Canadian GP 1996

JUNE 16, 1996

Canadian GP, 1996

Canadian Club - Williams only

THE Canadian Grand Prix might not have been great television but it provided an interesting strategic battle between Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve. Michael Schumacher might have been a factor - probably not - but he never had the chance. His car failed to fire up on the dummy grid and he would have to start from the back of the pack. The Williams boys each knew the strategy of the other...

Montreal in June is one of Grand Prix racing's favorite places these days. It is the beginning of summer and the girls in Montreal are wearing summer dresses. This may not seem very exciting, but after an English winter with the girls trussed up in duffle coats, a little flesh is much appreciated by the average drooling F1 playboy. There is flesh aplenty in Montreal, notably in the shady clubs where some F1 folk go in search of titillation and other dubious practices with long names.

Montreal is so much more than that as well, a wonderful, lively, cosmopolitan city where everyone speaks two languages at the same time. In fact there are three languages: English, French and the French-Canadian patois, which is supposed to be French but is often so incomprehensible that you hear Ligier mechanics telling the Quebecois to speak in English because they cannot understand them in French...

Montreal is the second largest city in Canada and the center of French-Canadian culture. They are a proud bunch - most of them want to be independent of Canada - and so the chance to cheer a French-Canadian international sporting figure is not to be missed. In fact the chance to cheer any internationally famous French-Canadian is pretty rare. Nowadays they have the singer Celine Dion and Jacques Villeneuve, and they are not missing the chance to cheer both. It is a minor point that Jacques is actually more of a European than a Canadian. He left Canada when he was seven and lived in Monaco and then at boarding school in Switzerland...

This has not stopped "Jacque-o-mania" sweeping Montreal as the French-Canadians buy anything with Jacques Villeneuve written on it. With such huge support one would think that Jacques would get an extra push from what they call "people power".

Jacques, however, took a degree course in downplaying all things emotional. "I don't agree with the theory about gaining time because the crowd is behind you," he said. "I believe you should give your best wherever you are and if it gives you a second a lap just because the crowd is there that means you aren't giving your best at the 15 other races."

An interesting theory, although by the time qualifying was over it looked as though Jacques had closed the normal gap between himself and Damon Hill for reasons which were not entirely obvious. The Williams was the dominant car, as one now expects at every race despite the fact that Montreal has now become a circuit where aerodynamic efficiency means very little. You brake hard, you accelerate hard, you crash up and down through the gearbox, but you don't have to teeter on the brink of any fast corners. Reliability is important.

Benetton had been 1-2 in the PR session on Frivolous Friday, perhaps trying to suggest that a new undertray made the cars a lot better than of late. On Serious Saturday, however, the Wild Seven boys faded noisily into the oblivion of the mid-grid and demolished bits of scenery as they both crashed out and caused two red flag incidents, which meant that proceedings had to be held up while the track was cleared of any debris. Benetton had a major brake problem. Saturday morning saw Jacques fastest and there were a lot of excited French-Canadians waving their secessionist blue and white flags in expectation of "une pole position" for the local boy.

For most of the session that looked like a serious possibility. On his first run Jacques went on top. It would be 10 minutes before Damon Hill emerged. He was busy in the back of the Williams garage watching the Scotland-England football match which was being beamed into the Williams pit from the team's high-technology control room in England.

Damon then kitted himself up, climbed into his car and went to work. He could not beat Jacques's time. Michael Schumacher tried, but missed by only 0.002sec. Then Jean Alesi tried to beat them both and crashed. Out came the first red flag of the session. While everything was stopped the sun came out and when the session restarted the track was a lot slower. The clouds, however, were moving and so there was a chance that a cloud might blot out the sun, make the track a little cooler, enable the tires to work more efficiently and suddenly a driver might be able to get a quick time. It was a case of predicting the cloud movement. Damon got it right with just three minutes to go. Jacques had beaten his own best time with five minutes to go, a great effort because he did only one warm-up lap while the others were doing two.

"We went out there to get pole position," explained Jacques, presumably using the "we" form because he had a pet hamster in his pocket, as no other companion was visible in the cockpit with him. "We had a good strong car. We made a few tweaks for that last run and the car felt really comfortable. I just didn't push hard enough in a few braking areas. The car was quicker than the lap time we got."

A moment or two later Hill judged the clouds perfectly and crossed the line 0.020s ahead of Villeneuve to grab pole. The French-Canadians went quiet. Then the session ended 50secs early as Berger shunted his Benetton and caused another red flag.

"It was a bit of a cliffhanger," said Hill, "I really had to get my head down to beat Jacques's time. He was very fast on his first run so I had to do a bit of thinking."

Schumacher never got a clear second run and felt he could have done better than third - just 0.119s from pole position. This was close and while the nature of the track is one which has the tendency to squeeze the grid closer together it was still perhaps an indication of the further progress made by Ferrari in recent testing. There was much hype about a new raised-nose, but Schumacher dismissed this as not being really significant. He had tested it at Imola - it had been inconclusive - so he ran it again at another test at Mugello after which it was decided that it could be used in Canada.

"Everyone is talking about this nose as some sort of wonder," said Michael. "Maybe it is worth a tenth and a bit more ease of driving."

In fact it seemed to suit Eddie Irvine more than it did Schumacher as Eddie was fifth fastest, split from his team leader by Jean Alesi's Benetton.

Jean headed the usual midfield group of people about half a second off pole position but grouped closely together. This time there were eight of them within a second. Benetton led the way thanks to Alesi's fourth grid slot and Berger's seventh. Both were disappointed because they felt that the cars were going well up to that point. There was, however, an obvious problem, with the cars very unstable in the slippery and bumpy braking areas.

Alesi's accident was to some extent self-inflicted because he threw the car into a spin when the brakes failed. The car hit the barriers at the rear in a swiping blow and then the car went sideways into a tire wall, giving Jean a big whack on the head with a tire. Berger's crash was caused when he hooked a rear wheel over a curb. He too hit a tire wall with a hefty blow side-on.

Sixth on the grid behind Alesi and Irvine was Mika Hakkinen's McLaren, which was pretty much what one would have expected, given the performance of the car at Imola - a track which is now quite similar in layout to Montreal. The lack of fast corners is a bonus for McLaren, which does not have the most aerodynamically-efficient car ever built. David Coulthard was a disappointed 10th on the grid having had a spin at the hairpin on his last run and then being stopped because of Berger's accident with just 50secs to go before the chequered flag. The session was not restarted and so David had to make do.

Eighth and ninth on the grid were the two Jordan-Peugeots, Martin Brundle doing much better than normal in qualifying for what would be his 150th Grand Prix. The cynics in the paddock suggested that this might be related to the fact that there are strong rumors that his drive is under threat at Jordan because of a lack of results, but the fact is that Martin had a new race engineer and may have made some progress in understanding and adapting the car. Both Rubens Barrichello and Brundle reckoned that their cars would be a great deal stronger in racing trim. Jordan, it should be remembered, has always done well at Montreal. The team scored its first points here in 1991 and last year finished second and third - the team's best result to date.

Ligier was another team which felt that its cars would be stronger in racing than in qualifying trim. Mugen Honda had the latest B-specification engines and this showed impressive speed. The team's main problem was brakes and this made qualifying difficult, although on Saturday night the team was confident that a solution had been found. Olivier Panis was 11th on the grid and Pedro Diniz 18th.

Sauber was slightly worse off than normal - thanks to a faster Brundle - with Heinz-Harald Frentzen 12th and Johnny Herbert 15th. There were handling and brake problems for the team, although the latest version of the Ford V10 engine appeared to be a step forward - albeit not an earth-shattering one.

Next up, 13th on the grid, was the first of the Arrows cars with Jos Verstappen at the wheel. The Dutchman reckoned he had extracted everything there was from the car and hoped that in racing trim the car would be better. Ricardo Rosset had some engine troubles and was 21st on the grid.

Tyrrell was in the doldrums this weekend with Mika Salo and Ukyo Katayama having more engine problems which meant that the talented Finn had to make do with 14th on the grid. The problems had started on Friday and the team was scrambling to catch up thereafter. Ukyo Katayama was 17th.

The Minardi team looked quite good with Giancarlo Fisichella 16th on the grid and Pedro Lamy 19th. Pedro was not helped by the fact that he blew an engine on Saturday morning which made setting up his car rather difficult. Fisichella said that the Minardi is a good chassis and is only lacking a good engine. It is a traditional Minardi story these days.

This left Forti at the back as usual, although Rosset's misfortunes and progress by the Forti engineers meant that Luca Badoer was actually able to outqualify the Arrows driver. Andrea Montermini was in the race but last on the grid.

COME Sunday the race to the first corner was going to be vital - particularly for Hill. He had the lighter fuel load and intended to use the early laps to make a break from Villeneuve. At the green light Villeneuve got away slightly better but Hill came off the line quickly as well and carved across to take the line. Jacques had a look at the outside in the first corner but there was no way around and so he dropped behind, making sure that Alesi did not sneak ahead as he jockeyed for position.

"It was very important to get into the first corner ahead," explained Damon later. "I knew Jacques was on a one-stop strategy and I had to get ahead. Jacques knew too."

Damon's advantage would be nearly 11 seconds when he pitted on lap 28. This allowed Jacques to take the lead for eight laps - during which the gap stayed pretty much the same at around seven seconds - but then he had to pit. Inevitably he had to take more fuel on board and so the stop was longer and the car heavier. When Jacques was back on the track he found himself 20 secs behind Hill and that would edge out to half a minute by the time Damon stopped for his last stop.

"What was critical was to come out ahead of him at the last stop," explained Damon. "I didn't get the advantage I thought I would in the race. The track was very quick - not far off qualifying pace and there was not too much trouble with backmarkers. It was still important not to make any errors because I knew I had a very slender margin. Jacques was pushing all the way. It was a great race."

When he re-emerged from the pit Hill had an 11sec advantage and he let this shrink a few tenths in the final laps as Villeneuve put on a show for the thousands of flag-waving fans.

"I was really pushing to make sure Damon had to push as well," said Jacques, who set the fastest lap of the race on lap 67 of 69. "It was important to get as close as possible. It was encouraging - but too bad we were not closer to Damon. I think both strategies were good. It depended on the start, and on the backmarkers. I lost quite a bit of time with Johnny Herbert so it would have been a bit closer."

Whatever the case it turned out to be a dramatically dominant performance by the Williams team and one which gives it a 50-point advantage in the Constructors' World Championship. It gives Hill a 21-point lead in the Drivers' title and pulls Villeneuve clear of Schumacher in second place.

It would be another great day for Renault, with Jean Alesi completing a Renault 1-2-3 by bringing his Benetton home third, albeit nearly a minute behind Hill at the finish. In fact Jean had a rather dull race, going into the first corner third and ending the event in that position. He went for a single stop race and as McLaren's David Coulthard did a particularly long first stint, it meant that for a few laps the Scotsman ran third before he had to pit. This put Jean back to third and there he stayed. His only real excitement all afternoon came in the early laps when Gerhard Berger worked his way up to challenge briefly in the mid-race. The Austrian was also running a one-stop strategy and would have stayed fourth had he not spun out on lap 43 all on his own at the same place he went off in qualifying. On this occasion he did not make contact with anything but the car did not restart and caused a few heart flutters for some of the other drivers when they arrived at high-speed to find an immobile Benetton sitting in the middle of the road facing the wrong way.

"It was my mistake," he said. "I was trying to catch up with Jean and I braked too late, lost the car and it spun. It is disappointing."

Coulthard would end up fourth which was a good drive in the circumstances, considering that he had started 10th on the grid. The drive, however, bore no relation to that described in the McLaren post-race press release.

This tissue of half-truths is worth repeating in detail - and then demolishing as inaccurate and misleading.

The team, so the release said, "used a one-stop strategy which resulted in David and Mika initially losing ground to the cars which had opted for a two-stop race and were therefore carrying less fuel. The strategy eventually paid off with David and Mika being able to overtake them during their stops and to produce competitive performances in the latter part of the race".

It must have been a different race to the one we all watched. There were five drivers who chose two-stop races: Damon Hill, Martin Brundle, Rubens Barrichello, Olivier Panis and Mika Salo.

No McLaren even saw Damon Hill unless it was being lapped. He is not one of the mythical cars which were overtaken. Nor was Barrichello, he had retired. Salo and Panis were behind the McLarens. This leaves Brundle as the only possible candidate. He did drop behind Coulthard and Hakkinen at his first stop but they then fell behind him when they pitted at half distance. When Martin stopped again, he was just behind Coulthard but ahead of Hakkinen. He only dropped behind the Finn when he had to pit after colliding with Lamy.

The truth of McLaren's race was as follows: David Coulthard started 10th, moving to ninth when Eddie Irvine retired on the second lap with a suspension failure on his Ferrari. David then ran behind Heinz-Harald Frentzen until lap 20 when the German disappeared with a gearbox failure. DC was then eighth behind his team mate. They would gain a place apiece when Barrichello ran into clutch trouble and another when Brundle stopped for fuel and tires. During the pit stop sequence David rose to third before his stop. He rejoined sixth but immediately made up a place thanks to the demise of Berger. In short he overtook no-one all day and finished over a minute behind Hill - which in a 69 laps race is about a second a lap. Still, as they always say in motor racing, to finish fourth first one must force the car to finish...

David would not have finished fourth if Hakkinen had not screwed up. On lap 36, while running just ahead of DC, he spun while trying to pass the Minardi of Giancarlo Fisichella. Mika dived down the inside, got onto the slippery stuff and spun. He rejoined, pitted on schedule a lap later and then rose up the order as those ahead fell by the wayside. He was a lap behind Hill.

A very different story...

Brundle finished his 150th Grand Prix in sixth place in the Jordan. He chose a two-race strategy and rejoined in fifth place after his second stop. Unfortunately he then managed to collide with Pedro Lamy, removing a front wing, and had to pit again. It dropped him behind Hakkinen.

"The car was perfect thoughout the race," said Martin. "It was a pity about Lamy. We went into the corner side by side and I really thought he would give it to me because I was obviously the quicker car. He seemed to slow and went a bit wide and I automatically assumed he was giving me the corner, but then he suddenly turned in and hit my nose."

The incident forced Pedro Lamy (Minardi) to retire and he saw what had happened rather differently. "Maybe he braked too late," he said.

In the other Jordan, Rubens Barrichello had been pretty well-placed in the early laps, running sixth behind Brundle but his race would be ruined by a clutch problem which saw him retire after 24 laps.

Seventh at the finish was Johnny Herbert in his Sauber - after a careful one-stop race staying out of trouble. The only other finisher was Fisichella, who came home two laps down in his Minardi.

Of the teams which didn't manage to get a car home, the most spectacular failure was Ferrari. Schumacher failed to get off the pre-grid and had to start from the back of the field, Irvine retired after a lap and a half when his front right pushrod snapped. It was fortunate that the failure occurred on the straight and Eddie did not hit anything.

Schumacher tried to slice his way through the tail end of the field but the Ferrari brakes were not working well and he was soon stuck behind Mika Salo's Tyrrell. He planned a single pit stop - on lap 41 - but as he accelerated out of the pits a half-shaft simply fell out of the back of the Ferrari and that was that.

"It could not have been worse," said Ferrari boss Jean Todt. "We had an almost unbelievable series of problems, some of which we have already experienced in the past, but Eddie's pushrod and Michael's driveshaft are completely new to us. In the heat of the moment it is difficult to explain..."

Also having a bad day was Ligier with Panis and Diniz both retiring with engine trouble. Panis had driven some impressive laps early on as he carved through the tail of the field.

Arrows had a bad day too - with Rosset being taken out by Katayama in a silly incident and Verstappen suffering engine failure. Tyrrell's day was not much better with Katayama's accident and subsequent suspended ban from the stewards, and then Salo suffered engine failure.

Forti also had bad time with both cars falling by the wayside with mechanical trouble.

This was Williams's third 1-2 of the year - all have been achieved in perfect conditions. The only defeats have come in wet races. After the race Renault's Jean-Francois Robin highlighted this point.

"In normal weather conditions we have again found our proper position. We are confident as we go towards the quicker tracks of the summer season that after not winning in the last two races, everything is now back on schedule."

Damon Hill Williams-Renault FW18 69 1h36m03.465s  
Jacques Villeneuve Williams-Renault FW18 69 1h36m07.648s  
Jean Alesi Benetton-Renault B196 69 1h36m58.121s  
David Coulthard McLaren-Mercedes MP4/11 69 1h37m07.138s  10 
Mika Hakkinen McLaren-Mercedes MP4/11 68  
12 Martin Brundle Jordan-Peugeot 196 68  
14 Johnny Herbert Sauber-Cosworth C15 68  15 
21 Giancarlo Fisichella Minardi-Cosworth M195B 67  16 
20 Pedro Lamy Minardi-Cosworth M195B 44 Accident 19 
22 Luca Badoer Forti-Cosworth FG01-95B 44 Gearbox 20 
Gerhard Berger Benetton-Renault B196 42 Spin 
Michael Schumacher Ferrari F310 41 Driveshaft 
Olivier Panis Ligier-Mugen-Honda JS43 39 Electrics 11 
19 Mika Salo Tyrrell-Yamaha 024 39 Engine 14 
10 Pedro Diniz Ligier-Mugen-Honda JS43 38 Engine 18 
11 Rubens Barrichello Jordan-Peugeot 196 22 Clutch 
23 Andrea Montermini Forti-Cosworth FG01-95B 22 Loose Ballast 22 
15 Heinz-Harald Frentzen Sauber-Cosworth C15 19 Gearbox 12 
17 Jos Verstappen Footwork-Hart FA17 10 Engine 13 
16 Riccardo Rosset Footwork-Hart FA17 Accident 21 
18 Ukyo Katayama Tyrrell-Yamaha 024 Accident 17 
Eddie Irvine Ferrari F310 Right Steering Push-rod