Drivers bounced out by rubber barriers

David Tremayne reports on the improvised safety feature that gave the Monza chicanes an added twist
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The Independent Online
It was Jacques Villeneuve who predicted the problem that tyre stacks positioned in Monza's chicanes would play in what will be remembered as a race of mistakes. And, ironically, it was the Canadian whose own chances of depleting the hapless Damon Hill's fragile drivers' championship lead suffered as a result.

"The tyres are not a good solution for the race," Villeneuve said after the stacks had appeared for qualifying on Saturday afternoon. "If one car hits the tyres in the middle of the race and ends up in the middle of the track, it will create mayhem."

On Friday another car had straight-lined a chicane kerb and dislodged a block of fresh concrete, which narrowly missed Villeneuve's Williams.

As a result everyone was instructed not to venture so far over the kerbs, but racing drivers do not make obedient subjects and, when several offended persistently throughout Saturday morning, the race organisers felt they had little option but to introduce stacks of old tyres to physically prevent such practise.

It then became a game of seeing how close one could shave them without dislodging them.

Villeneuve, along with the Finn Mika Hakkinen, was unfortunate to become one of the tyres' first victims in the race. Hakkinen lost a fighting third place and possible victory after damaging his McLaren's front wing when he hit an errant tyre, possibly disturbed by Jean Alesi's Benetton, while Villeneuve clobbered a stack, put his suspension out of line and condemned himself to a race that failed to capitalise on the dramatic and embarrassing crumble of Hill's resolve.

Eddie Irvine made an undignified exit from third place when he hit the tyres in the first chicane and broke his Ferrari's front suspension, and even the victorious Michael Schumacher was not exempt. On the 40th lap he whacked the same stack that had claimed his team-mate Irvine, and was lucky to recover his momentum as the back end of the Ferrari was thrown momentarily into the air.

"That was a stupid moment," Schumacher said. "I knew I had a lot of time advantage and I got told by the pits to take it easy for the brakes. And as I started to take it even easier than before I lost concentration a little bit and hit these tyres. I was very surprised that I did. I thought there would be enough space but when I turned in it wasn't the case. I was very happy that nothing was damaged."

Schumacher, who with Hill and Gerhard Berger had been asked to advise the FIA before the tyre stacks were introduced, responded candidly to criticism of them. "Tell me a different solution," he said. "Nobody was happy with the tyres but we didn't have another solution. To take off another concrete block like Jacques did was just too risky.

"Everybody knew the tyres would be a difficult situation, but you just had to be a little bit concentrated and look after it. We, as drivers, should have been professional enough not to hit them."

Or at least professional enough to hit them and get away with it.

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