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Race Day : July 13th 1997


Hill suffers verbal abuse from team boss.

Williams steal McLaren’s thunder in final moments of qualifying at Silverstone as Ferraris lag on high speed circuit.

With all the media focus on the inauspicious homecoming of Damon Hill the current World Champion, the qualifying session for the 32nd British Grand Prix took place on a warm Silverstone circuit with an underlying air of acrimony within the TWR Arrows garage.

Team boss Tom Walkinshaw’s outspoken and negative comments regarding Hill’s motivation and lack of performance has set the pit lane alight with opinion as to the timing of his remarks.

Starting will a less than veiled threat to Hill’s continued association with the team, Walkinshaw said, "We’re at the time when we are seriously considering our drivers for next season and his performances speak for themselves. It’s quite obvious to any one who has been watching the team closely that we aren’t satisfied." He went on, "We’re not satisfied with his performance and nor should he. He has had too many accidents, particularly in the early laps and he hasn’t been qualifying as he should. Citing recent lap times showing that Brazilian ‘pay’ driver Pedro Diniz has on occasion shown a faster turn of speed than Hill, Walkinshaw continued, "We recruited him as one of the fastest two or three drivers around to lead the team, not for us to have to motivate him. We have the right to expect him to show he’s the lead driver in the team."

There was some pit lane speculation as to whether Hill should feel threatened by Walkinshaw’s comments or in fact be jubilant that at last, he has an excuse to leave a team that indeed promised him so much and gave so little.

Walkinshaw was obviously frustrated by the decision by Mugen-Honda to reject his own application for their power supply and award a two year contract to the Jordan team. Probably more than a little embarrassed too, knowing that the Japanese engine manufacturer, having had an eye on the Arrows’ recent performances decided that Jordan was by far the better bet, he made some concession to his damnation of Hill’s talents by saying, "The non -performance has been split 50-50 during the course of the year by the team and the driver, but there comes a time when you have to stop being subtle and now it’s time to be blunt."

These comments will have damaged Hill’s confidence in his team though, probably remembering similar comments made about him by former employer Frank Williams, he says not. "Frustration is evident not only in drivers, but also in team managers. Tom is entitled to put a rocket up the bum of his drivers. I have had much worse criticism from other team managers in the past."

Treading a line between his usual diplomacy and the determination of the downtrodden, he suggested that because "one of the better engine deals in the paddock went to another team," it had not helped Walkinshaw’s quest for more horsepower for next year. "I am not keen to draw comparisons between the package represented by Tom and what we actually have. It would not be wise for a situation to evolve where one party starts to claim that another party is not pulling their weight. We are all in this together."

Some observers saw Walkinshaw’s comments as an act of ‘Sour Grapes’ in the light of the Leafield team not being able to live up to the promises that were made for it at the beginning of the season. At a time when Hill would be talking to any number of teams regarding a drive for next year, Walkinshaw, realises that without a competitive engine (and it seems now that a TWR developed Yamaha or a customer Ford are his only options), his chances of retaining the World Champion are less than Zero. Hill offered the laurel leaf to Walkinshaw, no doubt with a nettle in the other hand by saying, "My goal is to get back into the hunt for the Championship and I’d like it to be with Arrows, if they can offer me the right package." It now seems probable that they can’t and with some dozen or so drivers expected to change places next season, it would indeed be the right time for Hill to start looking to sign the right piece of paper.

Hill’s performance rating has indeed been poor this year but with a few exceptions it has been entirely down to the team. Whether one qualifies first or last, if the engine expires one does not finish the race. The list of incidents makes for unhappy reading.

In Melbourne, a throttle failure during the warm up lap saved Hill from an inevitably embarrassing finishing position. In Brazil, with a not discreditable 11th place secure, Hill’s oil cooler caught fire. Diniz spun out a lap later. Argentina saw his retirement with overheating and air pressure problems. Diniz also retired with a blown Yamaha. Imola saw Hill was forced to start from the pit lane due to a mechanical fault in the Arrows A18 in the shape of a starter motor shaft oil seal failure. Frustrated at being blocked by the Prost of Nakarno, he later collided with the Japanese novice for which he received a one race suspended ban. Diniz also received the same for causing a near miss with Jacques Villeneuve. Rain caused a great many retirements in Monaco, Hill collided with Eddie Irvine’s Ferrari, braking heavily to avoid a collision. Hill was running in a strong 6th slot in Barcelona when the Yamaha engine let go, maintaining his unbroken record of non finishes for the TWR team. In a race of attrition and cut short by Olivier Panis’ accident, Montreal gave Hill his first finish of the season albeit 9th and last. Finally, on the first lap at Magny Cours, squeezed from the back of the pack funnelling in to the first right hander, he damaged his front wing forcing lengthy repairs and a finishing position of last. Walkinshaw’s suggestions that Hill "went of the track in France unaided" was uncalled for. He may not have touched another car, but had he done so trying to keep himself on the line he would have not only wrecked his own chances of even a miserable finish but someone else’s too.

Hill does have support in the pit lane, strangely enough from his ex employer Frank Williams. "Clearly he is struggling with his car, but we all know he is a World Champion." He said. "He’s won 21 races and that’s all you need to say." Whilst not suggesting that Hill would find a place back in his team next year, Williams did add, "If circumstances come together I would re-employ him, he’s a great driver." It’s a pity that Walkinshaw doesn’t see it that way.

After managing a mere 20th position on the grid in untimed practice on Friday, Hill fared a deal better today. Driving his socks off in a late charge, he gained 5 places on team mate Pedro Diniz to finish in 12th position sharing the grid with 11th placed Benetton driver Jean Alesi who in turn was three places down on rookie replacement driver Alexander Wurz. It seems too, that earlier pep talks from his team boss Flavio Briatore have amounted to nothing and that he will be looking for new pastures at the end of the season.

In a hard fought qualifying session, the first of the fast laps was set by the Williams drivers of Jacques Villeneuve and Heinz Harald Frentzen with early quick showings by the Ferrari of Michael Schumacher and Mclaren’s David Coulthard. A strong run by Ralf Schumacher in the Jordan Peugeot secured him a strong fifth position "We might have expected a little more after all the testing sessions we have done here but the other teams have closed up a little and I am happy with fifth" He said. Not so happy was team mate Giancarlo Fisichella. "I made the best time with the first set of tyres but I was not able to improve on this because of traffic on my second run and then mistakes I made in the last runs." He said afterwards.

Schumacher senior despite some brilliant car control was barely able to coax his Ferrari under the 1.22s mark and had to be content with a second row 4th place. "Overall, I am quite happy and this is the position I expected. Starting from the second row suits me well." He said "The car has improved since yesterday, but it‘s not as good as it was last week during testing. Tomorrow I shall try to maintain a good lead over Villeneuve in the Championship by taking as many points as possible. It is almost impossible to pass on this track if others do not make mistakes but I hope I can make it to the podium."

Team mate Eddie Irvine had earlier hit a hare that ran into his path. Explaining his 7th place on the grid, he said, "I got a big fright on my first quick lap when I hit a hare. I was forced to pit to check over the car and change tyres. We put more downforce on, but as I was short of time I was not able to check what effect this had before going for a quick lap. I think the race will be very tough, as it will be difficult to maintain a very quick pace."

Mika Hakkinen driving beautifully set the fasted lap time for well over half the session but had to make way to Frentzen’s superior speed in the closing minutes. A stunning lap by Villeneuve followed almost immediately knocking just under two tenths of a second from the German’s time to give the French Canadian pole position and some indication of his determination to make amends for his recalcitrant behaviour of late. "I didn't really think I could do it on the last lap as I made a few mistakes, particularly around Becketts and thought I would miss out by a 10th of a second or so." said Villeneuve. "It's good to be back where we should be."

Hakkinen was out of the garage in his West McLaren Mercedes as Villeneuve crossed the line but held up by Jarno Trulli’s Prost, he was unable to better his half time position.

Coulthard’s 6th position was a little disappointing and to add to his day, he was fined $5000 for pit lane speeding. The Scotsman recorded a speed of 93.2 km/h, well in excess of the 80 km/h pit lane limit for qualifying.

Stewart Ford had a bad day also with Rubens Barichello coasting to a halt just after exiting the pit lane on his first run. He took the spare car for his second run, but had to abandon it when a brief floor-pan fire erupted on his return to the pits. Poor Barichello’s final run was in Jan Magnussen’s car which also suffered engine problems and he had to abandon it on the circuit. Alan Jenkins Stewart technical director said, "As yet we don’t know the cause of all the problems we met today, except that they all appear to be engine related." He went on to say how Galling it was as the problems "follow on from a very successful operation of re-adjustment and tuning of the chassis to meet changing track conditions. A time of 1.2s seemed very much on the cards." The Brazilian will start from the last row of the grid in 25th place.

The equilibrium is has now been maintained. A Williams lockout, the first in a few races, with the threat of Schumacher’s Ferrari just behind. Villeneuve should not harbour any complacency tomorrow, as not only the three Germans will be hungry for his points, but the Flying Finn’s McLaren could well figure in the fighting. There are indeed too many possible conclusions these days and judging by Villeneuve’s recent past, no one would put even money on him to win. One of Coulthard’s legendary starts could upset the apple cart on a circuit that is not renowned for its overtaking opportunities. Young Schumacher and Fisichella both have the power to do damage and could be considerably quicker than the Ferrari’s. Safe to say the black and white helmet of Damon Hill will not be contesting the lead no matter how many kicks in the backside Walkinshaw meets out.

In a sweeping statement, Walkinshaw said "any professional is only as good as his last race. You should be trying 110% to show other they should want you." Hill always does his best and it would only be expected of the team to give him the best tools to do the work. He hasn’t got them this year but there is not a team on the grid that has not noticed him trying.


Chris Richardson


Qualifying Times

British Grand Prix Silverstone July 12 1997


1 J.Villeneuve 1m 21.598s

2 H.Frentzen 1m 21.732s

3 M.Hakkinen 1m 21.797s

4 M.Schumacher 1m 21.977s

5 R.Schumacher 1m 22.277s

6 D.Coulthard 1m 22.279s

7 E.Irvine 1m 22.342s

8 A.Wurz 1m 22.344s

9 J.Herbert 1m 22.368s

10 G.Fisichella 1m 22.371s

11 J.Alesi 1m 22.392s

12 D.Hill 1m 23.271s

13 J.Trulli 1m 23.366s

14 N.Fontana 1m 23.790s

15 S.Nakano 1m 23.887s

16 J.Magnussen 1m 24.067s

17 P.Diniz 1m 24.239s

18 M.Salo 1m 24.478s

19 U.Katayama 1m 24.553s

20 J.Verstappen 1m 25.010s

21 T.Marques 1m 25.154s

22 R.Barrichello 1m 25.525s


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1997 Championship Contents

Formula 1 Contents