Qualifying had been superb; my car had been brilliant throughout practice and I had produced one of my best-ever laps to take pole position. I was in excellent shape for this fourth round of the championship.
In the end, I finished fourth and I really had to work hard for the three points. In the space of an hour and 33 minutes, the situation had changed quite dramatically, although the Rothmans Williams-Renault team enjoyed the considerable success of having Jacques Villeneuve score his first grand prix victory.
Well, I could have had a better start. My problems began on the start line. I had too much clutch-slip and then too much wheelspin, which meant I made one of the worst starts of my career. Straight away I lost four places and faced the prospect of fighting my way through. I pulled off a good move on Michael Schumacher going into the first corner which put me into fourth place, but throughout the opening laps I could see Jacques inching away. I knew I would have to get past Rubens Barrichello in the Jordan and David Coulthard's McLaren if I was to stand any chance of staying on terms with my team-mate.
The Jordan turned out to be the biggest problem initially. Barrichello seemed to have a lot of horsepower and he was pulling away on the straights, so there was very little opportunity for me to pass. But that became a minor difficulty when, without warning, there was a dramatic change in the balance of my car.
The Williams started to misbehave so badly that I got on the radio and told the team that I was pretty sure I had a puncture. The car was lolloping all over the place and I really thought that was it. The team said I could make a pit stop, but on reflection, I thought I would carry on for a few laps longer in an attempt to try to establish the exact cause of the problem.
If, say, the roll-bar had broken, then I could carry on once I had become accustomed to the adverse effect on the car's handling. I stayed out until my first scheduled pit stop was due. When I eventually went into the pits, the mechanics took a good look around the rear of the car, checking the suspension and anything else that might have been broken or damaged. Nothing could be found, but the check-over had delayed me even more. Obviously the team will be taking a careful look once they get to Italy.
It may have been a tall order to expect to win the race, which would have been five in a row, but I had to get as many points as possible. That plan received another setback when I tried to overtake Pedro Diniz.
As I came alongside, he closed the door and rather than hit the Ligier, I took to the kerb and we both ended up going across the gravel run-off area and I had lost the three or four places I had made up until then. Because of the excursion, a lot of gravel had been sprayed into the cockpit and I had to fidget around trying to get reasonably comfortable. There was nothing for it but to press on.
I got used to the handling imbalance. It didn't feel so bad later in the race, although the car felt nothing like as good as it had during qualifying. Even so, I managed to set the fastest lap of the race and pass one or two cars along the way. It was actually quite difficult because each time I got close to anyone, I just did not seem to have enough of an edge to move ahead.
I worked my way into fourth place and caught Coulthard's McLaren as the race reached the closing stages. I enjoyed a good old battle with my former team-mate and I knew he was going to fight tooth and nail for third place. He put up a very good defence and we were aware that there was the danger of both of us going off to finish the day with no points at all. After a disappointing season for McLaren, I knew David was just as keen to collect as many points as he could while the chance presented itself, but having said that, I really wanted third place.
In the end, I had to settle for fourth. The goal of scoring four wins in a season in succession will have to wait for another time, but I'd obviously prefer that one of our cars should win the race, rather than someone else. Jacques was delighted with his result. Now that he knows what it's like, he will be even more determined to fight with me for the rest of the season. But that in turn will motivate me to perform even better.
I know from last year's experience that the championship is very hard to win; it is not going to land in your lap. Days like Sunday are going to happen, but at least I got something from it. The worst scenario would have been failing to score any points at all and I have to admit there had been a point during the race when it looked as if that might be the case.
A win in Germany has so far eluded me in my career. During my first race there, I was leading when a tyre punctured on the last lap. In '94, I tangled with another car and finished some way behind the first six. Last year, the transmission failed in Hockenheim and then when we went to the Nurburgring in October, I had a very disappointing race. I look forward to having another crack at it again later this year. Normal service will be resumed next weekend.
Copyright Damon Hill RacingReuse content