With the large amount of points scored by the Stewart team in the last race the gap between them and Williams had narrowed considerably. Stewart were also helped by the fact that both their drivers have been scoring points – not something you could accuse Williams of. Therefore Williams came to Malaysia needing to score well to keep the Scots at bay.
Friday practice did not bode well as both Schumacher and Zanardi were well off the pace running in 18th and 20th respectively. Something needed to be done for Saturday. There was no marked improvement in the performance of Zanardi and Schumacher’s eventual 8th position on the grid owed more to the German dragging the car round than any general improvement in the car.
At the start Schumacher manager to maintain his position while Zanardi made his way up to 13th. However an attack from behind caused Zanardi to have to make an early pit-stop for new tyres.
Under pressure on lap 7 Schumacher made an error that saw him slide out of the race and into the Malaysian gravel trap at turn 7. This brought to an end a string of fine performances from the German. Zanardi battled on fighting off the Arrows and Minardis at the back of the field coming home in 10th place after a very uneventful race and having been lapped by the leaders.
However, the Stewarts of Herbert and Barrichello had scored well once again coming home 4th and 5th. This put the Scottish team ahead of Williams in the constructors championship for the first time this season. The position was made even worse when the Ferraris of Irvine and Michael Schumacher was disqualified and the Stewarts promoted to 2nd and 3rd.
“The car hasn’t been at its best for the whole weekend, I must say, as it was very difficult to drive. Also today I struggled with some problems both in this morning’s warm-up and in the race. I was quite anxious and became even more so when I could not prevent Alesi from passing me easily. So I pushed hard to prevent Villeneuve coming through but the car oversteered, I lost the back end and spun into the gravel.”
“I made a very good start, then Frentzen suddenly moved towards me to avoid a car and I had to lift off the throttle, losing my momentum. I went on and overtook a few cars and managed to keep out of an accident at the first turn but then somebody ran into my car from behind and I wasn’t able to go straight anymore. I went back to the pit thinking I had a puncture, but actually it was a rim that had been damaged. I drove an honourable race, even if the car was strongly oversteering. Then, with about 10 laps to go, I had an excursion off the track and some grass filled the radiators, which caused cooling problems. So I had to pit again to clear them. All I can say now is·we’ll see next time, knowing that it will be the last chance of this season.”
Patrick Head, Technical Director
“It has been a pretty disappointing day for us. With regards to the Constructor’s championship, obviously we are not in a very good position although we still have one more race to try to redeem the situation. We really didn’t get the car working very well although Ralf was on a one-stop race strategy and from the lap times and the way he was going, it certainly would have been a fifth or sixth order position. However, the “ifs and buts” of motor racing are a long story. All we know is that we are some way from the front and we have a lot of work to do.”