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Race Report

Argentinian Grand Prix
Autodromo Oscar Galvez, Buenos Aires

Qualifying - Race - Analysis

Buenos Aires
2.65 miles

Qualifying : Sunny and warm

When qualifying rolls around, Jacques Villeneuve seems to be in class of his own. Despite the best efforts of team-mate Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Micheal Schumacher and an impressive Olivier Panis, his third straight pole of the season was never really in doubt.

The session was relatively trouble free, though the way Ralf Schumacher was throwing his Jordan around, one expected a shunt induced red flag at any moment.
After several mechanical glitches, which had both Rubens Barrichello and Jan Magnussen sharing the spare Stewart. The team was able to put the Brazilian back in his primary car half way through the session and he didn't disappoint, putting Jackie Stewart's car in among the big boys up on the third row.

Meanwhile, many of the supposed "big boys" were in trouble. Both Gerhard Berger and Jean Alesi were having a terrible time finding any grip in the Benetton's, while the McLaren's of Australian winner David Coulthard and Mika Hakkinen were having trouble outpacing the Minardi's!
Eddie Irvine got his setup all wrong and had trouble cracking the top 10 until late into the session and Damon Hill put in a reasonable, if unspectacular, midfield performance.

The team that gave us shark noses and six-wheelers came up with yet another novel interpretation of the FIA rule book, as the Tyrrell's sprouted "supplemental wings" which looked like mutant rear view mirrors!
Unfortunately, they did little to help Mika Salo or Jos Verstappen go any faster.

This marked the Williams teams' 100th pole position led only by Ferrari (108) and McLaren (106), though if Jacques keeps this up they will overtake both of them before the season is over!

Tyrrell - Salo

1996 Pole: Damon Hill (Williams) 1m 30.346s

The Starting Grid

Jacques Villeneuve Williams-Renault 1m 24.473s
Heinz-Harald Frentzen Williams-Renault 1m 25.271s
Olivier Panis Prost-Mugen 1m 25.491s
Michael Schumacher Ferrari 1m 25.773s
Rubens Barrichello Stewart-Ford 1m 25.942s
Ralf Schumacher Jordan-Peugeot 1m 26.218s
Eddie Irvine Ferrari 1m 26.327s
Johnny Herbert Sauber-Petronas 1m 26.564s
Gianni Fisichella Jordan-Peugeot 1m 26.619s
David Coulthard McLaren-Mercedes 1m 26.799s
Jean Alesi Benetton-Renault 1m 27.076s
Gerhard Berger Benetton-Renault 1m 27.259s
Damon Hill TWR Arrows-Yamaha 1m 27.281s
Nicola Larini Sauber-Petronas 1m 27.690s
Jan Magnussen Stewart-Ford 1m 28.035s
Jos Verstappen Tyrrell-Ford 1m 28.094s
Mika Hakkinen McLaren-Mercedes 1m 28.135s
Jarno Trulli Minardi-Hart 1m 28.160s
Mika Salo Tyrrell-Ford 1m 28.224s
Shinji Nakano Prost-Mugen 1m 28.366s
Ukyo Katayama Minardi-Hart 1m 28.413s
Pedro Diniz TWR Arrows-Yamaha 1m 28.969s

107 % rule time: 1m 30.386s

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The start

Race : 72 laps, sunny and dry

1996 Winner: Damon Hill (Williams) 1h 54m 55.322s

The Result

Jacques Villeneuve Williams-Renault 1h 52m 01.715s
Eddie Irvine Ferrari 1h 52m 02.979s
Ralf Schumacher Jordan-Peugeot 1h 52m 13.804s
Johnny Herbert Sauber-Petronas 1h 52m 30.804s
Mika Hakkinen McLaren-Mercedes 1h 52m 32.066s
Gerhard Berger Benetton-Renault 1h 52m 33.108s

Jean Alesi Benetton-Renault 1h 52m 48.074s
Mika Salo Tyrrell-Ford 1 lap down
Jarno Trulli Minardi-Hart 1 lap down
Jan Magnussen Stewart-Ford 66 laps - engine failure
Nicola Larini Sauber-Petronas 63 laps - electronics
Pedro Diniz TWR Arrows-Yamaha 50 laps - engine failure
Shinji Nakano Prost-Mugen 49 laps - mechanical
Jos Verstappen Tyrrell-Ford 43 laps - fuel pressure
Ukyo Katayama Minardi-Hart 37 laps - spun off
Damon Hill TWR Arrows-Yamaha 33 laps - engine
Gianni Fisichella Jordan-Peugeot 24 laps - collision
Rubens Barrichello Stewart-Ford 24 laps - mechanical
Olivier Panis Prost-Mugen 18 laps - engine failure
Heinz-Harald Frentzen Williams-Renault 5 laps - driveshaft
David Coulthard McLaren-Mercedes 0 laps - collision damage
Michael Schumacher Ferrari 0 laps - collision damage

Fastest Lap

1997 : Gerhard Berger (Benetton) 1m 28.000s
Previous Record: Jean Alesi (Ferrari) 1m 29.413s (1995)

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JV leads HHF

Analysis :
Despite a bout of stomach flu, the wrong choice of tyres and a charging Eddie Irvine, it looks like Jacques Villeneuve is on a roll. He won his second race in a row but it didn't come easily.

The "first corner carnage" that we have become accustomed to this season continued as Michael Schumacher clipped the fast starting Rubens Barrichello, spinning him around in front of the Germans' Ferrari. Behind them Ralf Schumacher had to take evasive action and collided with David Coulthard, tearing the front wheel off of the McLaren.
Ralf escaped unscathed, Barrichello limped around to the pits for a new nose cone, while Michael sprinted back for his spare car, but to Ferrari's dismay the red flags never appeared.

The safety car led the field for three laps while the wrecks are removed and Villeneuve made the most of his IndyCar experience by charging off at the rolling start. As his tyres warmed however, he and the team realized that the choice of the soft compound was all wrong. Heinz-Harald Frentzen matched his pace for a few laps, but a gearbox coupling broke after just a few laps, leaving the German without the chance of the confidence boosting result he sorely needs. Next to chase and fail was Olivier Panis, who is beginning to shine under the tutelage of Alain Prost. This time however, the Mugen-Honda powerplant let him down just as he was beginning to pressure Villeneuve.

The "Bonehead Of The Race Award" undoubtedly goes to Ralf Schumacher who managed to push his own team-mate, Giancarlo Fisichella into the the gravel trap on lap 24.
The young German's third place finish only partially made up for this graphic display of bad judgement and racing immaturity.

There seemed to be more than the usual amount of engine failures in this Grand Prix, with both Damon Hill and Pedro Diniz losing the Yamaha's behind them, while a dead Ford stopped Jan Magnussen's promising run ended just six laps from home.
Jos Verstappen too, was having a much better race until the fuel pressure dropped on his Tyrrell, starving his engine.

Behind the podium places (and unseen by the world TV audience) was a great fight between Johnny Herbert, Mika Hakkinen and Gerhard Berger which ended with all three finishing within 1.5 seconds!

On a day that Eddie Irvine may have salvaged his reputation, Jacques Villeneuve showed the world why he is odds on favorite to take the driver's crown.
But if the Williams team want the prestigous constructor's title as well, they are going to need both men on the podium and soon.

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Photo credits : AP