The teams headed to the UK early this year, arriving at Silverstone to find that, to nobody's great surprise it was wet cold and miserable. On top of all that, the car poarks were flooded so nobody could get in to the bloody place, and the run off areas were so waterlogged that recovery vehicles were getting bogged down in them. The British Grand Prix had all the potential to turn into a complete fiasco. Everyone was running around trying to make absolutely clear, that whoever was responsible for moving the race back to April, it was not they. Bernie Ecclestone's denials were somehow less convincing than anyone elses. The rescheduling of the race was almost certainly part of the powerplay between himself, Brands Hatch and Silverstone over the long term future of the race. Even by the standards of the wet races I've attended (British GP 1988, European GP 1993) this looked particularly shambolic. I was, for once, glad to be watching a race far from the circuit.
Still, the weatyher made qualifying that bit more exciting, though the brothers Schumacher may not have been so happy as most. Michael ended up fifth, while his team mate Barrichello, always comfortable in the wet, and making a better stab of his quickest lap, landed himself on pole, as he had done previously in the wet in France in a Stewart last year. Schumi jr found himself once more outqualified by the new darling of the British tabloid press, Jenson Button, whose fifth position looked impressive whatever way you look at it. Irvine was unable to perform as impressively as he had in the past few races in the Jaguar and could only make ninth, making Herbert's fourteenth position look a little less embarassing. Frentzen was also able to take advantage of the changeable conditions and stuck his Jordan on the front row, while Trulli struggled at the back end of the top ten. Coulthard got on over Hakkinen for the first time all season, and Verstappen could be pleased with his eighth position, even though, once again the Arrows never seemed quite so on the boil in qualifying as they always do in free practice and testing.
Come the race, everyone was pretty relieved to see the weather had relented, apart from perhaps Michael Schumacher, who would probably be glad of anything which lifted his chances, given he was starting behind two McLarens, his team mate and one of the Jordans. It got worse, when he let Button's Williams and the lightning starting Villeneuve past at the start, before seeing his brother fly past him at Stowe. Nonetheless, retirements and a long first stint in the carv meant he would climb to third by the end, beaten only by the McLaren duo. Barrichello, who had looked a shoe-in for the race from the start would suffer a rare mechanical failure on his Ferrari, but not before Coulthard had demonstrated something he so rarely does and had pulled a pretty special move to take the lead from him going round the outside at Stowe. From that moment, he never looked like he was going to be stopped by anyone. Hakkinen, who had spent much of the early part of the race being harried by the Williams duo, would catch him towards the end, but never really looked a contender. His championship chances look more distant than ever, right now.
Sadly Villeneuve's luck ran out, and after holding of Schumacher until the first tyre stops, he would play no great part in the race, holding sixth until his gearbox broke at the end. Jordan didn't have much of a time of it either, with Frentzen retiring and Trulli finishing sixth, nearly a lap down. Compared to the disastrous time that Jaguar were having at their home race though, this was nothing. Neither Herbert nor Irvine had really looked like serious contenders all weekend, but when both had painfully slow second pitstops, they fell so far back that only the Minardis were behind them come the end.
Benetton too, were once again a long way from the pace. Fisichella's stunning second at Brazil is beginning to have the look of a fluke. Fisichella finished a distant seventh, while Wurz only just made the top ten. Sauber too, failed to repeat the form they had shown initially. They don't test much at Silverstone, so perhaps it was no surprise to see them struggling a lot.
The best of the rest, this weekend were the Williams team. They are still a long way behind the Ferraris and McLarens, but BMWs new engine is showi9ng impressive reliability and there are worse on the performance stakes too. Schumacher is a known quantity, perhaps not the equal of his older brother, but stilll one of the best drivers in F1. Button has shown remarkable maturity too, four races in he's finished in the points twice, outqualified Schumacher twice, and perhaps most importantly, done all this without throwing his car off of the road at any point. A note of caution must be sounded though, for he looked dreadfully slow in the wet first part of the qualifying hour on Saturday.
The battle for the championship is on now. McLaren have finally got one over Schumacher, but it remains to be seen whether it will be Hakkinen or Couthard that gets the best run at the German this year. For now, Coulthard leads, but to my mind, the smart money is still on Hakkinen