Villeneuve and Williams found themselves back on track in both the driver’s and constructor’s championships this weekend despite a lacklustre performance from both. There was, without any doubt, only one star of the weekend and that was the World Champion, Damon Hill, showing the sort of form that had seen him win this race twice before. Unfortunately for Hill, but fortunately for Villeneuve, Arrows still haven’t sorted out their reliability problems and Villeneuve was the person to gain.
Williams struggled once again in qualifying, though not to the same extent as they did in Germany. Schumacher, sporting his new light-weight Ferrari, was smooth and quickly on the pace to pole position. Villeneuve struggled to second and Frentzen to sixth.
Sunday would turn out to be a lucky day for Villeneuve. The first piece of good news happened before the start of the race when Schumacher crashed his race car in morning warm-up and had to resort to the spare – this would prove to be his undoing.
At the start Damon Hill did something he found difficult at Williams and made a blinding start while Villeneuve went backwards ending up fifth just in front of Frentzen. It was quickly obvious that Schumacher had some sort of a problem as he was holding up Hill in the Arrows, not renowned for it’s turn of speed. Hill muscled his way past the Ferrari on lap 10 while Villeneuve had moved up to fourth which quickly became third when Hakkinen went out. Villeneuve quickly dispensed with Schumacher on lap 14 and set about catching Hill, who was some eight seconds ahead. Frentzen had quietly made his way to third place when Schumacher pitted early and kept a watchful eye on Villeneuve, setting fastest lap in the process.
Villeneuve pitted on lap 23 but a sticking right front held him for 11 seconds, he rejoined 4th. Hill was in two laps later and rejoined 2nd behind Heinz-Harald Frentzen who also took another fastest lap. The German was looking good for once but it was short lived as on lap 28 something flew off his car and flames began to burst out of the back of the car. He made it through to the end of the lap and pitted when it was discovered that the missing part was the fuel nozzle making it impossible to put in anymore fuel into the car – Frentzen was out.
Hill was once again in the lead, some 12 seconds ahead of Villeneuve. But instead of the gap closing it extended and by the next stops on lap 51 the gap was 23 seconds. The gap continued to increase and Villeneuve was unable to respond initially because of the close attention he was receiving from Coulthard and then, once the McLaren had expired, because Hill was just too quick for the Williams. Then with one lap to go Hill slowed dramatically with a throttle problem. In a flash Villeneuve was past for a undeserved win.
Williams once again looked lack-lustre this weekend and it was only the misfortune of others that saved the day. The gap in both championships has closed to acceptable levels and could still be won but there will have to be much better performances than this. For once Frentzen could not be blamed for his problems and looked as if he might have won the race. To keep the championships the team is going to have to start getting both cars to the flag.