I thought `Here I go' but I caught it...

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The Independent Online
During the slowing-down lap of Sunday's race in Melbourne, I was reminded of what an absolutely fantastic feeling it is to win a grand prix. Quite apart from everything else which happens during a race weekend, winning is an incredibly rewarding sensation, especially if you've put in a lot of effort during the winter, trained hard and dealt with all the pre-season hype as people speculate about this, that and the other. All you want to do is get on with the racing.

But then after racing for an hour and 33 minutes - focusing non-stop on the car in front, the backmarkers and everything else which is going on - the release when it's all over is absolutely enormous. That was the overriding feeling as I made my way back to the pits.

What made the result even more satisfying was the fact that Rothmans Williams-Renault had worked exceptionally well as a team throughout the entire weekend. It had been a tremendously slick operation and we were very effective during the race. Any of the criticism which had been levelled last year could not, under any circumstances, have been raised last weekend.

The atmosphere has been excellent and Jacques Villeneuve played his part in that. One way or another, it's been quite an experience having Jacques as a team-mate. He's a very keen competitor with a good personality. And he's quick - as his first pole position showed. I knew I was going to have my work cut out right from the start of the race.

Jacques maintained his lead into the first corner and, coming out, I gave the car some throttle and it suddenly snapped sideways. I thought: "Here I go..." but I caught it, only to find I was on the dusty part of the track and unable to accelerate as hard as I wanted. Both Ferraris went through, but mercifully, the race was stopped after an accident at the third corner.

I made a better start second time round and settled in behind Jacques, working out where he was quick and where I was able to close up. I was able to get close to him, but I didn't want to take any chances in the early part of the race.

I knew I was going to go for a later pit stop than Jacques and that would give me the opportunity to run quickly for a few laps with a very light load of fuel. That, in turn, would allow me to close down the time difference between us and come out of the pits ahead of him. That's in fact what happened - but it wasn't a big enough gap.

The plan had been spoiled by finding three backmarkers in my path during those few laps after Jacques had disappeared into the pits. We changed tactics slightly and I came in a lap early because I was being delayed too much.

I nipped out of the pits just as Jacques was finishing a lap with his tyres nicely warmed up. I defended the line, but I was on relatively cold tyres and ran wide at the exit of a corner. Jacques slipped through. We were back to square one.

I thought I would put a bit of pressure on him and, sure enough, he made a mistake and went on to the grass at the exit of the first corner. I was unable to keep my foot on it, however, because Jacques was heading back to the track and I was mindful of the fact that there might have been a few long faces in the Williams pit if both of us had ended up in the wall.

I had a couple of goes at getting through, both then and later on in the race when we came across some backmarkers. Jacques defended quite vigorously, but there was no contact between us, absolutely nothing I could complain about. It was a good, sporting fight.

Throughout all of this, I had been getting oil on my visor and it had been getting worse and worse. When I had used all the rip-offs, which are attached to the outside of the visor, I resorted to cleaning with the back of my gloves, but at best it merely smeared the oil. At one stage, the oil actually began to run down the inside of my visor, so obviously there was no way I could get rid of that. To say the world looked very murky from where I was sitting would be a considerable understatement.

When I noticed that the oil from the back of Jacques' car was coming out much worse than before, I got on the radio and told the team that Jacques had a problem. I didn't want to drop back because that would have reduced the pressure on Jacques, but as things turned out, he had to slow quite dramatically in the final few laps to make sure of finishing. I'm sure Jacques is disappointed not to have won. He put up a very good show and there's no question he's going to win races this season.

All in all, we had a good race; an exciting start to the year. It was the result I had hoped for, but we clearly have to work hard because the competition is potentially very strong. The Ferraris, for instance, are not far away. Even though they were stopping twice - as opposed to our single stop - and were therefore running with a lighter load of fuel in the early stage, we would probably have only been about 15 to 20 seconds ahead of Michael Schumacher had he been able to keep running to the end. It's going to take Ferrari no time at all to close that gap.

But in the meantime, I have 10 points in the bank. As I was slowing down and heading for the pits, I thought: "Well, now I'm leading the world championship." The last time I led the championship was after the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola last May. The privilege was to last for a mere two weeks. On this occasion, we've only just started the season and I have to say I'm really looking forward to keeping up the momentum at the next race in Brazil.

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