British Grand Prix 1999 – Race
Williams came to the British Grand Prix with a whole host of changes to the car including changes to the floor and the exit points of the exhausts. Both drivers reported that the changes had made significant improvements to the car and Ralf Schumacher went on to prove it too.
It was obvious from the Friday sessions that the car was much improved when Schumacher posted the second quickest time behind the McLaren of Mika Hakkinen. No-one expected the same sort of performance in qualifying but it did show that the changes were taking the car in the right direction.
In qualifying Schumacher put in a solid performance taking the 8th spot on the grid – the highest placed Supertec engined car. Alex Zanardi struggled more this weekend not being as close to his team-mate as he has been of late. The Italian could only manage 13th place.
The race was to prove difficult for Ralf in many ways with the first problem coming before the end of the first lap. At the start two cars had stalled on the grid, one of which belonged to Alex Zanardi, and this caused the red flags to come out stopping the race. However Michael Schumacher, in an effort to get past Eddie Irvine, didn’t notice the flags and went shooting of the circuit at an alarming pace, hitting the tyre wall and breaking his right leg.
It took nearly forty minutes to get Michael Schumacher from his car and back to the medical centre. When the race re-started Ralf Schumacher had to go out without knowing how his brother was. ‘I was really worried at first but then the team told me he had only broken his leg and kept me informed of his condition during the race,’ Schumacher said after the race. ‘It is difficult when you hear that your brother is in an accident but when I heard he was 80 per cent okay I knew the team were relying on me and I had to concentrate on the job I had to do.’
And concentrate he did. Ralf made a blinding start find a gap from nowhere and finishing the first lap in 5th one place ahead of Damon Hill. By lap 10 the order was Hakkinen, Irvine, Coulthard, Frentzen, Schumacher and Hill and Schumacher was fast catching his German compatriot. Alex Zanardi had not made such a fast start but had at least consolidated his position in 12th.
The first pit stop for Ralf Schumacher fell on lap 23 and he followed the yellow Jordan of Frentzen into the pit lane. Some slick work from the Williams pit crew ensured that the order was reversed when the pair left having taken on new tyres and fuel. The place inherited from Frentzen had by this time become third as Hakkinen has had all sorts of problems with wheels falling off his car.
After the first round of pit stops the order was Coulthard, Irvine, Schumacher, Frentzen, Barrichello and Hill. Zanardi was further down the road but up to 10th position. Both Williams drivers made their second stop unchallenged around lap 40 and now it was just a dash to the flag. However the last stint for Schumacher was less positive than the first two and he found himself being caught by the Jordan of Frentzen.
The last ten laps of the race where a worry for any Williams fan as Frentzen got progressively closer to the gearbox of the Williams. However there was no need to worry as Schumacher held off to see the flag in 3rd and his second podium finish of the year.
‘I owe this to the team,’ Schumacher said. ‘We were nowhere in the test last week and suddenly we have found some form with some impressive new aerodynamic parts that were fitted this weekend for the first time. The brilliant pit stops enabled me to keep my position in front of the two Jordans.’
Alex Zanardi finished down in 10th place happy to have finished but unhappy with his performance – a sentiment no doubt echoed by the management at Williams. The odds on Zanardi and Montoya swapping places at the end of the year must be shortening by the day.