Austrian Grand Prix 1997 - Qualifying Report   HomeContentsHelp

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Race Day : September 21st 1997

Villeneuve moves to keep his championship hopes alive.

Hakinnen loses pole by just over a minute.

Mika Hakkinen was cruelly denied the first pole position of his career in the closing minute of the qualifying session at the A!-Ring in Austria today by a blistering and aggressive lap from Williams driver Jacques Villeneuve. Where starting positions is an all important step to the final outcome of the race, the Canadian has put himself in the strongest possible position for a much needed race win if he is to offer any competition at all to current leader Michael Schumacher who struggled to a lowly 9th place behind team mate Eddie Irvine.

For the first 25 minutes there was nothing to spoil the view of the rolling hills and distant mountains of the Tyrol under a fine mottled blue sky. Certainly not any cars marred the scene, with the exception of Tarso Marques’ Minardi and Jos Verstappen’s Tyrrell who did the early work of laying down the first layer of rubber on a track that lacks any grip. With only two runs expected from the teams and after a prolonged and rather eerie silence, an increasingly frustrated crowd eventually saw track action get underway with barely half the session remaining.

Bridgestone tyres seem well suited to the nature of the ‘stop and go’ circuit and throughout the weekend the Japanese tyres have been running close to the front of the pack. The Goodyear soft option was not the choice of the teams today. Still blistering within 4 or 5 laps in warm weather, harder compounds were favoured by the majority and, whilst not giving high qualifying positions, they are considered a less compromising bet for the race. Only Ferrari’s Eddie Irvine and Sauber opted for the softer tyres possibly gambling on a cooler track temperature for the race, yet all the Bridgestone runners seemed to be able to make up for their lack of speed by running with the softer and more durable rubber, dividing the first six places evenly between both manufacturers.

The first solid times were set by Stewart drivers Jan Magnussen and Rubens Barichello who continued to trade personal bests for the rest of the session in their best showing to date, the newly modified Ford V10 showing drastic improv3ment over recent outings.

Jarno Trulli’s Mugen-Honda gave out in a big way at turn 6 (A1 Kurve) leaving a trail of oil all the way to the pits to the great displeasure of all who followed in his wake. Indeed Magnussen under a great deal of pressure from his Boss Jackie Stewart to improve his overall performance thought that he was capable of better times. "My hopes were really high," He said. "but first Trulli put oil down in front of me, then when I did a long run at the end of the session I got caught behind a Minardi when I was on a quick lap."

This was indeed the case for all the drivers who all exited the pits in a scrum as if a whistle had blown and at one point there were17 cars on the track at the same time all trying to find clear space for a quick run. Heinz Harald Frentzen remained in the pit lane with a jammed gear and was hard pushed at the end of the session to improve his time from DNQ to 4th place.

The McLarens again proving their inexplicable disparity, blew hot and cold. Hot for Hakinnen who hung on to his provisional pole until the very last moments and most definitely cold for David Coulthard who was close to being a back marker until he managed to screw a few more revs from the Mercedes to place him 10th

Gerhard Berger struggled all through the session, the Benettons not running at all well. "I am not happy with this poor result." Said Berger. "We have worked hard all weekend, but did not manage to get the best from the car. We chose hard tyres and we just weren’t able to get a quick lap. Down from 18th position, it will be a real challenge to get some points." Jean Alesi likewise suffering in a team that is undergoing a small crisis at the moment with a management take-over and their showing so far. "The balance of the car seemed good, but I did not seem to be able to get the grip which is needed." He said. "We have to try and understand the problem and see what we can do before tomorrow."

The Jordan Peugeot team uncharacteristically, were well down the field Schumacher Junior finishing ahead of team mate Giancarlo Fisichella, normally a front runner these days, in 11th. Neither driver was able to make their car perform to recent standards. "I am not really surprised at out poor results today." Said Schumacher. We have not really been on good form all weekend and are suffering from a lack of grip. The only real problems were understeer in the fourth corner and nervousness in the rear when I try to accelerate in the mid-corners." No such complaints from Fisichella however, who just complained about the traffic. "The real problem for me though was traffic and I was really held up by Sauber and by Michael Schumacher." To say that you were held up by the best driver on the planet is indicative of how slow the Ferrari’s were and for the two time world champion to finish a slot adrift of his team mate proves that the Ferrari is definitely not at home in Austria.

Damon Hill ran well setting quick times on his first outing to put him in 3rd slot but with increasing traffic and a quicker track he was unlucky not to get any higher and was slowly pushed down the grid by fast times from Villeneuve, Frentzen and a brilliant last minute dive from Jarno Trulli in the spare Prost, to take a surprising 3rd place. Hill, trying too hard, ended up in the gravel on his last quick lap, 5 minutes before the flag fell

With less than a second separating the top 14 places and five of those on Bridgestone rubber, tomorrow’s race will certainly be unpredictable. Lack of overtaking opportunities will put the onus on the tyres to perform, perhaps beyond their limits and on a track that lacks grip but forces the driver to run with less downforce than he would like to enable him to get through the corners without stopping, the mid field could have it’s day.

Williams however, look set to dominate but not without some intervention from the likes of Stewart and McLaren. What is important, is that Schumacher’s Ferrari lies 8 places behind Villeneuve’s Williams. It will take a superhuman effort from the German to make up that kind of deficit at the start especially with wizzmaster Coulthard right beside him. The start will be crucial to any number of drivers and could set the seal for an interesting race of tactics, in as much as the leading protagonists could be those that don’t usually see so much of the limelight.



Chris Richardson




Top 6 qualifying results Austrian Grand Prix Sept 20th 1997


1 J Villeneuve Williams Renault 1:10.304

2 M Hakinnen McLaren Mercedes 1:10.398

3 J Trulli Prost Mugen-Honda 1:10.511

4 H Frentzen Williams Renault 1:10.670

5 R Barichello Stewart Ford 1:10.700

6 J Magnussen Stewart Ford 1:10.893


1997 Championship Contents

Formula 1 Contents