Today Williams not only scored their fourth 1-2 of the season, Villeneuve taking his third win, but also finally put the constructors championship beyond the reach of any challengers. Villeneuve also cut the gap between himself and Hill to 17 points in the drivers championship, which must now go to one of the Williams drivers.
Qualifying had seen pole switch between Schumacher, Villeneuve and Hill before finally settling with Schumacher. Hill took the second spot but must have regretted not taking pole (or third for that matter!) when he realised just how dusty it was off line. This might have contributed to Hill’s bad start but they have been so bad for the last few races that a bad start is almost expected.
As Hill has going backwards Villeneuve and Alesi were making up places. As the dust settled the order was Schumacher, Villeneuve, Alesi, Hill, Irvine and Berger. Alesi was holding up Hill as a gap quickly formed between the third place Alesi and the leading pair. By lap 16, just before the first round of pits stops, Schumacher and Villeneuve were separated by just 0.41 seconds but the gap to Alesi was 18.07 seconds.
Schumacher was the first to pit, rejoining 5th. Villeneuve meanwhile, freed of the Ferrari, posted the fastest lap before pitting himself, rejoining third. The remaining front runners came in over the following laps. Alesi and lap 22, Berger lap 24, and Hill and Irvine a lap later. After the main stops the order was Villeneuve, Schumacher, Hakkinen (who was yet to stop), Alesi, Hill and Berger. The gaps initially were 7.577 seconds between Villeneuve and Schumacher and 25.4 seconds to Hill. The gaps quickly increased. On lap 31 Hill dispensed with Alesi, when the latter ran wide on the first corner, and then started to put the hammer down, posting fastest laps on lap 32, 34, 35 and 36.
The second of the three stops were taken around lap 40 and after all had been completed the order was as before: Villeneuve followed by Schumacher (14.3 seconds behind), Hill (26.02), Alesi (28.042), Berger (34.86) and Hakkinen (47.32).
Whether Schumacher had a problem or Hill had a point to prove the gap between them came rapidly down, from 9.49 seconds on lap 45 to 0.786 seconds on lap 51. Hill wasn’t given a chance to pass the German as he went into the pits. for the short time they were together you couldn’t help but remember previous occasions when they had been nose to tail like this and had both ended up in the gravel trap.
There was drama during Villeneuves third and final pit stop on lap 58 when his right real wheel refused to go back on extending the stop time to a massive 14.8 seconds. When he rejoined it was second behind Hill It was to be another five laps before Hill pitted by which time the gap was just a shade over 15 seconds, not enough to get back out ahead of Villeneuve. A good stop ensured that Hill was out into second place, only 6.5 seconds behind, the chase was on! Hill took out a second a lap from Villeneuves lead, but you knew that it was a hopeless task – even if he caught Villeneuve, he wouldn’t be able to pass. And so proved to be the case, on lap 70 they were together and stayed that way to the flag. Behind they were dropping like flies Berger going out on lap 65 and Schumacher on lap 71.
The gap between Villeneuve and Hill was 0.7 seconds but to Alesi was one minute 24 seconds, then came Hakkinen, Panis and Barrichello, all lapped.
Another dominant display by Williams one championship sealed and the other to be fought over by the team-mates. Hill will win the championship but next year, if he is with Williams, will have a much greater fight on his hands from Villeneuve from the start.