1998’s Canadian Grand Prix will go down as one of the most action packed in history. The race saw two starts and the safety car our no less than three times – once to allow mud to be cleared off the track! While the car was much improved there will be disappointment that the team still came away with no points especially when Villeneuve was as high as second at one point.
It was Heinz-Harald Frentzen who was the quickest of the pair until qualifying when Villeneuve seized the advantage and took sixth spot before Frentzen. While sixth and seventh were a long way off the poles of last year at least the cars were closer in time to the front running McLarens.
On race day things were looking good as Frentzen took the top spot in the warm-up session. As the lights went out for the first time there was carnage at the first corner, fortunately behind the Williams pair, out came the red flag and the race was stopped. Twenty Four minutes later the light went out and again there was a clean get away for the Williams pair but others were not so lucky. Jarno Trulli ended up with his car perched on top of Jean Alesi’s Sauber. This time there was no need for the red flags but the safety car came out while the wreckage was removed.
On lap 6 the safety car went in and almost immediately Rubens Barrichello passed Frentzen for 5th spot making the order: Coulthard, Schumacher, Fisichella, Villeneuve, Barrichello and Frentzen. A couple of laps later Villeneuve succumbed to Barrichello but his 4th place was short lived as the Stewart driver went wide and was re-passed, dropping back to 7th.
Lap 14 and the safety car was out again, this time to allow the marshals time to clear mud from the track which had been deposited by Pedro Diniz after an excursion onto the grass. The safety car was in after three laps but out again another two laps later. During which time Schumacher dived into the pits for a “splash-and-dash”. On his exit from the pit he crossed the path of Frentzen putting him out of the race.
While all this was happening Villeneuve had quietly worked his way up to second position behind Fisichella. When the safety car pulled off Villeneuve though he saw his chance and pulled out from behind the rear wing of the Benetton. Unfortunately Villeneuve had left his braking a little too late and skidded of the circuit. On rejoining he was hit from behind by a Minardi which took off the rear wing of the Williams. Though Villeneuve made it back to the pits and had a change of wing by the time he rejoined he was 5 laps down. At least the team would get some testing in…
On lap 34 Michael Schumacher was given a 10 second stop-and-go penalty for his move on Frentzen – Frank Williams had appealed to the stewards but it made no difference to the outcome – Frentzen was still out and Schumacher still won.
Villeneuve finished the race albeit 10th, last and six laps down. However je did have positive words to say about the revised car: “We don’t know enough about the new car yet. It is a lot better in the high speed, and this track has got first and second corners so we don’t see the benefit of it here. Usually the races this year have been going better than qualifying.”
The Williams revival will have to wait until France.