Austrian Grand Prix 1998 – Race
…having hoped for dry weather, of course it rains! However the rain produced one of the most interesting grids seen for a very long time. How often do you see Jean Alesi battling it out with Giancarlo Fisichella for the top place on the grid? While this might have been interesting to the average Williams fan this was of no consequence since neither were in an FW20.
For a time it looked like it might be Heinz-Harald Frentzen on the front row – until he lost it all at the last corner. This is very much Heinz-Harald’s problem stunning in qualifying until it comes to the crunch and nowhere in the race.
Jacques Villeneuve meanwhile was demonstrating yet again his dislike of the wet conditions by placing his car 11th on the grid and 4 places behind his team-mate. One thing Williams won’t miss when Villeneuve leaves for BAR is his wet weather abilities.
What the team will miss however is the Canadians ability to fight even when the car is not at its best and right now that seems to be a kind way of describing the FW20. As the lights went out almost immediately there was chaos as Oliver Panis stalled his Prost on the grid and many had to take avoiding action. A quick starting David Coulthard got caught up with Mika Salo also holding up Villeneuve in the process leaving him dead last.
The first few laps were held under the safety car. A couple of laps after the safety car had gone in Villeneuve found himself back in 11th position some 10 seconds behind the leader. Frentzen had also remained static in 7th place.
All remained static until around lap 18 when Frentzen appeared over the crest of a hill with great plumes of smoke and flames billowing out of the back of his car. The normally reliable (if slow) Mecachrome had given way big time. There were those who suggested that this was as a penance for Williams still fighting over their engine contract.
This promoted Villeneuve to 8th and a couple of laps later, when Alesi and Fisichella had their coming together this became 6th. Apart from a bit of an excursion onto the grass as he ran wide at one corner there was no more of interest to Williams as Villeneuve brought home his car for one more point.