Jacques Villeneuve made it past the first corner this week – but only just. A minor mishap at the beginning did not stop Villeneuve taking his first win of the season and projecting him to the top of the points table. It was a different story for Frentzen who had a lacklustre weekend finishing only 9th – one place below where he started.
Villeneuve was once again the class of the field in qualifying beating off a strong challenge from Michael Schumacher, who was fighting an obviously indifferent car. Frentzen was not showing anything like the form expected of him and with no apparent reason. He started the weekend well by being quickest in the acclimatisation sessions on Friday but when it came to the crunch could not pull anything out of the bag. He eventually qualified in a lowly eighth place – only one better than the man that he replaced – Damon Hill. It is too early to be speaking about replacements but unless Frentzen’s performance improves very soon he could be shown the door.
Villeneuve made a poor start, (something that cost Hill his job so Villeneuve should buck his ideas up too!), and ran wide forced off by Schumacher. Fortunately for Villeneuve problems further back meant that the race was immediately red flagged and Villeneuve was to get a second chance. This time the get away was clean but it was Schumacher not Villeneuve who led into the first corner. Despite this it was obvious that the situation was not going to stay that way for very long – Villeneuve was all over the gearbox for Schumacher and as they cross the line Villeneuve was ahead – by 0.001 seconds. Frentzen at this point was down in 13th after another poor start.
Villeneuve started to put some air between himself and the chasing pack. By lap 15 the gap to the second placed man, Berger, was a shade over 9 seconds and the gap to Frentzen, 11th, was 30.7 seconds. On lap 26 Villeneuve was in for the first of his two stops. He rejoined 2nd, ahead of Panis in the Prost who was stopping only once. Villeneuve was quickly back up to first as the others made their stops.
After the second stops matters began to change, Gerhard Berger was on a charge and began to eat into Villeneuve’s lead. By lap 63, some ten from the end, there was only some 5 seconds between the pair. However traffic effectively saw off the Benetton driver’s challenge and allowed Villeneuve to continue to the flag beating Berger by just over 4 seconds.
A good win for Villeneuve and useful points for the team in the constructors championship, but they will be no good on their own. Frentzen’s failure to score will count badly against the team in the long run and against him in the short term. He must do better next time…