on to 2nd place. Over the next couple of laps, most of the cars came in, but Berger, Coulthard and Villeneuve stayed out, indicating a one-stop strategy rather than a two stop. With Hill and Villeneuve running similar lap times (tyre wear is minimal at the Montreal circuit), conventional wisdom suggested that one stop would be the best way to go, but only time would tell.
After this round of stops, the order was Villeneuve, Hill, Coulthard, Alesi, Berger and Brundle, but this was to a certain degree artificial as 3 of the top 6 needed to stop. On lap 36, the three cars came in and went out again having lost their places and returned the order to more or less how it had been before the stops. Schumacher was up to 7th now due to the retirement of Diniz (Ligier), Panis (Ligier) and Salo (Tyrrell), but his fun wasn't to last for long. On lap 42 he came into the pits for his one and only stop. All went fine until he drove down the pit lane to rejoin the track where part of the car fell off (quite visibly too). It later turned out to be part of the drive-shaft and timing at the track showed that he had been much slower on the straights than he should have been, indicating that the problem had been with him from the start. Assumptions aside, a car with very little drive can't go too far and the World Champion retired later that lap.
Lap 43 saw Berger ruin one of his best races this season by spinning his Benetton and retiring there and then. This meant that the top 6 was; Hill, Villeneuve, Alesi, Brundle, Coulthard and Hakkinen. Lap 45 indicated the arrival of the Minardi "no-mirror" driving style, when Lamy chopped across Brundle's nose, damaging the Jordan (off to the pits for a new nose) and putting him into retirement. The stricken Minardi was stuck on the track and caused the remaining Forti of Badoer to spin and stall, coming to rest at the edge of the track. The resulting yellow flags caused Villeneuve to back off a bit more than he should have done and Johnny Herbert passed him (he was already a lap down so no positions were exchanged). Getting up to and past Herbert took 2 laps and probably cost him the race, because when Hill pitted on lap 50, Jacques was too far behind to take the place.
Over the remaining laps, the only driver to do any overtaking was Martin Brundle who, having had his nose replaced, had dropped into 7th place behind Herbert's Sauber. Brundle took his place back on lap 53 and set about catching Hakkinen. Unfortunately for the Kings Lynn driver, the flying Finn was too far ahead to catch and he had to settle for sixth.
As Hill crossed the line on lap 69 (the final lap) the order was; Hill, Villeneuve, Alesi, Coulthard, Hakkinen, Brundle, Herbert and Fisichella (Minardi).
The race was yet another Williams victory and put Hill 21 points clear of Villeneuve on the Championship and the Williams 1-2 put the team 50 points clear of Ferrari. So far, Hill has 5 wins from 8 races and looks likely to equal the Mansell/Schumacher record of 9 wins in a season, if not to beat it.
For once, the GP was at a circuit that allows overtaking, but still there wasn't too much going on. The FIA have drawn up regulations for smaller wings to help overtaking, but personally I think that the circuits need to be better and teams have to stop refueling and hence stop overtaking in the pits.