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Race Report

Australian Grand Prix
Albert Park, Melbourne

Qualifying - Race - Analysis

Albert Park Circuit

Qualifying : Sunny and warm

Jacques Villeneuve stamped his mark on the field in a big way, setting an incredible time early in the session. Team-mate Heinz-Harald Frentzen's last lap effort was good enough for the front row, but was still 1.8s slower.
Defending Champion Damon Hill almost didn't qualify, having to manhandle the TWR Arrows on to the last row of the grid. His team-mate Pedro Diniz was given a special exception by the race organizers and allowed to start, even though his qualifying time was outside of 107% of pole. They reasoned that he had consistently run within 107% during free practice and he had mechanical difficulties during the qulifying hour. The two Lola cars however, were nowhere near 107% and the team was on its way home by Saturday afternoon.
The session was stopped briefly after Nicola Larini spun off and Gerhard Berger rolled to a halt. Other incidents included minor off's for Johnny Herbert and Ralf Schumacher, while Olivier Panis came very close to collecting a Minardi as he spun his Prost-Mugen on the last flying lap.

Micheal Schumacher
1996 Pole: Jacques Villeneuve (Williams) 1m 32.371s

The Starting Grid

Jacques Villeneuve Williams-Renault 1m 29.369s
Heinz-Harald Frentzen Williams-Renault 1m 31.123s
Michael Schumacher Ferrari 1m 31.472s
David Coulthard McLaren-Mercedes 1m 31.531s
Eddie Irvine Ferrari 1m 31.881s
Mika Hakkinen McLaren-Mercedes 1m 31.971s
Johnny Herbert Sauber-Petronas 1m 32.287s
Jean Alesi Benetton-Renault 1m 32.593s
Olivier Panis Prost-Mugen 1m 32.842s
Gerhard Berger Benetton-Renault 1m 32.870s
Rubens Barrichello Stewart-Ford 1m 33.075s
Ralf Schumacher Jordan-Peugeot 1m 33.130s
Nicola Larini Sauber-Petronas 1m 33.327s
Gianni Fisichella Jordan-Peugeot 1m 33.552s
Ukyo Katayama Minardi-Hart 1m 33.798s
Shinji Nakano Prost-Mugen 1m 33.989s
Jarno Trulli Minardi-Hart 1m 34.120s
Mika Salo Tyrrell-Ford 1m 34.229s
Jan Magnussen Stewart-Ford 1m 34.623s
Damon Hill TWR Arrows-Yamaha 1m 34.806s
Jos Verstappen Tyrrell-Ford 1m 34.943s
Pedro Diniz TWR Arrows-Yamaha 1m 35.972s

107 % rule time: 1m 35.625s

Did Not Qualify :

Vincenzo Sospiri Lola-Ford 1m 40.972s

Riccardo Rosset Lola-Ford 1m 42.086s

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Race : 58 laps, sunny & warm

1996 Winner: Damon Hill (Williams) 1h 32m 50.491s

The Result

David Coulthard McLaren-Mercedes 1h 30m 28.718s
Michael Schumacher Ferrari 1h 30m 48.764s
Mika Hakkinen McLaren-Mercedes 1h 30m 50.895s
Gerhard Berger Benetton-Renault 1h 30m 51.559s
Olivier Panis Prost-Mugen 1h 31m 29.026s
Nicola Larini Sauber-Petronas 1h 32m 04.758s
Shinji Nakano Prost-Mugen 2 laps down
Heinz-Harald Frentzen Williams-Renault 55 laps - brake failure
Jarno Trulli Minardi-Hart 3 laps down
Pedro Diniz TWR Arrows-Yamaha 4 laps down
Rubens Barrichello Stewart-Ford 49 laps - engine
Mika Salo Tyrrell-Ford 42 laps - engine
Jan Magnussen Stewart-Ford 36 laps - suspension
Jean Alesi Benetton-Renault 34 laps - out of fuel
Ukyo Katayama Minardi-Hart 32 laps - fuel injection failure
Gianni Fisichella Jordan-Peugeot 12 laps - spun off
Jos Verstappen Tyrrell-Ford 2 laps - spun off
Ralf Schumacher Jordan-Peugeot 1 lap - suspension arm failure
Jacques Villeneuve Williams-Renault 0 laps - accident
Johnny Herbert Sauber-Petronas 0 laps - accident
Eddie Irvine Ferrari 0 laps - accident
Damon Hill TWR Arrows-Yamaha 0 laps - throttle sensor

Fastest Lap

1997: Heinz-Harald Frentzen (Williams) 1m 30.585s
1996: Jacques Villeneuve (Williams) 1m 33.421s

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David Coulthard on podium

Analysis :
The Monday headlines should have read "Irvine Wins For McLaren"...
With a suicidal charge into the first corner, Eddie Irvine removed polesitter Jacques Villeneuve, Johnny Herbert and himself from the race. So it was Heinz-Harald Frentzen in his Williams debut, that set the early pace.

A botched pitstop dropped him behind David Coulthard and Michael Schumacher, but the Ferrari was short on fuel and Frentzen found himself in second. But all was not well with the Williams' brakes. For several laps a large cloud of carbon dust appeared when Frentzen braked hard, and with a few laps to go the front left caliper broke apart at the end of the front straight sending the German into the gravel trap. An unlucky finish after an impressive drive.

Meanwhile, up at the front Coulthard was calmly reeling off the laps, unaffected by Schumacher or Frentzen looming in his mirrors. He showed great poise as he gave McLaren their first win since the end of 1993, while teammate Mika Hakkinen added more points from his third place finish.

Notable, if unspectacular performances came from Jarno Trulli in his F1 debut, the Stewart's of Rubens Barichello and Jan Magnussen who looked reasonably competitive in their first ever outing, and Pedro Diniz who managed to keep the Arrows going to the finish.

Disappointments were many, not least of which was Damon Hill. After scraping into the race, he ran 1.5s faster in the morning warmup but a faulty throttle sensor left him stranded during the parade lap. Jos Verstappen made a dramatic exit while trying to pass the unusually wide Minardi of Ukyo Katayama, while Jean Alesi ran out of fuel (somewhat embarrassing since his crew had called him in 5 laps earlier!).
Both the Jordan-Peugeots fell by the wayside quickly, first Ralf Schumacher had gearbox problems, then Gianni Fisichella got it all wrong while passing Barrichello. Definitely not the start that Eddie Jordan was looking for.

All in all a good race to kick off the '97 season and a refreshing change at the top of the podium.
Welcome back McLaren

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Photo credits : AP/McLaren Intl