The first race of a new season is always interesting as many of the teams meet head-to-head for the first time since the last race of the previous season. This year was no different with action from the moment the cars went to the grid. For WilliamsF1 (as the team now likes to be called) this season looks like being another trying year with a chassis that is good enough but an engine that isn’t. Their position as best of the rest looks like it might also be seriously challenged.
Friday was the first real chance to see F1 returnee Alex Zanardi perform and, initially at least, the signs looked good finishing one place ahead of Ralf Schumacher in 9th. Qualifying was a different matter with Zanardi suffering all sorts of problems leaving him back in 15th place. Schumacher did better finishing up 8th.
On the race day the first start had to be aborted after both Stewarts caught fire on the grid after only the formation lap. Herbert out and Barrichello starting from the pits. After a short delay the ars started off for their second warm-up lap leaving Michael Schumacher behind and having to start from the back of the grid. All this before any wheel had been turned in anger!
When the race finally got under way Ralf Schumacher made a good start moving up to 5th. Zanardi meanwhile was going in the opposite direction ending up in 17th. Lap 14 and the Italian was in the pits for a new set of tyres the old ones having used up as Zanardi tried to make up places and gain some speed.
It was around this time that things started to happen up the front. First the rear wing flew off the back of Villeneuve’s BAR bringing out the safety car. At the same time Coulthard glided into the pits to retire. At the restart Hakkinen was slow away and passed by just about everybody, he would last only a couple more laps before he retired.
The safety car had only just returned to the pits when it was called back out again – this time as a result of Alex Zanardi crashing out ending a weekend he will very much hope to forget.
This were looking better for Williams’ second car driven by Ralf Schumacher who by this point was third behind Irvine and Frentzen. By lap 27 Ralf’s big brother Michael had worked his way up from the back of the grid to 4th and was about to press the gearbox of the Williams. Fortunately there was no sibling rivalry as Michael’s Ferrari got a puncture and dropped away.
Despite a late charge a few laps from the end by Schumacher the order of the top three never changed. So Eddie Irvine scored his first win and Ralf Schumacher scored his first points for Williams. Question is what can either of them do when Michael Schumacher and the McLaren pair are competitive?