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Race Day : October 26th 1997

Schumacher blots his copybook as king Jacques takes driver’s crown and gifts first race win to Hakinnen .

"He tried to take me out but he didn’t do it well enough..." Jacques Villeneuve

"A mistake? By Me?" Michael Schumacher

Jacques Villeneuve became world champion today at the European Grand Prix in Jerez after a deliberate attempt by Michael Schumacher to sideline him in a passing manoeuvre failed, leaving the German in the gravel. Villeneuve went on to secure 3rd place, when he allowed both Mika Hakinnen and then David Coulthard to pass, as he struggled to take his damaged car to the line.

The powers that be shook their heads tonight in disbelief as a decision that the stewards of the race felt they were unable to make, could not be ignored. All the fine words of warning from both Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone have, in the heat of the moment, been ignored. To sanction Schumacher by banning him as Ecclestone threatened he may do, from the first few races of ’98, would be the natural thing to do, but it would only highlight the current lawlessness of Formula 1 and fuel controversy over the closed season. To ignore it would have the pitlane up in arms. Suffice to say the stewards called it a ‘racing accident’ and left it at that. This will please nobody and the sport will find itself saddled with a ‘Jerezgate’ that, like Adelaide in 1994 will refuse to go away. Had Schumacher got away with it and put the Canadian out or, if they had both gone out, he would have won the Championship and the penalty would have been severe. As it was he only hurt himself and it was the ultimately his heaviest cross to bear.

Schumacher led the race from the start after making an exceptionally quick getaway with Heinz Harald Frentzen taking up 2nd place in front of his Canadian team mate. The two McLarens of Hakinnen and Coulthard never let go and pushed Frentzen for third place after the German let Villeneuve through to chase after Schumacher on lap 8. The gap between the two front runners remained at a steady 4 seconds as they traded off fastest laps and when Pedro Diniz spun into the gravel, Schumacher was level headed enough to back off fractionally as the yellow flags came out.

Frentzen led briefly after both Schumacher and Villeneuve pitted, putting a team strategy into play by slowing the race on their return to the track, to enable his team mate to close up on the Ferrari. As both McLarens cleared the way by stopping for fresh rubber, the gap came down from seven seconds to less than one for most of the second leg and they both pitted for a second time on lap 43 but Schumacher, despite having a slower stop, was able to regain the track ahead of Villeneuve, who was balked by the 2nd placed McLaren of Coulthard as he exited the pit lane.

The Scotsman vacated his place to Villeneuve when he made his second stop, at the end of the following lap, leaving the Williams driver clear to continue the chase. Badly balked by rookie, Norberto Fontana’s Sauber, he lost over three seconds trying to get by. "I didn’t know Jacques was there until I saw the blue flag." Said the worried Italian. "Then I let him by as soon as I saw him there." You bet he did and sharpish. To have the Championship contender bearing down on you at full chat is not a comforting experience for a novice.

The Ferrari then started to inexplicably slow and fairly rapidly Villeneuve began to devour the German’s lead. Possibly a bad set of tyres was the cause but whatever the reason, Villeneuve saw the Ferrari go wide, leaving an opportunity at the Curva Dry Sack, for him to slip through on the inside under braking. As the Williams drew level, Schumacher realising that he had made a fatal error in giving his rival the space in which to overtake, seemed to deliberately and sharply alter course, making contact with the side radiator of Villeneuve’s car and launching himself into the gravel, his wheels spinning ineffectually. It was a tragic piece of driving seemingly proving that winning the race by fighting to the flag, was never on his agenda and it has marred irrevocably a season in which Schumacher has shown a new found maturity dominated by masterful driving and sportsmanship.

"I wasn’t really surprised when Michael turned in on me." Said Villeneuve. "It was a little bit expected, so I knew I was taking a big risk. We banged wheels and I jumped in the air and I thought that I’d broken the car. My car felt strange. I could push for a few laps but then I had to slow down because the tyres were heating up in a strange way. The way he hit me was really hard. I couldn’t go more on the inside as I was actually on the grass. I’m surprised that I could actually finish the race."

Schumacher of course made no admission of blame "A mistake -by me?" He quizzed. "No. I braked on the maximum and he braked even later. He must have miscalculated his braking point." Indeed he even hinted that the Canadian had been chancing his hand a little too far. "He tried a rather optimistic attack. It worked fine for him but not for me." Said Schumacher for all the world sounding like the martyr that he certainly wasn’t. By using Villeneuve as his scapegoat, he unwittingly revealed an insight into his own actions. "Jacques had nothing to lose and he obviously thought he would go for it. To be honest, I would have probably done the same."

With Villeneuve slowing visibly and the lapped Jordan of Giancarlo Fisichella providing the cushion between the Williams and the pursuing McLarens, it looked as though the Canadian would just make it home to take his eighth win of the season, and give Renault a final victory on which to end their participation in Formula 1, but back in the pits, conversations were taking place between Williams technical director Patrick Head and McLaren team boss Ron Dennis and it was therefore, no surprise to see Hakinnen pass the slowing Williams on the final lap. Having been let through by second placed Coulthard, the Finn was confused, but none the less pleased to have won the first race of his career.

"I wanted to go quicker, but it would be far too risky to overtake Jacques who was fighting for the Championship." Said Hakinnen. "I decided to stay behind him. Coming into the last couple of laps Jacques was there and David was in front. I don’t know exactly what happened and it was a strange place to overtake David but for my benefit it was fantastic."

So it should have been, for the Scotsman was none too pleased that he was forced to drop to third when he might have been able to take a third win of the season, but was clearly under team orders to let Hakinnen take his first win. Having his share of good fortune this season, cut little ice with him and if Mika wasn’t going to have the good grace to tell it like it was at the post race press conference, then Coulthard in the most diplomatic way possible, was.

"We both had a little bit of help from Jacques." He said, his face showing all the signs of being very unfairly treated. "I let Mika through to give him a chance to push, because I couldn’t make any headway into the Jordan and he was able to make use of that when Jacques let him through at the chicane."

Revealing an obvious pre-race pact between the Williams and McLaren teams in which non involvement from the McLarens was bartered for a possible race win, Villeneuve said, "Mika got close to me but he didn’t want to be part of the fight at the beginning of the race when he was quicker and he stayed out of the battle later on in the race, so when he was in my mirrors, it was a question of either pushing like a maniac and risking going off with the way the car was handling or seeing if he made a move and let him through. He made a move and David was close also, so I didn’t fight it."

A Steward’s enquiry over the incident amounted to nothing more than ‘a racing accident’, but Jock Clear Villeneuve’s mechanic put it succinctly when he said, "How many times have we heard Michael praised? I hope that there’s enough praise for the way Jacques drove today because he outdrove Michael and Michael cracked exactly the same way as he did in Adelaide in 1994."

If the stewards are unable to carry out their responsibilities it should then be up to the FIA to mete out a just punishment. Schumacher was already racing under a one race suspended ban and should have been disqualified just as Villeneuve was, for a far less grievous incident in Suzuka. The Possible lack of gate money if Schumacher does not drive in the first two races of the season could be a reason for such unwarranted leniency, but the magnitude of the situation had both cars been ejected from the race does not bear consideration and cannot be ignored. If the sport is not to be dragged yet again through the mire of indolence and corruption, the public if not the Formula 1 fraternity has to be appeased.

The contention that Schumacher purposely drove into Championship contender Damon Hill when he hit a wall in the Australian Grand Prix, will now be renewed. Frank Williams never one to make a fuss, for the past three seasons has kept silent about the incident in Adelaide. But obviously moved that his protégée had triumphed through adversity by being, as he put it, " the right place at the right time," he said, "It was Adelaide revisited. Then it was Damon, this time it was Jacques."

As the outgoing World Champion Damon Hill packed his bags and emptied the TWR locker room, questions have to be asked about the conduct of a race that was blatantly interfered with in a two team conspiracy to make the going easier. It was also a rebuff to Renault who has provided Williams with the ripest fruit from the tree of superiority for the last 9 years, giving them 63 race wins. As Renault Sport President Patrick Faure said, "I think Renault will be remembered for its loyalty." Which is more than can be said of boss Frank Williams. "Formula 1 is no world of angels," Faure continued. " is possible to respect such values as loyalty and fair play even in such a demanding environment." From the trackside observer, it seemed that Villeneuve was quite capable of holding off Hakinnen’s advances for the final lap to secure the race for Renault, but then who knows how the McLarens would have changed the shape of the race had they actually raced the Williams as is the bounden duty of any racing driver?

The Napoleonic Ferrari team Boss Jean Todt, his face, a perpetual portrait of anxiety, had tears in his eyes as he hugged his driver on his early return to the pits. A great and loyal man, he has been singularly responsible for putting the Scuderia back on it’s feet since the death of Enzo Ferrari and he genuinely believed that the accident that occurred was just that. "It was a great shame about the incident that occurred when Villeneuve tried to pass him." He said. "We have to accept this as a race incident in a hard fought situation. We are not demoralised and we are determined to prepare ourselves well for next year."

Schumacher added his congratulations to the winner of a race that the majority of the motor racing fraternity thought was his for the taking, so ending Ferrari’s 18 year championship drought. "I want to congratulate him (Villeneuve) because he has had a very good season. At the end of the day he has got the result and we have to face that." Who now at Ferrari will shake his hand and say "Well tried Michael.." knowing that he has besmirched to holy name of the Scuderia in front of every living Tifosi?

Villeneuve drove with finely tuned aggression until lap 48 when determination and courage took over and a little good fortune was on hand to enable him to have the last word. "To win the Championship after disqualification at Suzuka feels great." The new World Champion said. He could not resist however, a playful dig at Schumacher’s universally predicted manoeuvre, when he said finally, "Either Michael had his eyes closed or somehow his hands slipped on the steering wheel!"

As Damon Hill stated, "Schumacher has shown his true colours today." What is certain is that the scarlet cars that graced the track up until today will bear a distinctly darker hue in the coming season.


Chris Richardson




European Grand Prix, Jerez Oct 26th 1997

Final Classification (unofficial)


1. Mika Hakkinen McLaren (average speed 185.240 kph)

2. David Coulthard McLaren + 1.654

3. Jacques Villeneuve Williams + 1.803

4. Gerhard Berger Benetton + 1.919

5. Eddie Irvine Ferrari + 3.789

6. Heinz-Harald Frentzen Williams + 4.537

7. Olivier Panis Prost +1:7.145

8. Johnny Herbert Sauber +1:12.961

9. Jan Magnussen Stewart +1:17.487

10. Shinji Nakano Prost +1:18.215

11. Giancarlo Fisichella Jordan +one lap

12. Mika Salo Tyrrell +one lap

13. Jean Alesi Benetton +one lap

14. Norberto Fontana Sauber +one lap

15. Tarso Marques Minardi +one lap

16. Jos Verstappen Tyrrell +one lap

17. Ukyo Katayama Minardi +one lap


Did not finish:


18. Michael Schumacher Ferrari 47 laps

19. Damon Hill Arrows 47

20. Ralf Schumacher Jordan 44

21. Rubens Barrichello Stewart 30

22. Pedro Diniz Arrows 11


Fastest lap: H H Frentzen 1:23.135 (average speed 191.745 kph) on lap 30.

1997 Championship Contents

Formula 1 Contents