However, the unexpected happened: Michael started badly, losing first position and, while chasing the Williams of David Coulthard, took a wet rubbing strip too confidently at the Portier corner to end up against the barriers: “I made a serious mistake, throwing an excellent opportunity to the wind,” he said, adding: “I thank the team for the work done. I owe Ferrari’s fans.” The chance to repay that debt came two weeks later in Spain. In qualifying, in the dry, the Williams called the shots as it did all season.. Damon Hill won pole position four tenths of a second ahead of Jacques Villeneuve and almost a second in front of Schumacher. However, on race day it was pouring. It looked like the race would start behind the Safety Car but at the last moment the race director decided that it could go ahead as normal. The cars set off gingerly over the soaking wet Catalan asphalt, and Schumacher had one of the worst starts, slipping to seventh place by the first corner, behind his team-mate Eddie Irvine. Meanwhile, the race director’s decision proved way off the mark with five cars retiring in the first lap alone. Irvine joined them on the second lap, going into a spin and his engine stalling. On lap 3 Schumacher was already in a battle with the Benetton of Gerhard Berger for fourth place, although the duel quickly became one for third place because, in the meantime, race leader Hill had spun. Indeed, Hill would spin again before ending his race against the pit wall. Thus Villeneuve took the lead ahead of the other Benetton of Jean Alesi. Schumacher was third having overtaken Berger on lap 4, before speeding off in pursuit of the Frenchman.