There were two stars
in Argentina. Yeah, and I don't mean Jacques
Villeneuve and his ego. I mean a certain young
Brazilian who goes by the name of Rubens Barrichello,
and the quiet Frenchman Olivier Panis. 5th
place in a car that didn't exist until a couple of
months ago was a brilliant result for Stewart. One
word: wow! But just as incredible was the performance
of Olivier Panis. He looked great a couple of weeks
ago in Brazil, qualifying well and finishing the race
in 3rd position - but to be the best
qualifier behind the two Williams cars
that's just excellent for the Prost car.
Let's ignore what
happened with everyone else. They performed pretty
well as expected - Villeneuve won Pole Position.
Frentzen did what he should have done two weeks ago,
and qualified second. Michael Schumacher did pretty
much the sort of thing that he's been doing for a
while - he qualified ahead of his team-mate Eddie
Irvine and in the top six. Ralf Schumacher did a
pretty good job with a 6th, but we're
getting boring now.
teams are looking decidedly down in the dumps
tonight. McLaren? What happened? There you were,
winning in one of the best looking cars at Melbourne,
yet at Brazil and Argentina the performance of
drivers Coulthard and Hakkinen just didn't satisfy.
David Coulthard came home in 10th place,
and Mika Hakkinen, who had his session disturbed by a
self inflicted spin, managed to stick the boot in to
the team by achieving a truly awful 17th
place. Between the two McLaren's you'd also find two
Benettons - it seems that they're struggling as much
as McLaren to find some sort of consistent form.
It's strange really
that these two great teams are having to battle it
out for position with teams like Prost, Stewart and
Arrows. This isn't how F1 is meant to be! It's a bit
more interesting than the two by two grid formations
of last year though
. Olivier Panis looked
surprisingly assured in his car. Not for him the
twitchy fighting of some drivers as the wrestled
around the twisty track. Instead he gave a
performance that was worthy of the Professor himself.
Alain Prost has quite obviously been talking to his
protegé. It shows. Winning third place on the
Formula One grid is quite something for a team which,
in spite of a single win in 1996, has never looked
like one with serious potential. Of course, last year
they were called Ligier
this year Alain Prost
owns the team, and he's deadly serious about success.
The whole qualifying
session was straightforward. The circuit, though
slippy and narrow, failed to throw anyone unexpected
off the track. No red flags, no destroyed cars, in
fact, the only thing that suffered was a few egos,
and in one of the nicest stories of the weekend,
Jackie Stewart's wallet.
The Stewart team boss
had made a deal with Barrichello. The end result was
that at the end of the qualifying session some small
object went flying out of the Brazilian's cockpit. A
watch. A watch which was about to be replaced with a
Rolex Daytona. It was a promise from the usually
tight Scotsman that should Barrichello qualify in the
top ten he'd be in line for an example of
Switzerland's finest. Rubens will cherish that watch
as marking the day when the world seemed a
friendlier, more normal place to be. "I am
really proud, " he said, "not just for me,
but for the whole team. We had a lot of problems at
the start of the session, so Jan & I had to share
the T-car, which of course is never ideal. Luckily I
came back to my race car in time to set my best time.
It's our first time in the top 10 & it feels
Ultimately there were
two performances to smile about, and neither of them
came from the established pros. Let's be happy for
these two drivers and forget the rest.
Oh, Damon Hill came in
13th, if you're interested - not bad, but
not brilliant either.