It couldn't have been better. I got the best out of the equipment last weekend and the Rothmans Williams Renault team did a brilliant job. Everything came together beautifully. What's more, the race was run in very tricky conditions; we had to contend with as many variables as you could possibly imagine.
About half an hour before the start, the weather let rip as only it can in South America. As we made our way round the circuit to the starting grid, I remember noticing that water was pumping backwards through the drains. On the inside of turn 10, there was literally a fountain of water about two feet high as the drainage system tried, unsuccessfully, to cope with the deluge. There were crashes of thunder and lightning; very, very treacherous conditions in which to start a race.
If you have to race under those circumstances, it's almost a no-win situation. If you don't keep your foot down there is the risk that someone unsighted by the spray could crash into the back of you. By the same token, if you keep your foot on it and there's too much standing water, you could easily aquaplane off the track. To judge the pace when you can't see where you are going is extremely difficult. Choosing whether or not to start the race on Sunday must have been a close call but, fortunately, everything went off without incident.
My team-mate, Jacques Villeneuve, gave a very impressive performance in his second grand prix race by taking second place off the line after starting third on the grid. He fought hard to maintain second, with Jean Alesi hard on his heels, but unfortunately Jacques spun off on lap 27 and landed in a gravel trap.
There had been some fairly rapid decision-making just before the start. We reckoned it was going to rain for at least the first 10 laps and, more than likely, the track would not dry out for at least another 10 laps. That would take us towards half distance (35 laps), so it seemed sensible to go for just one pit stop. It turned out to be a good call by the team although, for a while, it was touch and go.
Around lap 20, I thought the track was going to dry out. I got on the radio and said it would be time for slick tyres in a couple of laps - but then it rained again. The trouble was, it was raining on one half of the circuit but not on the other. The start/finish area and the first couple of corners were bone dry and yet, on the back of the circuit, it was actually raining very hard. The weather report had said there would be local showers, but this was unbelievably local; dramatically different conditions within a quarter of a mile - and it carried on like that for a good third of the race. It was very difficult to decide when to come in for slicks and the limiting factor was going to be the need to take on more fuel. Fortunately, conditions started to turn at the point when I needed to make my pit stop. In fact, the timing was spot on.
When I returned to the track with slicks, my lap times started to come down even though the circuit was still soaking wet in some places. It was one of those tricky situations where the temptation is to be extra careful; you are torn between taking it too easy and maintaining a healthy lead. Alesi was in second place and he was the sort of driver who would really start eating into my lead if he got the bit between his teeth. But I remembered that, after crashing out of the Australian Grand Prix, Alesi had said he wanted to finish this race, so his usual exuberance was probably curbed by that thought.
I managed to extend the gap to a healthy margin but I must admit to feeling a little nervous when Rubens Barrichello spun off in front of me.
That incident underlined the fact that the race isn't over until you see the chequered flag. Last year, I had this race in the bag until I was robbed by a suspension failure. Experience in Formula One teaches you that there are many things which are in the lap of the gods and outside your control. With a 20-second lead, you can do your best to concentrate, maintain the gap and ensure you don't make any silly mistakes - but then little things can deprive you of victory. You just pray that everything runs smoothly. On Sunday, it was perfect.
In fact, the whole weekend had been perfect. I felt good about my driving; I felt very happy in the car and enjoyed every lap. And, when it was over, I was presented with my trophy by one of the world's greatest sportsmen. I don't know much about football but I know enough to appreciate Pele's achievements and his standing in the game. To receive the trophy from the great Brazilian was an honour and it's little touches like that which are as memorable as achieving a perfect score.
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