Villeneuve avenges Australia defeat as Panis takes shock podium

1997 Brazilian Grand Prix flashback

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Jacques Villeneuve bounced back from his turn one retirement at the first race of 1997 by winning the second race of the season in Brazil on this day 20 years ago.

The promised showdown between him and Michael Schumacher, who he shared the front row with, failed to materialise. Instead the big shock of the race was not the performance of a driver or car, but a tyre supplier.

Bridgestone, in only the second race of their first full year of competition, pulled off a major shock as Olivier Panis took their rubber to third position. It was a result which had major implications for the rest of the championships.

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Lola hit the buffers

The weekend began on a sour note. Lola, one of the two new teams which had entered the championship at the beginning of the year, abandoned their F1 programme after a single appearance. The T97/30s arrived at Interlagos but took no part in the race weekend.

The team’s sponsor Mastercard had attempted to fund the programme using subscriptions from its credit card users, paying between $79 and $2,999 each. The plan failed, and Lola later went into receivership.

It was the latest in a long line of teams to abandon its F1 hopes. But while teams dropping out of Formula One was nothing new, the rate of new entries coming in to replace them was slowing. And the FIA’s plan in the wake of the Lola debacle to make new entrants lodge a multi-million dollar bond, in order to prove they had sufficient funding, meant very few new teams followed in the wake of Lola and fellow 1997 newcomers Stewart.

1997 Brazilian Grand Prix qualifying

Williams had locked out the front row of the grid in Melbourne but come away with nothing. In Brazil they were again clearly the quickest team again, though not immune to the difficulty of riding the notorious Interlagos bumps.

Jacques Villeneuve claimed pole position again with little drama besides a water leak in a radiator which forced him into the spare car. “There wasn’t much left in it,” he said afterwards, “only a couple of tenths, maybe”.

His new team mate Heinz-Harald Frentzen arrived under scrutiny having been blown away by 1.7 seconds in qualifying in Australia. He headed the first practice session but ended Saturday almost a second off Villeneuve. Whereas in Melbourne he’d started alongside his team mate, this time there was six cars between them.

Nor was Frentzen pleased to see Damon Hill, the reigning world champion whose place he’d taken at Williams, lining up in the next slot in his unfancied Arrows. After the embarrassment of their star driver failing to start in Australia the team had made significant progress, logging over 600 laps in testing at Paul Ricard.

Nonetheless Hill was unimpressed when his throttle jammed open 12 laps into first practice in Brazil. “Not the sort of thing you want to experience for any reason,” he said of the latest in a series of breakages for the A18.

Frentzen’s struggled opened the door for Schumacher to join Villeneuve on the front row. His team mate was also struggling: Eddie Irvine was back in 14th place. “I know one person who is happy,” said Schumacher in the post-qualifying press conference, drawing attention to a smiling Villeneuve, who had sharply criticised Irvine for the Ferrari driver’s role in his Melbourne retirement.

Gerhard Berger brought cheer to Benetton with third on the grid. The wily old-timer had played a cunning tactical game in qualifying, leading the field out for a late restart to present an obstacle to anyone who might beat his team.

The red flag had been caused by Giancarlo Fisichella who crashed his Jordan at Mergulho. “Maybe too much speed,” he explained in his improving English. “I try flat throttle. Not possible!”

Melbourne winner David Coulthard struggled to 12th while his McLaren team mate Mika Hakkinen lined up on the second row. Behind the quartet of Goodyear runners at the front lay Panis, who several had already identified as a potential threat in the race due to his more durable Bridgestone tyres.

Three weeks on from the embarrassment of retiring from the season-opener due to running out of petrol, Jean Alesi took sixth in his Benetton. Team principal Flavio Briatore, probably joking, said he was “going to hang out a gun” if Alesi failed to come into the pits this time.

Row 11. Jacques Villeneuve 1’16.004
2. Michael Schumacher 1’16.594
Row 23. Gerhard Berger 1’16.644
4. Mika Hakkinen 1’16.692
Row 35. Olivier Panis 1’16.756
6. Jean Alesi 1’16.757
Row 47. Giancarlo Fisichella 1’16.912
8. Heinz-Harald Frentzen 1’16.971
Row 59. Damon Hill 1’17.090
10. Ralf Schumacher 1’17.175
Row 611. Rubens Barrichello 1’17.259
12. David Coulthard 1’17.262
Row 713. Johnny Herbert 1’17.409
14. Eddie Irvine 1’17.527
Row 815. Shinji Nakano 1’17.999
16. Pedro Diniz 1’18.095
Row 917. Jarno Trulli 1’18.336
18. Ukyo Katayama 1’18.557
Row 1019. Nicola Larini 1’18.644
20. Jan Magnussen 1’18.773
Row 1121. Jos Verstappen 1’18.885
22. Mika Salo 1’19.274

Frentzen, Coulthard, Jan Magnussen and Pedro Diniz all had lap times deleted for crossing the white pit entry line.

1997 Brazilian Grand Prix

Having started badly from pole position in the previous two races, Villeneuve had drilled his practice starts in a test at Paul Ricard before the race. But after leading the field around a somewhat slow warm-up lap he again failed to get off the line cleanly, and Schumacher was immediately by into the lead.

Villeneuve understeered wide into the downhill Senna-S bend but behind him there was chaos. Fisichella spun into Hill and Magnussen made contact with Irvine. Rubens Barrichello had failed to get his Stewart off the line, and the race was swiftly red-flagged.

This was came as a relief to Villeneuve after his trip across the gravel. “There were rocks in the seat and it was not very comfortable,” he said. “At least the mechanics were able to clean them out. It would have been pretty uncomfortable if the red flag hadn’t come out.”

More importantly it also restored him to pole position. Barrichello, Fisichella and Frentzen also got second chances, switching to their spare cars for the restart.

The second time of asking Schumacher beat him to turn one but Villeneuve kept his car on track and stalked the Ferrari around the rest of the first lap. He pulled out to pass the Ferrari as they came past the pits for the first time and cut the timing beam a thousandth of a second before his rival.

Ferrari had been struggling to warm Goodyear’s tyres up to the correct temperature and had chosen to run higher levels of downforce. But that made the car more draggy, and once Villeneuve was by Schumacher soon had Berger bearing down on him. He rebuffed an attack from the Benetton on lap eight but four laps later Berger was through.

Schumacher regained second when Berger pitted on lap 22. But staying out another four laps cost the Ferrari driver: he fell behind Hakkinen and Hill. Hakkinen quickly passed the one-stopping Arrows but Schumacher took another six laps to get by into fourth. Alesi followed him through before Hill made a belated arrival in the pits, having missed his first signal to come in.

Third place for Panis was an early breakthrough for Bridgestone
Hill’s fellow Bridgestone user Panis had risen as high as second before pitting just before the halfway mark on lap 35. “When we were discussing strategy it was Alain [Prost] who pushed for one stop,” said Panis. “I pushed for it, too, because the tyre wear figures were fantastic.”

He rejoined the track in seventh but within ten laps was back up to third as the two-stoppers made their second visits to the pits. Berger ran a very long middle stint and briefly led before dropping back behind Villeneuve and just four seconds ahead of Panis. The stealthy Prost driver rose to third place despite only setting the 12th-fastest lap of the race.

Schumacher had to settle for two points for fifth place behind Hakkinen. Just one-third of the 18 classified finishers were awarded points, the last of them being Alesi.

Frentzen concluded a miserable race in ninth position. He was the last driver not lapped by his race-winning team mate who finished 75 seconds ahead of him – an average of more than a second per lap. “I just couldn’t get the handling right,” he said. Wisely, Frentzen opted to cancel a planned post-race holiday for talks with team principal Frank Williams over his performance.

Hill was classified despite dropping out with an engine fire four laps from home. He had already gone a lap down. But arguably no one had endured a tougher race than the much-maligned Irvine.

One of the Ferrari driver’s crotch straps was too short, leaving Irvine in excruciating pain every time he touched the brake pedal. Having radioed his team to warn them he was having difficulty coping he accidentally left the radio open and his shrieks could be heard. “They must have at thought I was having orgasms or something, and the excitement of the race,” he speculated. “It was the worst pain I think I’ve ever had.”

There was no repeat of the late-race brake failure which hit Williams at Melbourne, though Villeneuve was plagued by a soft pedal which gave little feeling all race. The only other problem he encountered came after the chequered flag: He stopped his car on the sloped straight and it began to roll after him, almost knocking him over.

While Berger’s second place brought relief to Benetton, third place for Panis meant Goodyear had to take their new Japanese rivals seriously. Bridgestone’s Hirohide Hamashima admitted he “could see they were very worried” after the race.

Goodyear had the pick of F1’s teams at the beginning of the year, including Williams, Ferrari, Benetton, McLaren, Jordan and Sauber. Bridgestone “were supplying only lower ranked teams”, said Hamashima, but were already finishing in positions which were “so much better than expected”. In the coming races, Goodyear would have to respond.

1997 Brazilian Grand Prix result

13Jacques VilleneuveWilliams-Renault721:36’06.990
28Gerhard BergerBenetton-Renault724.190
314Olivier PanisProst-Mugen-Honda7215.870
49Mika HakkinenMcLaren-Mercedes7233.033
55Michael SchumacherFerrari7233.731
67Jean AlesiBenetton-Renault7234.020
716Johnny HerbertSauber-Petronas7250.912
812Giancarlo FisichellaJordan-Peugeot721’00.639
94Heinz-Harald FrentzenWilliams-Renault721’15.402
1010David CoulthardMcLaren-Mercedes711 lap
1117Nicola LariniSauber-Petronas711 lap
1221Jarno TrulliMinardi-Hart711 lap
1319Mika SaloTyrrell-Ford711 lap
1415Shinji NakanoProst-Mugen-Honda711 lap
1518Jos VerstappenTyrrell-Ford702 laps
166Eddie IrvineFerrari702 laps
171Damon HillArrows-Yamaha684 laps
1820Ukyo KatayamaMinardi-Hart675 laps
11Ralf SchumacherJordan-Peugeot52Electrics
22Rubens BarrichelloStewart-Ford16Suspension
2Pedro DinizArrows-Yamaha15Suspension
23Jan MagnussenStewart-Ford0Did not start

1997 Brazilian Grand Prix championship standings

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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11 comments on “Villeneuve avenges Australia defeat as Panis takes shock podium”

  1. love these real time season flashbacks!!!! 97 was a good season as well! weird fact: at no race during the season did Michael Schumacher and Jaques Villeneuve appear on the podium together!!!!

    1. @rick1984 what an amazing stat! Very weird, when Villeneuve was on it the Ferrari was nowhere, but when Schumacher was on it the Williams would have an off weekend, generally speaking.

      I must admit I don’t have memories of 97 being an outstanding year, and that states sums it up. Close championship battle on the points table, but not on the road.

      Great for nostalgia though, looking forward to seeing more of the Bitten and Hisses Jordans.

  2. Say what you will about Eddie Irvine, bloke risked his balls making it to the chequered flag!

  3. Roth Man (@rdotquestionmark)
    30th March 2017, 13:05

    Absolutely loving these detailed flashes of nostalgia. Bringing back so many memories. 97 was the first season I religiously started watching F1 at 10 years old (and the first time I went to a GP).

  4. Do you mean cars, especially this Prost, could be beautiful in the past?
    I thought the regulations always only alllowed ugly cars.

  5. One of my all time favorite seasons in F1! Thanks for this:)

  6. I still remember Fisico being so timid in interviews with ITV, and the press conferences after his podiums. He struggled so much with english! At Spa even Michael helped him with some words :P a bit like Valentino with Enea Bastianini at Misano in 2015.

    Love that picture of that Prost. What a car, what a year!

  7. Always forget how awful was Frentzen this season.

  8. 1997 was such a great season with a lot of unexpected results. This was the first race of the season in which the difference between the Goodyear and Bridgestone tires became clear. The midfield was a huge traffic jam and Panis really benefited from his more durable tires to take a surprise podium. I still like how Villeneuve overtook Schumacher just before the start/finish line in the first lap. The speed difference was so massive that it was scary.

  9. Loving these articles. They are excellent!
    Just scanning down through the grid line up, I can hear the music from Sony’s F1 ’97 game!

  10. 1997 was a fun year. I just got done watching the season recap. I’d suggest anyone with the amazon app on the PS4 to watch it. They have like 20 season reviews for free to watch!

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