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Race Report

Spanish Grand Prix
Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona

Qualifying - Race - Analysis

Barcelona
2.94 miles

Qualifying : Cloudy but dry

On a dull overcast afternoon, the rain threatened but never came and Jacques Villeneuve once again came out on top.
After a flurry of activity in the opening minutes of the hour long session, most cars returned to the pits to make adjustments. The track surface is notoriously abrasive and in this round of the tyre war it was Goodyear with the better qualifying rubber. The Bridgestone runners struggled mightily, with Olivier Panis in 12th spot the highest on the grid.

Heinz-Harald Frentzen set the early pace, but was unable to improve as the session drew to a close, while the Benetton's were finally able to reproduce their testing form, with Jean Alesi outpacing teammate Gerhard Berger and taking 4th on the grid.
The McLaren's were also in the hunt, with the Mercedes powerplant giving the West cars' the fastest speed down the main straight though they too were not quite on par with the Williams'. David Coulthard ended the session third fastest and Mika Hakkinen in fifth.

In the post race interviews at Monaco Micheal Schumacher said he was not looking forward to the Barcelona race and he was proved right as Ferrari struggled to get the correct aerodynamic balance. Things were not helped when Schumacher's 046/2 engine exploded fifteen minutes into qualifying. Although he was able to switch to the back-up car, he could do no better than 7th - his worst ever qualifying performance for Ferrari.
Even further back on the grid was teammate Eddie Irvine, who was out-qualified by the Ferrari powered Sauber of Johnny Herbert. The Swiss team's new recruit, Ferrari test driver Gianni Morbidelli returned to F1 with a bang during Friday's free practice, planting his Sauber into the wall opposite the pit exit - he simply got on the gas too quickly as he joined the track.
After that embarrasment he qualified a solid 13th, just under a second slower than his team leader.

The Jordan's were also off the pace with Giancarlo Fisichella and Ralf Schumacher ending up nearly two seconds off of pole, while Tyrrell's Mika Salo put the new ED5 engine to good use, with a very impressive 14th place.
The lack of grip from the Bridgestone rubber meant that Rubens Barrichello was unable to do any better than 17th in his Stewart and Damon Hill could manage only 15th in the underpowered TWR Arrows.

So it was a Williams on pole once again, giving them 6 for 6 so far this year and here in Spain there was nothing to show that it may not remain that way all year.

Schumacher locks up

1996 Pole: Damon Hill (Williams) 1m 20.650s

The Starting Grid

Jacques Villeneuve Williams-Renault 1m 16.525s
Heinz-Harald Frentzen Williams-Renault 1m 16.791s
David Coulthard McLaren-Mercedes 1m 17.521s
Jean Alesi Benetton-Renault 1m 17.717s
Mika Hakkinen McLaren-Mercedes 1m 17.737s
Gerhard Berger Benetton-Renault 1m 18.041s
Michael Schumacher Ferrari 1m 18.313s
Gianni Fisichella Jordan-Peugeot 1m 18.385s
Ralf Schumacher Jordan-Peugeot 1m 18.423s
Johnny Herbert Sauber-Petronas 1m 18.494s
Eddie Irvine Ferrari 1m 18.873s
Olivier Panis Prost-Mugen 1m 19.157s
Gianni Morbidelli Sauber-Petronas 1m 19.323s
Mika Salo Tyrrell-Ford 1m 20.079s
Damon Hill TWR Arrows-Yamaha 1m 20.089s
Shinji Nakano Prost-Mugen 1m 20.103s
Rubens Barrichello Stewart-Ford 1m 20.255s
Jarno Trulli Minardi-Hart 1m 20.452s
Jos Verstappen Tyrrell-Ford 1m 20.582s
Ukyo Katayama Minardi-Hart 1m 20.672s
Pedro Diniz TWR Arrows-Yamaha 1m 21.029s
Jan Magnussen Stewart-Ford 1m 21.060s

107 % rule time: 1m 21.881s

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First corner

Race : 64 laps
Cloudy, windy

1996 Winner: Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) 1h 59m 49.307s

The Result

Jacques Villeneuve Williams-Renault 1h 30m 35.890s
Olivier Panis Prost-Mugen 1h 30m 41.694s
Jean Alesi Benetton-Renault 1h 30m 48.424s
Michael Schumacher Ferrari 1h 30m 53.869s
Johnny Herbert Sauber-Petronas 1h 31m 03.876s
David Coulthard McLaren-Mercedes 1h 31m 05.634s

Mika Hakkinen McLaren-Mercedes 1h 31m 24.675s
Heinz-Harald Frentzen Williams-Renault 1h 31m 40.029s
Gianni Fisichella Jordan-Peugeot 1h 31m 40.657s
Gerhard Berger Benetton-Renault 1h 31m 41.560s
Jos Verstappen Tyrrell-Ford 1 lap down
Eddie Irvine Ferrari1 lap down
Jan Magnussen Stewart-Ford 1 lap down
Gianni Morbidelli Sauber-Petronas 2 laps down
Jarno Trulli Minardi-Hart 2 laps down
Pedro DinizTWR Arrows-Yamaha 53 laps - engine failure
Ralf Schumacher Jordan-Peugeot 50 laps - broken oil line
Rubens Barrichello Stewart-Ford 37 laps - mechanical
Mika SaloTyrrell-Ford 35 laps - rear tyre burst & spun
Shinji Nakano Prost-Mugen 34 laps - gearbox
Damon HillTWR Arrows-Yamaha 18 laps - engine failure
Ukyo Katayama Minardi-Hart 11 laps - hydraulic pump failure

Fastest Lap

1997 : Giancarlo Fisichella (Jordan) 1m 22.242s
Previous Lap Record: Damon Hill (Williams) 1m 24.920s (1995)

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Hill retires again

Analysis :
After the enormous miscue by the team in Monaco, Williams came to Spain on a mission - anything less than a win would be a failure.
Jacques Villeneuve did not let Frank down, resisting a challenge from McLaren's David Coulthard at the first corner and then powering away to his third victory of the season.

The Canadian only relinquished the lead during the first round of pitstops and managed to go the entire race on two stops, while most of the field had to make three as the Catalunya circuit destroyed tyres in short order. The Bridgestone race tyres proved superior to the Goodyears and in the closing laps, Olivier Panis was catching Villeneuve at over a second a lap, but there simply weren't enough laps left and the Frenchman had to be content with second.

In his first competitive finish of the year, Jean Alesi brought the Benetton-Renault home in third, capping a good weekend for the team overall and perhaps marking a change in fortune for the team.
After holding up a good number of cars early on, Michael Schumacher had a pretty quiet race and was pleased to pick up some more Championship points.

In the final laps, as Coulthard struggled with worn and blistered tyres, Johnny Herbert was able to slip by the McLaren to take fifth for Sauber, while the likes of Mika Hakkinen, Gerhard Berger and in a very disappointing performance, Heinz-Harald Frentzen finished on the lead lap, they were well out of contention - mainly due to the lack of grip and durability from their tyres.

Although out of the points, Giancarlo Fisichella ran well during the later stages and was rewarded with the fastest lap of the race. Meanwhile teammate Ralf Schumacher's Peugeot broke an oil line which quickly led to a blown engine.
While few in number, the other retirements were mainly engine related with the Yamaha's behind both Pedro Diniz and Damon Hill failing once again.

The most spectacular exit was that of Mika Salo. The Tyrrell crew waited one lap too long to change the Finn's tyres and the left rear exploded under braking at the end of the main straight. Jarno Trulli lost the nose of his Minardi while trying to avoid the spinning Salo but was able to continue after an extended pit stop.

With the emphatic win, Jacques Villeneuve returned to the top of the Championship standings. The lackluster performance of Frentzen however, left Ferrari atop the Constructors table, and that will be enough of an incentive for Villeneuve and the team to make Canada a repeat performance of Barcelona.

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Villeneuve on the podium

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Photo credits : AP / McLaren Int'l / Reuters