Qualifying : Sunny and dry
As has been the case all season, Jacques Villeneuve pulled that extra little something out of his Williams-Renault when he needed it most, putting him comfortably ahead of team-mate Heinz-Harald Frentzen.
Micheal Schumacher fought gamely but couldn't match the pace of the Williams, while Olivier Panis put in another strong showing to take the fourth spot. The Jordan's of Ralf Schumacher (who trimmed much of the grass around the circuit!) and Giancarlo Fisichella set the early pace but ended the session filling the third row.
While the McLaren's of David Coulthard and Mika Hakkinen had much easier time than in Argentina, they were no threat to take the pole. Also disappointing was Eddie Irvine, who could do no better than ninth after being fastest in the free session on Friday.
For the second race in a row the Benetton's of Gerhard Berger and Jean Alesi were in all sorts of trouble, being outpaced by the likes of Johnny Herbert's Sauber and Rubens Barrichello in the Stewart. Despite their great performances in testing, the team seems unable to get it right during a race weekend.
The Tyrrell's of Mika Salo and Jos Verstappen again sported the "X-Wings", but the they could not make up for the lack of horsepower the car suffers from. The new Ford V8 cannot arrive soon enough. While Minardi's Ukyo Katayama was the only driver who flirted with the 107% rule, before scraping in late in the session.
Once more the Williams team dominated qualifying, though this time Villeneuve had to really fight for it.
1996 Pole: Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) 1m 26.890s
The Starting Grid
|Jacques Villeneuve||Williams-Renault||1m 23.303s|
|Heinz-Harald Frentzen||Williams-Renault||1m 23.646s|
|Michael Schumacher||Ferrari||1m 23.955s|
|Olivier Panis||Prost-Mugen||1m 24.075s|
|Ralf Schumacher||Jordan-Peugeot||1m 24.081s|
|Gianni Fisichella||Jordan-Peugeot||1m 24.596s|
|Johnny Herbert||Sauber-Petronas||1m 24.723s|
|Mika Hakkinen||McLaren-Mercedes||1m 24.812s|
|Eddie Irvine||Ferrari||1m 24.861s|
|David Coulthard||McLaren-Mercedes||1m 25.077s|
|Gerhard Berger||Benetton-Renault||1m 25.371s|
|Nicola Larini||Sauber-Petronas||1m 25.544s|
|Rubens Barrichello||Stewart-Ford||1m 25.579s|
|Jean Alesi||Benetton-Renault||1m 25.729s|
|Damon Hill||TWR Arrows-Yamaha||1m 25.743s|
|Jan Magnussen||Stewart-Ford||1m 26.192s|
|Pedro Diniz||TWR Arrows-Yamaha||1m 26.253s|
|Shinji Nakano||Prost-Mugen||1m 26.712s|
|Mika Salo||Tyrrell-Ford||1m 26.852s|
|Jarno Trulli||Minardi-Hart||1m 26.960s|
|Jos Verstappen||Tyrrell-Ford||1m 27.428s|
|Ukyo Katayama||Minardi-Hart||1m 28.727s|
Race : 62 laps, dry and cold - damp track
1996 Winner: Damon Hill (Williams) 1h 35m 26.156s
|Heinz-Harald Frentzen||Williams-Renault||1h 31m 00.673s|
|Michael Schumacher||Ferrari||1h 31m 01.910s|
|Eddie Irvine||Ferrari||1h 32m 19.016s|
|Gianni Fisichella||Jordan-Peugeot||1h 32m 24.061s|
|Jean Alesi||Benetton-Renault||1 lap down|
|Mika Hakkinen||McLaren-Mercedes||1 lap down|
|Nicola Larini||Sauber-Petronas||1 lap down|
|Olivier Panis||Prost-Mugen||1 lap down|
|Mika Salo||Tyrrell-Ford||2 laps down|
|Jos Verstappen||Tyrrell-Ford||2 laps down|
|Ukyo Katayama||Minardi-Hart||3 laps down|
|Pedro Diniz||TWR Arrows-Yamaha||54 laps - mechanical|
|Jacques Villeneuve||Williams-Renault||41 laps - gearbox|
|David Coulthard||McLaren-Mercedes||39 laps - engine|
|Rubens Barrichello||Stewart-Ford||33 laps - mechanical|
|Johnny Herbert||Sauber-Petronas||19 laps - engine|
|Ralf Schumacher||Jordan-Peugeot||18 laps - mechanical|
|Shinji Nakano||Prost-Mugen||12 laps - collision|
|Damon Hill||TWR Arrows-Yamaha||12 laps - collision|
|Gerhard Berger||Benetton-Renault||5 laps - spun off|
|Jan Magnussen||Stewart-Ford||2 laps - spun off|
|Jarno Trulli||Minardi-Hart||0 laps - electronics|
1997 : Heinz-Harald
Frentzen (Williams) 1m 25.531s
Previous Record: Gerhard Berger (Ferrari) 1m 29.568s (1995)
If Frank Williams had the personality of Eddie Jordan, he would tell the press "I told you so!", as his much maligned number two, Heinz-Harald Frentzen took his first Grand Prix victory with a great drive at a cold Imola track, still wet from the morning rain.
Cautiously driving the final laps to conserve his brakes, he fended off countryman Michael Schumacher to win by a small margin. Completing a good day for the Tifosi, Eddie Irvine brought home the second Ferrari for third, consolidating his reputation even further.
Early leader and polesitter Jacques Villeneuve lost out in the first round of pitstops and then fell foul to electrical gremlins in the gearbox on lap 41, while mechanical failures also took out the Jordan of Ralf Schumacher and Johnny Herbert's Sauber while both were running in the points.
The race had its fair share of incidents, with Damon Hill converting his Arrows into a three-wheeler as he attempted to pass Shinji Nakano, an early visit to the gravel trap for Jan Magnussen's Stewart and most disappointing, Gerhard Berger exiting his 200th Grand Prix with a multiple spin during the opening laps.
The McLaren team went for a one-stop strategy which got them up into the points, but the Mercedes behind David Coulthard let go while he ran in fourth spot. Team-mate Mika Hakkinen had an eventful afternoon, going through the gravel attempting to lap the Tyrrell of Jos Verstappen. He dashed into the pit to change tyres, to find that Coulthard had just departed! The crew recovered very well and sent the Finn on his way just a fraction slower than they had serviced Coulthard. The incident put Hakkinen just behind Jean Alesi, who was having a very quiet race in the second Benetton and despite Hakkinen's efforts that was how they finished.
All the cars ran on soft compound tyres, but the highest placed Bridgestone runner was the Prost of Olivier Panis, who was a disappointing 8th. The only other finisher on the Japanese rubber was the Minardi of Ukyo Katayama, who brought up the rear all day.
After being punted off in Buenos Aires, Giancarlo Fisichella was thrilled to get his first championship points and add to Jordan's tally in their bid to keep the Peugeot engines for 1998. The young Italian used the expiring Mercedes of Coulthard to his advantage when he slipped by Eddie Irvine, but the Ferrari pit crew put their man back in front and he never relinquished the place.
So Frank Williams can smile (though no-one
will see him!) and Heinz-Harald Frentzen can relax, for
now he has shown the world he has what it takes to win. Whether
he can make a run at the driver's championship will be seen at
the next few races, it is now up to Villeneuve to respond and
Schumacher to step up, otherwise he may not be the number one
German driver this year.
Photo credits : AP