The Problem With
suffered a dreadful start to his season in barely
qualifying for Melbourne. At the other end of the
grid his former team-mate was absolutely electric. Dave
Aaargh! This was one of those
frustrating qualifying sessions where you never
really got a feel for what was going on until the
very end. Even then it was confused by a red flag
that resulted in a frenetic burst of activity from
all the teams and drivers.
Initially the topic of
conversation revolved around what tyres the drivers
had chosen. New for this season is a regulation which
makes the drivers choose a tyre compound prior to
qualifying. They then have to stick with this
compound right through to the end of the next day's
race. The idea is to stop the tyre companies
producing qualifying specials - a trick which leads
to spiralling lap times.
It seemed that the
majority of runners were going for soft compounds and
praying for a reasonably cool Sunday. The Ferrari
pair of Michael Schumacher and Eddie Irvine bucking
the trend and settling for a harder compound.
But less of the anorak
stuff. On the circuit Jaques Villeneuve started out
in absolutely stunning fashion. Setting times that
had the rest of the pitlane questioning the wisdom of
even trying to compete, Villeneuve looked like a man
After just a few short
laps Jaques had set a time a whole two seconds clear
of the rest of the grid. A marker was set - one that
Heinz Harald Frentzen would need to aim for. You
could see that it was going to be a mammoth task for
the German to even try to take pole position.
Irvine seemed to be struggling to get some heat into
his hard compound tyres. Instead of making smooth
progress it was all smoke and fury.
And what about Damon
Hill in his Arrows? Well he must have been regretting
his move to the supposedly rising team. Problems
throughout the weekend have left him running few laps
and getting bugger all time to set the car up for the
session. Then, to compound things, everything started
to go wrong with the machine. Everything, that is,
except the supposedly fragile Yamaha-Judd engine. The
one consistent theme has been of errors being made by
a team which is making the Ferrari organisation of
1996 look slick by comparison.
managed to get some running but the car looked
frighteningly nervous under braking and going through
the corners. In fact, the car had suddenly become so
bad that Hill looked as if he might not make the 107%
Moving further up the
grid for a moment, the McLaren's looked
great, but by the half way mark they seemed
distinctly average. The Sauber of Johnny Herbert
which eventually qualified in 7th looked better as it
nestled in on the third row of the grid in 5th.
Fortunately for the
McLaren team, they got their act together and started
to improve - more than could be said for Jordan. They
were floundering badly and showing none of the hoped
for improvement that will be needed if they're to
start competing with teams like Williams and Ferrari.
Ralf Schumacher was making things difficult for the
car as he revealed his inexperience by over driving
the machine. If he wasn't careful he was in line for
a trip into the gravel.
As the qualifying
session entered the last 15 minutes Hill still hadn't
qualified! For the current World Champion this was a
sorry display by Arrows. Hill himself seemed to be
wrestling with a car that was badly set up for
qualifying and you just had to feel sorry for him.
There's a lot of promise in the car. It's potentially
very fast, the engine is advanced and the driver is
one of the very best. Sadly it all comes to nothing
if the team can't produce something a bit more
reliable than a twelve year old Skoda.
Hill then came out and
set a time that pulled him just within the
limits. All that he had to hope for was that Jaques
Villeneuve didn't pull out an even faster lap and
'bump' him off the back.
Suddenly, red flags
everywhere! With just two minutes of the session
remaining and the times seemingly set in stone the
camera's panned across to the stranded Sauber of
Nicola Larini. Although not a bad shunt there was
debris everywhere and the only safe option was a
brief halt to the session.
Two minutes. Just
enough time for an out lap and then a final, crazy
and desperate last attempt at improving your
position. Most drivers, at least the ones with laps
remaining, decided to go for it. As the deceased
Sauber car was winched away it seemed like every F1
car in the world was being lined up in the pit lane.
The lights went green,
and just then a spot of gamesmanship emerged from the
Williams pit. The car of Villeneuve's suddenly being
wheeled out in front of Frentzen's - there was every
chance that this could prevent a trump on pole by the
German. First onto the track was Schumacher. His car
lowered down it screamed round the circuit with a
shower of sparks trailing behind, but it was for
nothing - Frentzen finally did what he needed to and
put himself into second position on the grid. 1.7
seconds behind his team mate, but faster than
everyone else. Villeneuve meanwhile just took the
opportunity to wear his car out a little more by
storming around but achieving little.