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Race Report

Canadian Grand Prix
Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Montreal

Qualifying - Race - Analysis

Montreal
2.717 miles

Qualifying : Sunny, slightly windy

Despite the best wishes of the enormous, partisan crowd, local hero Jacques Villeneuve fell short in qualifying as Micheal Schumacher stole away pole position on his very last lap.

In a superb display in the last minutes of the session, the German wrung the neck of his Ferrari. On his last, pole winning lap, he almost brushed the wall entering the start straight, which had already claimed David Coulthard on Friday and Alexander Wurz minutes earlier.

Despite redesigning his Benetton, Wurz did a creditable job standing in for Gerhard Berger given the fact he had never driven at the track.
The Jordan's were also running well, especially Giancarlo Fisichella, who seems to have the measure of team-mate Ralf Schumacher.

Rubens Barrichello gave the young Stewart team its best ever qualifying performance, while Jan Magnussen was well off the pace despite clocking over 200 mph on the run down to the final chicane !

There were several spins at the chicane plus Damon Hill lost it turning in to the first turn, ruining not only his qualifying session, but also Villeneuve's second flying lap.
Coulthard put his McLaren on pole for a few minutes, but then the Mercedes engine suddenly shut down as he started another flying lap. The trip back to the pits and the switch to the T-car probably cost him a couple of places on the grid.

So for the first time this season, a non-Williams took the pole at a Grand Prix (on a grid where ALL 22 drivers were under the 1996 pole time). Could this be a taste of things to come?

Michael Schumacher in action

1996 Pole: Damon Hill (Williams) 1m 21.059s

The Starting Grid

Michael Schumacher Ferrari 1m 18.095s
Jacques Villeneuve Williams-Renault 1m 18.108s
Rubens Barrichello Stewart-Ford 1m 18.388s
Heinz-Harald Frentzen Williams-Renault 1m 18.464s
David Coulthard McLaren-Mercedes 1m 18.466s
Gianni Fisichella Jordan-Peugeot 1m 18.750s
Ralf Schumacher Jordan-Peugeot 1m 18.869s
Jean Alesi Benetton-Renault 1m 18.899s
Mika Hakkinen McLaren-Mercedes 1m 18.916s
Olivier Panis Prost-Mugen 1m 19.034s
Alex Wurz Benetton-Renault 1m 19.286s
Eddie Irvine Ferrari 1m 19.503s
Johnny Herbert Sauber-Petronas 1m 19.622s
Jos Verstappen Tyrrell-Ford 1m 20.102s
Damon Hill TWR Arrows-Yamaha 1m 20.129s
Pedro Diniz TWR Arrows-Yamaha 1m 20.175s
Mika Salo Tyrrell-Ford 1m 20.336s
Gianni Morbidelli Sauber-Petronas 1m 20.357s
Shinji Nakano Prost-Mugen 1m 20.370s
Jarno Trulli Minardi-Hart 1m 20.380s
Jan Magnussen Stewart-Ford 1m 20.491s
Ukyo Katayama Minardi-Hart 1m 21.034s

107 % rule time: 1m 23.561s

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The start

Race : 56 laps (of 69 scheduled)
Warm & Sunny

1996 Winner: Damon Hill (Williams) 1h 36m 03.465s

The Result

Michael Schumacher Ferrari 1h 17m 40.616s
Jean Alesi Benetton-Renault 1h 17m 43.181s
Gianni Fisichella Jordan-Peugeot 1h 17m 43.835s
Heinz-Harald Frentzen Williams-Renault 1h 17m 44.384s
Johnny Herbert Sauber-Petronas 1h 17m 45.332s
Shinji Nakano Prost-Mugen 1h 18m 17.317s

David Coulthard McLaren-Mercedes 1h 18m 18.369s
Pedro DinizTWR Arrows-Yamaha 1 lap down
Damon HillTWR Arrows-Yamaha 1 lap down
Gianni Morbidelli Sauber-Petronas 1 lap down
Olivier Panis Prost-Mugen 52 laps - spun & hit barriers
Mika SaloTyrrell-Ford 47 laps - engine failure
Jos Verstappen Tyrrell-Ford 42 laps - gear change system failure
Alex Wurz Benetton-Renault 35 laps - transmission failure
Rubens Barrichello Stewart-Ford 33 laps - mechanical
Jarno Trulli Minardi-Hart 33 laps - engine air valve failure
Ralf Schumacher Jordan-Peugeot 14 laps - rear tyre burst & hit barrier
Ukyo Katayama Minardi-Hart 6 laps - accelerator stuck & hit barrier
Jacques Villeneuve Williams-Renault 1 lap - spun & hit barrier
Mika Hakkinen McLaren-Mercedes 1 lap - collision damage
Eddie Irvine Ferrari0 laps - spun off
Jan Magnussen Stewart-Ford 0 laps - spun off

Fastest Lap

1997 : David Coulthard (McLaren) 1m 19.635s
Previous Lap Record: Jacques Villeneuve (Williams) 1m 21.916s (1996)

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Alesi in action

Analysis :
What was shaping up to be an exciting climax ended in confusion behind a safety car following Olivier Panis's huge accident on the back of the circuit.
The win was credited to Michael Schumacher but there was no champagne or celebration on the podium as all thoughts were on Panis. He was taken to a local hospital and diagnosed as having double fractures of both legs.

At the start Schumacher easily beat local boy Jacques Villeneuve to the first corner, while the seemingly inevitable first corner melee claimed Mika Hakkinen (hit from behind by Panis), Jan Magnussen (again) and Eddie Irvine (once again). At a time when some drivers need to be showing their teams what they can really do, the Ulsterman seems to be shooting himself in the foot.

The end of the first lap was for a good section of the 100,000 plus crowd, the end of the race as Villeneuve overran the braking area at the last chicane and pirouetted into the wall at the beginning of the start- finish straight.

On lap 7 the safety car made its' first appearance after Ukyo Katayama's throttle stuck open and his Minardi hit the barriers quite hard.
Only Damon Hill chose to pit under yellow, with the Williams team making another tactical blunder and bringing in Heinz-Harald Frentzen after the field was back to racing. The German spent the rest of the afternoon clawing his way back through the standings and was never a factor.

Schumacher pitted after 28 laps, handing the lead to David Coulthard who was running well in the remaining McLaren, thanks in part to the new "F-specification" Mercedes engine. While most of the drivers were suffering from blistered tyres, both Goodyear and Bridgestone, Coulthard managed to make his first set last 40 laps.
He even managed to set the fastest race lap after 37 !

Jean Alesi had a relatively quiet but rewarding race, running in the points all day, as the huge amount of testing done by the Benetton team finally begins to pay off.
Johnny Herbert was once again competitive in the Sauber, though his team-mate Gianni Morbidelli is still hard pressed to match the pace of the Englishman.
Also pleasing was the form of the Tyrrell's with both Jos Verstappen and Mika Salo running in the top 10 until both fell foul of uncharacteristic mechanical failures.

Not long after their respective pitstops, both Michael Schumacher and David Coulthard found their second set of tyres blistering badly. The Ferrari stopped first, putting the Scot back in the lead, but things fell apart for the McLaren pilot when he came in 7 laps later.
A clutch problem stranded the West car in the pits as the mechanics worked frantically to restart the Mercedes engine. Meanwhile the safety car was back on the track...

Doctors tend to Panis

Panis lost control on a sweeping section of track, perhaps due to a mechanical failure or tyre problem and clipped the right hand wall. The young Frenchman tried to straighten the car, but succeeded in only pointing the nose directly at the tyre wall. The impact badly damaged the front of the Prost-Mugen as the car stopped in a matter of feet.
Although conscious and alert, he was in obvious pain as he was lifted from the car and as soon as it was recognized that medical treatment would be needed, the race was stopped.

This was good news for Jordan's Giancarlo Fisichella who had been running consistently all day, but heartbreaking for David Coulthard who had dropped to seventh after the long stop. He came away with nothing after being so close to victory.

With the somewhat lucky win, Michael Schumacher regained the lead over Jacques Villeneuve in the Drivers' Championship standings. The young Canadian cannot afford any more lapses in concentration if he is to stop the German from capturing his third World title.

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Somber Schumacher on podium

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Photo credits : AP / Mild Seven Tobacco