The Scuderia Ferrari fans descended en masse to the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza. Their new favourite, Michael Schumacher, was fresh off the back of his second victory in his first season with the Maranello team. The German had in fact won in Belgium, but given the quality of the rest of the field, it would have been too optimistic to expect a repeat.
Compared to the previous year’s Grand Prix, there were new tyre barriers mounted on the inside of the corners to prevent the drivers from cutting the chicane like they usually did, especially at the first corner. The drivers said they agreed with the solution, but some would live to regret it…
The Williams drivers dominated qualifying, locking out the front row of the grid with Damon Hill ahead of Jacques Villeneuve. Michael Schumacher managed to put his F310 in third place, maximising the hard work put in by the Scuderia team who brought with them to Monza various new technical innovations, one of which was the new seven-speed gearbox built with innovative and ultralight materials which was fitted on the German’s car. Irvine was seventh.
At the start, the first row got away badly but Villeneuve still managed to get alongside his teammate, who pushed him to the outside, forcing him onto the grass. Jean Alesi in the Benetton made the most of this and, getting away brilliantly from sixth on the grid, overtook the Englishman at the first corner, taking the lead. However the Frenchman’s lead only lasted one lap because Hill overtook him at the second Lesmo corner. A little bit further back, Mika Häkkinen in the McLaren overtook Villeneuve, getting himself into third place.
On the second lap, the Canadian hit the tyre barrier at the second chicane, bending a suspension arm. Some tyres bounced onto the track and David Coulthard hit one and had to retire with broken steering. On lap four, Alesi also hit the tyre wall at the second chicane. The Frenchman continued without any damage but Häkkinen hit one of the tyres which had bounced onto the track, forcing him to pit to change his nose cone and rejoin at the back of the pack.
Two laps later, Hill, who was in the lead, also hit the tyre barrier, this time at the first chicane. The Englishman’s Williams spun and he was forced to retire. Alesi therefore took the lead followed by Schumacher. The German quickly gained an advantage, starting to close down his rival without managing to overtake him given the Frenchman’s speed. The situation remained the same until the thirtieth lap when Alesi pitted. With an empty track ahead of him, Schumacher pushed hard, putting in the fastest lap of the race and, when he made his pit stop two laps later, he came out of the pit lane still with a clear lead over the Frenchman in the Benetton.
The German controlled the race to the chequered flag, taking his second consecutive victory and his third of the season. Irvine’s race finished on lap 24 when he spun. The fans invaded the Monza track and Schumacher really understood for the first time what it meant to drive for Scuderia Ferrari.