This season Williams just don’t seem to be able to get it right. They take a step forward only for the others to do the same. This weekend seemed to be another of those occasions -starting with a lacklustre qualifying session, a mediocre race with a poor result.
Qualifying saw the outgoing Williams drivers, because by this point it was known that both Jacques Villeneuve and Heinz-Harald Frentzen would be with new teams in 1999, not making the top six. Frentzen was the highest placed in 7th with Villeneuve a couple of places further back. Evidence that Williams problem this season has been the chassis were highlighted when the Benetton of Fischicella (using the same engine) ended up on the second row.
A the start Villeneuve, in an attempt to make up places, went wide onto the grass. Meanwhile up-front Irvine got away first only to be passed by Schumacher on the last corner. At the end of the first lap both Frentzen and Villeneuve were exactly where they started, i.e. 7th and 9th respectively.
As the laps ticked away the gap between the front runners and the Williams pairing grew, by lap 4 the gaps was 9.2 seconds to Frentzen and 11.8 seconds to Villeneuve. Just 2 laps later the gaps had increased to 12.6 and 15.1 seconds. The order now was Michael Schumacher, Irvine, Hakkinen, Coulthard, Fisichella, Wurz, Frentzen, Ralf Schumacher, Villeneuve and Hill.
Lap 30 and Villeneuve was up to 4th – but it was a false dawn as the outgoing world champion had yet to pit. By this time Hakkinen had taken the lead from Schumacher, much to the disgust of the German fans. Villeneuve finally pitted on lap 31 and even being stationary for only 11.1 seconds still rejoined back in 9th position.
With Hakkinen looking secure up front the real battle was being waged for 4th place. Irvine, Frentzen, Fischcella and Wurz were running close together. Frentzen was all over the gearbox of Irvine’s Ferrari with the Benetton of Fischcella all over the Williams. It would be a case of who made a mistake first. On lap 37 Frentzen was the first to loose concentration and Fischcella didn’t need any invitation – he was past and Frentzen was down to 6th. However a couple of laps later the tables were turned and Frentzen retook Fischcella.
There was still another round of pit stops to come and the Williams duo came in on laps 43 (Frentzen, 8.6 seconds) and 44 (Villeneuve, 8.5 seconds). These, however, did not affect the order and the only excitement was generate when Frentzen passed Mika Salo down the pit straight and there was some question as to whether he would be penalised – he wasn’t.
The uneventful last few laps saw Villeneuve lapped by the leaders – not for the first time this season. The final result was Hakkinen, Schumacher, Coulthard, Irvine, Frentzen and Fischicella.
All that effort for two points, but at the end of the season they make all the difference between 3rd and 5th in the constructors championship.