So the 1998 season started where the 1997 season left off – with a fixed result. In fact it was the same result Coulthard making way for Hakkinen. Only this time there was no competition, everyone else was lapped, including last years dominant Williams.
Where the McLarens looked smooth and untroubled the Williams looked slow. Qualifying was also a McLaren benefit with the Williams pairing of Villeneuve and Frentzen ending the session 4th and 6th respectively, but well over a second off the pace.
In the race Villeneuve kept his place while Frentzen dropped back one place. It soon became obvious that Villeneuve was holding up those behind him and by the 3rd lap the gap between the McLarens, Michael Schumacher and Villeneuve was over ten seconds. However different pit-stop strategies was the real reason for the huge gap and this did work to Williams advantage later in the race.
Villeneuve was lapped as early as lap 34 – the same lap that Frentzen pitted. Good pit stop work from the team saw Frentzen elevated from 5th to 3rd, a place he was to keep to the flag. At the flag the gap from the two McLarens to third placed Frentzen was over 1 minute 34 seconds – one whole lap.
Williams will not be consoled by the fact that both their cars were reliable, nor will they be pleased that this time last year they had scored no points. A lot of hard work will have to be done before Williams are anywhere near the McLarens and that includes Mecachrome and Goodyear.