Hungarian Grand Prix 1997 - Qualifying   HomeContentsHelp

Back to F1 ChampionshipTop


Race Day : August 10th 1997

Qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix

Schumacher Dances to pole and Hill takes third by stealth


They say that if you qualify in the top three places in Hungary, then statistically, you have a 33% chance of winning the race. Whilst the odds for Michael Schumacher, who took command of the qualifying session at the Hungaroring and never let go, are probably quite a bit shorter than this, Damon Hill who did a spectacular lap in the closing stages of the session can look on his chances of a win with a great deal more optimism than of late. Jacques Villeneuve again in a late charge, took the 2nd place slot from Mika Hakinnen who had been in good form for the best part of the session.

With a cooling track over the qualifying period, it was inevitable that times would decrease. It also seemed inevitable that the Ferrari would figure strongly and, fresh from the blocks, the fourth man out, nimble and balletic, danced to the quickest time and never looked back. No one waited for the dust to be cleared. Teams seemed desperate to take advantage of the cloud cover which, as it turned out stayed for the whole session reducing the track temperature by some 10 degrees.

Even Schumacher’s team mate Eddie Irvine looked rejuvenated and at one point it looked as if it might have been a Ferrari lock out, but further excursions by Villeneuve and Hakkinen made sure that this was not to be.

The McLarens tried hard to disappoint and despite David Coulthard’s manful driving, his brief 3rd was knocked down to 6th and then 7th and eventually 8th by the burgeoning Gerhard Berger, desperately trying to find the form in the Benetton on this undulating track, that he displayed in Hockenheim two weeks previously. His final effort for a front row position ended 48 minutes into the session with a spin at turn 12. "I had a very good session until I spun." Said Berger later. "It’s a pity because the lap I was on was two or three tenths of a second quicker and I know I could have improved my time in the last two corners. I pushed too hard and I didn’t want to lift off. I touched a kerb and the car just spun off."

Despite early quick laps Heinz Harald Frentzen found himself being pushed down the order by Coulthard, Berger and Hakinnen and throughout the session seemed ill at ease with his set up.

Jordan were the disappointment of the day. Unable to set their cars up to their liking, they were both hampered by problems. Giancarlo Fisichella, despite driving well, suffered from a lack of grip and was only able to manage 13th slot. A humiliation after his ‘almost’ triumph in Germany. "I knew today’s qualifying would be difficult as the car was ‘nervous’ yesterday." He said. "In the end the tyre choice cost us a place but we had blistering problems with the Goodyear sift compounds so this is why we chose hard. The up-side is that it me be to our advantage tomorrow in the race."

Team mate Ralf Schumacher didn’t fare well either after setting times that only got him 18th place on the grid. A spin and an electrical fire forced him to use the spare car that was set up for Fisichella and suffering brake balance problems did well to improve on his time to finish 14th. He said afterwards, " I expected to be in the top six but we ran into technical problems. Although I improved a little it was impossible to make a real impact. There was a small fire but we don’t know what caused it."

Both Rubens Barichello in the Stewart and Johnny Herbert in the Sauber Petronas posted identical times, Herbert setting his time first and putting him into 10th position.

With just minutes to go, the top guns were all back on the track. Frentzen clawing his way beck to within seven hundredths of a second of his team mate, but it was to be oh, so brief and humiliation was but a few moments away. Within seconds of each other, Schumacher consolidated his pole position for the third time with a definitive 1m.14.67s and Villeneuve, pulling all the tricks out of the Williams bag, stole the march on Hakkinen’s fine second slot just under two tenths behind the Ferrari and knocking Frentzen back down to 5th.

"It’s a very difficult track to overtake on." Commented Villeneuve after the session. "Last year we did the first part of the race with Michael in front and me second it was fun. Hopefully with it starting this way - it will finish like last year too, then that will be good. The team has made big improvements since Hockenheim and after some more work tonight we intend to give Michael a run for his money It should be an interesting run down to the first corner - an interesting drag race!!"

A drag race it may be, but unless he is hot off the mark, Schumacher proved today that he is untouchable and the Canadian will be burning his rubber in a vain attempt to keep up with the Ferrari. "I made a small mistake on my quickest lap, but it did not affect my time." Said Schumacher. "I made some small changes to the car before each run and they always brought an improvement. The cooler temperature helped me to improve, but not that much and the new chassis allowed me to run closer to the weight limit, which is very important on this track. The circuit is very difficult as you can never move off the racing line as you will end up in the dirt. Pole position is not the key to winning the race, as tomorrow we must choose the right strategy."

The surprise was still to come however, as the world watched Coulthard overcook it in his McLaren searching for those lost seconds, World Champion Damon Hill, driving with all the smoothness of the cream on a pint of Guinness, was on a blinder and it wasn’t until the Tag Heuer timing charts refreshed themselves that we saw that Hill had placed himself barely half a second behind Schumacher’s tailpipes in 3rd and on the clean side of the track. After maintaining positions of 12th and seventh in his first two ‘outs’ his lap seemed to come from nowhere and Hill seemed as bewildered as everyone else. "Of course I’m absolutely delighted but it was a bit unexpected" He grinned. "I thought I had a chance of making the top 10 or even the top 6, but third is truly fantastic." Even through the PR speak that followed, he made the obvious point regarding his tyres. " My team have worked brilliantly and Bridgestone have got the tyre mixture just right."

With a track eminently suitable for the Arrows chassis and possibly responding to John Barnard’s additional ‘go faster’ tweaks, Bridgestone rubber must feature strongly in TWR’s successful mixture. It could be too that with fewer pit stops tomorrow and a reliable Yamaha V10 he could be in with a shout at a podium finish. That would be something and coming at the Grand Prix where he scored his first victory in 1993.

Once again Team boss Frank Williams has been given further food for thought as to the wisdom of letting Hill go, for his replacement Frentzen with the best car in the world and with a 100 horsepower advantage still can’t get by the tank that is Arrows.

With all the rumours circulating of clandestine meetings with Ron Dennis, this performance, whether he scores in the race or not, will no doubt have impressed the McLaren team boss. Maybe Hill decided that Hungary could be the shop window for the product that he wants to sell. In which case there should be a few bosses queuing up to buy.

Chris Richardson


Qualifying results for the Hungarian Grand Prix

Aug 9th 1997


1. Michael Schumacher Ferrari 1:14.672

2. Jacques Villeneuve Williams 1:14.859

3. Damon Hill Arrows 1:15.044

4. Mika Hakkinen McLaren 1:15.140

5. Eddie Irvine Ferrari 1:15.424

6. Heinz-Harald Frentzen Williams 1:15.520

7. Gerhard Berger Benetton 1:15.669

8. David Coulthard McLaren 1:15.705

9. Jean Alesi Benetton 1:15.905

10. Johnny Herbert Sauber 1:16.138

11. Rubens Barrichello Stewart 1:16.138

12. Jarno Trulli Prost 1:16.297

13. Giancarlo Fisichella Jordan 1:16.300

14. Ralf Schumacher Jordan 1:16.686

15. Gianni Morbidelli Sauber 1:16.766

16. Shinji Nakano Prost 1:16.784

17. Jan Magnussen Stewart 1:16.858

18. Jos Verstappen Tyrrell 1:17.095

19. Pedro Diniz Arrows 1:17.118

20. Ukyo Katayama Minardi 1:17.232

21. Mika Salo Tyrrell 1:17.482

22. Tarso Marques Minardi 1:18.020


1997 Championship Contents

Formula 1 Contents