It should have been a dream weekend for Damon Hill, winning his home Grand Prix, but as it turned out Villeneuve turned the tables on him, making amends for Canada and taking the win from under Hills nose.
Up until the lights went out it had been a perfect weekend for Hill, taking pole ahead of Villeneuve and Schumacher in, for once, a thrilling qualifying session. They lined up on Sunday: Hill, Villeneuve, Schumacher, Hakkinen, Alesi and Barrichello making up the top six, but when they got away Hill was left standing and was quickly down to fifth place as he was passed by Villeneuve, Alesi, Hakkinen and Schumacher in quick succession. Any thoughts of a repeat of the accident that ended Hill’s challenge the previous year were quickly dispensed with when Schumacher cruised to the pits on the third lap to retire – transmission failure was this weeks problem, stuck in sixth gear. Ferrari should be encouraged though as at least Schumacher completed three laps this race. Irvine faired little better completing the same number of laps as at the French Grand Prix, five, before coming in to retire with a loss of power.
While Schumacher was suffering, Villeneuve was revelling in his first position quickly building up a strong lead over the second place Benetton of Alesi. Between laps four and sixteen Villeneuve increased the gap from 5.21 seconds to 16.7. Meanwhile Hill was 25 seconds behind Villeneuve, stuck in fourth place behind Hakkinen, and despite a few looks was making no impression on the Finn.
On lap 23 Villeneuve was the first of the front runners to come in, for the first of his two stops, rejoining 4th behind Hill. Three laps later it was all over for Hill as he span out at the end of the main straight into Copse, a spin that was blamed on wheel bearing failure.
Alesi, who was to only stop once, looked like being the only real competition to Villeneuve, therefore the gap between them would be crucial at Villeneuves second stop. Alesi went in on lap 31 and rejoined 4th, the gap at this point was 29.2 seconds. By the time of Villeneuves second stop the gap was over 33 seconds and he was able to rejoin with a comfortable lead. Alesi wasn’t to last much longer, retiring with brake problems.
The order on lap 46 was Villeneuve, Berger, Hakkinen, Barrichello, Coulthard and Brundle, an order that would be maintained until the flag.
A comfortable gap of 19 seconds had been built up to Berger when Villeneuve took a superb second victory. However the sweet taste of victory soon turned sour when the Benetton team lodged an objection of the front end plates of Villeneuves car. An appeal is obviously the only way the Benetton team are likely to win a race this season. Thankfully the objection was thrown out and the gap in the driver’s championship has been closed to just fifteen points.
There is still a chance that Villeneuve will win the championship this year but there is no way Williams are going to surrender the constructors championship – not even if they don’t contest another race this season.
Roll on Germany.