One race Schumacher had the luck but the last couple of races the luck definitely has been with Jacques Villeneuve. Yet another win – when third place looked the best he could hope for – and this time Schumacher scored no points…
There was the now customary battle for pole between Villeneuve and Hakkinen. For the first time the McLaren driver took the spoils and looked set for a win on his 29th birthday.
When the race got away there was first corner mayhem as the two Jordans collided and Ralf Schumacher was launched over the top of his brother Ferrari. Schumacher senior went across the gravel trap and continued on his way. It could have been all over there for the Williams duo too as they entered the first corner side-by-side and bumped wheels. Frentzen was the casualty as his knocked his ignition and was passed by the pack as he struggled to regain momentum. When the dust had settled Villeneuve was third, behind the McLarens and Frentzen was 12th. A couple of laps later Schumacher was riding the curbs and then making his way into the pits to retire. Villeneuve only had to score to move ahead of the Ferrari driver in the championship.
At the front the McLarens, Hakkinen in particular, were pulling strongly away and by the end of lap 10 the gap between the leading McLaren and Villeneuve was 10 seconds.
Frentzen was, once again, left with it all to do but started to make inroads as the laps passed. From 12th on lap 5, he was 11th on lap 10, 10th on lap 18, 9th on lap 20 and then 8th and 7th on lap 21. Once free of the slower traffic Frentzen began to set fastest laps, only giving an idea of what he could achieve if he could get his act together.
Hakkinen and Villeneuve made their first stops together, Villeneuve stationary for 2 seconds longer ensuring he came out behind the McLaren. Three laps later Frentzen was in rejoining 11th. The top six was now: Hakkinen, Coulthard, Villeneuve, Barrichello, Magnussen and Hill. The gap between Hakkinen and Villeneuve was a shade under 16 seconds. By lap 44 Frentzen had worked his way back up to 7th – but that was about to become 5th when, one-by-one, the two McLarens crawled to a halt with engine failure. Villeneuve took the lead and had a massive gap back to second placed man Alesi.
After the final stops Frentzen was in his now familiar third place which he kept to the flag – the fourth time in the last four races he has taken that spot.
Villeneuve now leads Schumacher by a comfortable margin and Williams must surely win the constructors championship for a record 9th time – mustn’t they?