Ill Villeneuve withstands Irvine attack to win again

1997 Argentinian Grand Prix flashback

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Jacques Villeneuve and Eddie Irvine had clashed publicly following their first-lap collision in the season-opening races of 1997. At round three they met on the track again, but this time they fought for the victory.

The F1 field arrived at the third race of the 1997 season with Villeneuve and David Coulthard tied at the top of the points standings. But Coulthard didn’t figure in the fight for victory in Argentina.

Nor did the driver who was widely expected to be Villeneuve’s strongest rival for the 1997 crown, Michael Schumacher. He and Coulthard were eliminated before the first lap had been completed.

Bridgestone runners surprise again

Formula One returned to a Buenos Aires circuit which had been partly resurfaced in a bid to remove the bumps which drivers had complained vociferously about the previous year. The changes were somewhat successful, and along with the softer tyres brought by Goodyear and Bridgestone, contributed to a six-second drop in lap times compared to the previous year.

Argentina’s return to the world championship calendar two years earlier had been masterminded by Santa Fe governor and 1981 world championship runner-up Carlos Reutemann. FOM’s cameras were drawn to the enigmatic former Ferrari driver throughout the 600th world championship event.

But the Buenos Aires circuit had been drastically shortened since Reutemann had last raced on it in the early eighties. The layout was short, cramped and slow. Backmarkers Tyrrell turned up with unusual mine-winglets mounted on top of their sidepods, swiftly dubbed X-wings, in order to increase downforce and traction.

Jos Verstappen dragged his Ford V8-powered Tyrrell onto the eighth row of the grid which he shared with another future F1 father, Jan Magnussen. But the latter had been spectacularly out-qualified by his Stewart team mate.

The performance of Bridgestone’s tyres had thrust the tail-enders into the hunt for points and Rubens Barrichello had delivered a superb lap on them to put his Stewart fifth on the grid. Team owner Jackie Stewart had promised him a Rolex watch if he qualified in the top ten at either of the opening two races. Having qualified 11th for both, Barrichello was given one more chance at the prize and delivered. He tossed his old watch out of the car as he arrived back in the pits.

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But Barrichello wasn’t the highest Bridgestone-shod qualifier on the grid. That accolade went to Olivier Panis, who had already taken his Prost to a surprise podium finish in Brazil two weeks earlier. With hotter conditions forecast for race day which would suit the durable Bridgestones, Prost had a genuine shot at victory.

Arrows, however, were struggling once more and unable to join the Bridgestone party. World champion Damon Hill lined up a glum 13th while team mate Pedro Diniz brought up the rear of the field.

Hill’s former team swept the front row though once again the gap between his replacement, Heinz-Harald Frentzen, and Villeneuve was significant. Frentzen had a good reason for his sub-par performance, however: he was suffering so badly from gastroenteritis he had to be put on oxygen after his practice runs on Friday. And Villeneuve, who took the 100th pole position for Williams, was developing similar symptoms.

Schumacher continued to labour with his Ferrari and joined Panis on the second row. “I don’t think to beat Villeneuve at the moment,” he said after qualifying. “I have other problems to think about at the moment.”

His younger brother Ralf in the Jordan joined Barrichello on the third row. An improved performance by Eddie Irvine netted him seventh on the grid alongside Johnny Herbert’s Sauber.

The first of the McLarens scraped onto the fifth row alongside Giancarlo Fisichella’s Jordan. Having won in Australia the team struggled dreadfully with the Buenos Aires bumps. Mika Hakkinen only managed 17th after a spin in qualifying.

1997 Argentinian Grand Prix qualifying

Row 11. Jacques Villeneuve 1’24.473
2. Heinz-Harald Frentzen 1’25.271
Row 23. Olivier Panis 1’25.491
Prost-Mugen Honda
4. Michael Schumacher 1’25.773
Row 35. Rubens Barrichello 1’25.942
6. Ralf Schumacher 1’26.218
Row 47. Eddie Irvine 1’26.327
8. Johnny Herbert 1’26.564
Row 59. Giancarlo Fisichella 1’26.619
10. David Coulthard 1’26.799
Row 611. Jean Alesi 1’27.076
12. Gerhard Berger 1’27.259
Row 713. Damon Hill 1’27.281
14. Nicola Larini 1’27.690
Row 815. Jan Magnussen 1’28.035
16. Jos Verstappen 1’28.094
Row 917. Mika Hakkinen 1’28.135
18. Jarno Trulli 1’28.160
Row 1019. Mika Salo 1’28.224
20. Shinji Nakano 1’28.366
Row 1121. Ukyo Katayama 1’28.413
22. Pedro Diniz 1’28.969

1997 Argentinian Grand Prix

“I feel like death today” Villeneuve admitted ahead of the race. He finally alerted FIA medical chief Sid Watkins to his predicament an hour before the Sunday morning warm-up. Watkins gave him a strong dose of anti-diarrhoea medication. To Villeneuve’s relief he felt well enough after the warm-up that Watkins’ mischievously suggested alternative course of action – a judiciously-placed champagne cork – was not required.

Villeneuve kept his lead at the start but chaos broke out behind him. Schumacher swerved sharply towards Panis, banging wheels with the Prost. The Ferrari driver then tangled with Barrichello at the first corner, the pair coming to a standstill.

Barrichello scampered off and, after two visits to the pits under the Safety Car for repairs, was able to press on. Schumacher’s Ferrari stopped near the racing line and a marshal quickly began waving a red flag to signal a race stoppage so it could be recovered. But race control decided otherwise, summoning the Safety Car instead. This meant Schumacher’s race was over. Furious, he stormed back into the Ferrari motorhome without removing his helmet.

“It would have been to our benefit to have a red flag,” rued Ferrari’s Ross Brawn afterwards, “but the way they handled it was fine.” The FIA didn’t entirely agree, fining the race organisers $10,000 for the marshal’s errant flag-waving.

Coulthard also went no further in the race, his McLaren having sustained terminal damage. The race restarted with Villeneuve leading Frentzen, Panis, Irvine and Fisichella. Hill had dodged the spinning cars to hold an unexpected sixth, pursued by Herbert and the sole remaining Schumacher.

The race lost another of its German runners soon after it restarted. Frentzen had been slow to leave the grid on the formation lap due to a fuel hose problem and had been lucky to reclaim his position on the front row. His luck expired on the race’s sixth lap when a faulty seal caused his clutch to disengage.

In his place another car suddenly appeared in Villeneuve’s mirrors. Despite a slow puncture from his first-lap contact with Schumacher, Panis was flying in the Buenos Aires heat. He reeled off the fastest lap on the seventh tour, cutting Villeneuve’s lead to a second.

The Williams then steadily began to draw away but it soon became apparent he was planning on three pit stops to Panis’s two, and therefore had less fuel on board. But three laps before Villeneuve’s first pit stop the Prost came to a stop with an electrical fault.

“I’m very disappointed but I think the team made a very good job this weekend,” said Panis. “I’m sure I’ll win a race after.” Following his early promise in this race and his podium finish in Brazil, it seemed likely indeed.

The demise of Panis left Irvine as Villeneuve’s nearest challenger. He made his first pit stop two laps after the Williams and emerged, usefully, in clear air. Irvine got his foot down and was flying when he inherited the lead on lap 39 as Villeneuve pitted again. Five laps later the Ferrari made its final pit stop, Irvine dramatically sliding through the chicane on the way in. But Villeneuve still had a dozen laps to build up enough of a lead to stay ahead.

Villeneuve matched his father’s six wins
Despite the heat and his condition, Villeneuve got the job done and emerged from his final pit stop with Irvine in his mirrors. But the chequered flag was still 16 laps away and Irvine ducked and weaved behind the Williams every step of the way, hoping the ailing Villeneuve would slip up. Despite also struggling with rear brake locking and a gearbox which occasionally shifted by itself, Villeneuve duly took his second win of the year.

Behind them an all-Jordan battle for third was resolved in controversial fashion. Schumacher had successfully passed Hill around the outside of turn one after the restart. But an optimistic lunge on his team mate on lap 24 forced Fisichella out. Schumacher went on to claim his first podium finish in only his third start, but the celebrations were muted at Jordan’s 100th race.

Jean Alesi tried to mimic Schumacher’s pass on Hill but contact was made between the Benetton and the Arrows. Diniz, Verstappen, Hakkinen and Barrichello all profited from the collision, although the Stewart driver retired soon afterwards with a hydraulic problem.

Hakkinen close on Herbert but the Sauber driver held him off at the flag for fourth place by a mere four-tenths of a second. Gerhard Berger took the final point for sixth after passing Diniz, The other Benetton came alive in the closing stages and set the fastest lap.

He was followed home by team mate Alesi and the race’s three other finishers: Mika Salo, Jarno Trulli and Magnussen – the latter recording Stewart’s first finisher.

But the race winner had reasserted himself as the championship with a gritty victory. It was hard to ignore the shades of his father’s celebrated final victory at Jarama in the way Villeneuve had kept a quicker car behind him over the final laps. Appropriately enough, Villeneuve had now matched his father’s tally of six grand prix victories.

1997 Argentinian Grand Prix result

Pos.No.DriverCarLapsTime / gap / reason
13Jacques VilleneuveWilliams-Renault721hr 52’01.715
26Eddie IrvineFerrari720.979
311Ralf SchumacherJordan-Peugeot7212.089
416Johnny HerbertSauber-Petronas7229.919
59Mika HakkinenMcLaren-Mercedes7230.351
68Gerhard BergerBenetton-Renault7231.393
77Jean AlesiBenetton-Renault7246.359
819Mika SaloTyrrell-Ford711 lap
921Jarno TrulliMinardi-Hart711 lap
1023Jan MagnussenStewart-Ford66Engine
17Nicola LariniSauber-Petronas63Accident
2Pedro DinizArrows-Yamaha50Engine
15Shinji NakanoProst-Mugen-Honda49Engine
18Jos VerstappenTyrrell-Ford43Engine
20Ukyo KatayamaMinardi-Hart37Accident
1Damon HillArrows-Yamaha33Engine
12Giancarlo FisichellaJordan-Peugeot24Accident
14Olivier PanisProst-Mugen-Honda18Electrics
4Heinz-Harald FrentzenWilliams-Renault5Clutch
5Michael SchumacherFerrariAccident
10David CoulthardMcLaren-MercedesAccident

1997 Argentinian 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 “Ill Villeneuve withstands Irvine attack to win again”

  1. Ah, Sid. You joker, you.

  2. Cheers for these flashback articles Keith, ’97 is the first season I have any memories of, so it’s nice to reminisce.

    (Also, I had to double take because I thought it said ‘Il Villeneuve’ and that was some extremely unimaginative nickname for him that I’d managed to miss up until now.)

  3. My favourite season. Btw here’s one of the things JV has been up to lately for those who don’t know. Not sure if any mention has been made on this site as there is always so much great stuff to take in I could have easily missed it.

  4. I remember it well(ish), I was gutted when Barrichello only got as far as the first corner. And Ralf was very cheeky bumping his team mate off – surely this lead to Eddie Jordan telling Hill and Ralf to hold station in Belgium ’98?
    And then at the end I was willing Irvine to chuck it up the inside of Villeneuve. Almost every lap he was glued to him flying through that bumpy flat out right hander out the back of the circuit but then it lead straight into a hairpin and there wasn’t enough room to make a move.

  5. Title: Ill Villeneuve withstands Irvine attack..
    Photo: Ill Frentzen withstands Irvine attack..

    1. Lol didn’t even notice…assumed the shade was hiding JV’s helmet colours.

  6. This was the race that waved the irish tricolour for Irvine, right? that was a huge controversy back in the day!

  7. One of my favourite seasons, mostly because I spent so long playing Formula 1 97 on the PC. God I miss that Murray Walker commentary!

    1. “He’s off on the green stuff!”
      “You’re right there Murray”

      1. “Williams and Jordan, two of the great innovators of car design, have opted for an oval air intake above the drivers head…”
        Loved this season, loved that game!

  8. Panis was flying in the Buenos Aires heat.</blockquot

    Hands up if you misread that line…

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