Austrian Grand Prix 1999 – Race
For the first time since Monaco in May Williams failed to score any points and both drivers failed to finish. This was a shame as Ralf Schumacher was in a good position when he left the race. Alex Zanardi’s exit was less excusable. The Italian is still struggling to adapt back to the style of driving required in Formula One. In an effort to help this conversion Zanardi’s car was fitted with steel brakes (as used in the States). These are more flexible but carry a weight penalty of about 2kg per wheel. This reflected itself in the relative qualifying positions with Ralf a good 8th and Alex back in 14th.
In one further move towards bringing Zanardi up to the level required he was the only driver of the 22 starts to go to the grid on hard tyres. All this coaxing a driver really isn’t Williams style (as Heinz-Harald Frentzen will attest) so the team must believe that it will pay off in the long run.
Schumacher’s race was short lived, lasting only 8 laps. However by this point he had worked his way up to 6th position but was under strong pressure from the Sauber of Diniz behind and was a full 19 seconds behind the leader. It was this pressure that Schumacher finally succumbed to, in one last effort to hold off the Brazilian the FW21 spun round and ended with one wheel in the gravel. No matter how hard he tried it was obvious that Ralf’s race was run.
Having started 14th Zanardi quickly worked his way down to 17th. By lap 20 this had become 16th, through retirement rather than any great overtaking manoeuvre. Zanardi’s bad season got worse on lap 37 when the Italian was shown coasting to retirement. The reason? He had run out of fuel, missing the pit board signs urging him to come in.
The mood of the whole team was summed up by Frank Williams: “Disappointing performance. Nothing more to say. Collectively we must try better next time.”