Damon Hill, Jacques Villeneuve, Hungaroring, 1997

Last-lap heartbreak for Hill and Arrows as Villeneuve snatches win

1997 Hungarian Grand Prix flashback

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Damon Hill came within a lap of scoring what would have been one of the greatest shock wins in Formula One history on this day 20 years ago.

The 1997 Hungarian Grand Prix was the 208th race for his Arrows team. In almost two decades of competition they had never finished higher than second.

That seemed destined to change as the reigning world champion, who had shocked the F1 paddock by joining the struggling team for 1997, led most of the way at the Hungaroring. But disaster struck with the chequered flag almost in sight.

1997 Hungarian Grand Prix qualifying

Michael Schumacher arrived at the Hungaroring in good shape. Williams had failed to make good use of their power advantage at the previous race in Germany, allowing him to open up a ten-point lead over title rival Jacques Villeneuve.

The Hungaroring promised to be a much better venue for Schumacher’s Ferrari F310B. What’s more, he was wielding a new advantage: The first example of a revised, lighter chassis which he reckoned was worth three tenths of a second per lap.

Schumacher deployed it to superb effect as the weekend began, heading practice on Friday. But the heat at the Hungaroring put him and his fellow Goodyear drivers in a quandary over which tyres to pick for qualifying.

The softer tyres gave a clear one-lap performance advantage but would be at risk of blistering in the race. The drivers could only choose one type and most of the front-runners opted for the softer rubber. Williams driver Heinz-Harald Frentzen was a significant exception.

After qualifying it seemed Frentzen’s decision hadn’t paid off. Schumacher took pole, but Villeneuve ran him close, and the pair occupied the front row of the grid. Their team mates mirrored them on the third row, Frentzen eight-tenths of a second off Schumacher’s pace. Eddie Irvine, fifth, was having to make do with a regular 310B.

But on the second row Hill had caused a sensation. The power disadvantage of his Yamaha engine was neutralised at the Hungaroring, and with Bridgestone’s tyres giving superb grip he qualified his Arrows a stunning third. This was the highest grid position they’d occupied since Riccardo Patrese’s shock pole position at Long Beach in 1981.

Benetton, winners in Germany, had tried new front and rear suspension components in practice but were second off the pace on this much slower track. Gerhard Berger, the pole sitter in Hockenheim, lined up seventh this time, two places ahead of team mate Jean Alesi.

Johnny Herbert’s Sauber, with its year-old Ferrari engine, overcame a rear handling imbalance to complete the top ten. Sauber’s weekend had started badly with a failed fuel sample test which led to a $15,000 fine.

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1997 Hungarian Grand Prix grid

Row 1 1. Michael Schumacher 1’14.672
2. Jacques Villeneuve 1’14.859
Row 2 3. Damon Hill 1’15.044
4. Mika Hakkinen 1’15.140
Row 3 5. Eddie Irvine 1’15.424
6. Heinz-Harald Frentzen 1’15.520
Row 4 7. Gerhard Berger 1’15.699
8. David Coulthard 1’15.705
Row 5 9. Jean Alesi 1’15.905
10. Johnny Herbert 1’16.138
Row 6 11. Rubens Barrichello 1’16.138
12. Jarno Trulli 1’16.297
Row 7 13. Giancarlo Fisichella 1’16.300
14. Ralf Schumacher 1’16.686
Row 8 15. Gianni Morbidelli 1’16.766
16. Shinji Nakano 1’16.784
Row 9 17. Jan Magnussen 1’16.858
18. Jos Verstappen 1’17.095
Row 10 19. Pedro Diniz 1’17.118
20. Ukyo Katayama 1’17.232
Row 11 21. Mika Salo 1’17.482
22. Tarso Marques 1’18.020

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1997 Hungarian Grand Prix

Schumacher’s victory hopes took a major blow before the race had even begun. During the morning warm up he spun his special lightweight F310B into the barrier at turn 11, damaging the chassis. With no spare on hand he had to revert to the same specification as Irvine.

However he still had the advantage of pole position, which he kept when the lights went out. Even better, Villeneuve made a sluggish getaway from the dirty side of the grid and Hill split the pair of them. Irvine and Mika Hakkinen also shuffled the Williams driver back to fifth.

The first lap ended with Schumacher 1.7 seconds clear of the chasing pack. But he and all the other Goodyear drivers who’d opted for the softer tyres soon found the rubber was not holding up well. Schumacher couldn’t get away from the Bridgestone-shod Hill.

Suddenly on the fifth lap of the race the Arrows was all over the struggling Ferrari. For lap after lap the pair crossed the line separated by less than half a second as Schumacher grimly hung on. Meanwhile Irvine pitted the other Ferrari as early as lap seven for fresh rubber.

“I was able to stay close to Michael,” said Hill. “But I could see from early in the race that he had blistered his tyres and was going to have a problem.”

On lap ten the incredible happened. Hill fired his Arrows down the inside of the Ferrari and was by into the lead. “I was able to pass him quite easily into the first corner,” said Hill. “Then with a clear track I knew I had to capitalise on my advantage.”

Hill scampered off while Schumacher held up a train of cars. “We clearly had a tyre which was quick in qualifying but much slower in the race,” reflected Ferrari’s technical director Ross Brawn later. “It was too fragile.”

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Villeneuve, running soft Goodyears on his Williams, bided his time. “I just stayed where I was, watching the guys in front pushing and having their battles until they blistered their tyres. And sure enough, after ten laps their tyres had blistered.”

Irvine’s pit stop and Hakkinen’s retirement – due to a hydraulic problem – had put Villeneuve on Schumacher’s tail. On lap 14 Schumacher surrendered to the inevitable and pitted for new rubber. Villeneuve made it another ten laps, putting him on course for a two-stop strategy to Schumacher’s three.

Hill’s Bridgestone’s held up well enough that he had a 5.6 second lead before Villeneuve pitted. However the other Williams was also a threat. Frentzen’s gamble on running the hard tyres was paying off: he inherited the lead on lap 26.

But luck was not on the Williams driver’s side. As he came past the pits to start his 29th lap part of the refuelling valve fell from his FW19. Entering turn two a flash of flame burst from his car, which repeated as he pressed on and headed for the pits. When the car came to a stop the team saw there was no way to refuel it, and Frentzen’s race was over.

“It looked very good,” rued Frentzen, who thought he could have won. “It was no problem for me to maintain lap times at around one minute 18 seconds, and at that stage it already looked as though I would be well placed to pass Damon.”

“I had a 23 second lead before my pit stop, and if nothing had gone wrong I would still have been ahead of him when I came out.”

His demise restored Hill to the lead, 12 seconds clear of Villeneuve, who now had David Coulthard in hot pursuit. Schumacher had fallen to fourth but was in for his second stop on lap 33, which promoted Herbert in his place.

The Sauber driver had nursed his tyres when Schumacher held up the field early in the race. He managed to eke his Goodyears out to make a two-stop strategy work, which ultimate jumped him in front of Schumacher. He was on course for his best result of the season.

The race settled down somewhat in the second half while Hill shored up his advantage. The Hungaroring had always been one of his favourite tracks – he’d scored his first win there four years earlier – and he was revelling in his much-improved A18 chassis.

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Hill and Villeneuve made their second stops on lap 51. Behind them Coulthard was on course for third, but an electrical fault ended his day. That put Herbert on course for the podium. Six seconds behind him Schumacher was holding up another train of cars led by his brother. Giancarlo Fisichella in the other Jordan had already spun off trying to pass the Ferrari. Behind them were Irvine in the other Ferrari and Shinji Nakano’s Prost.

By lap 73 Hill had spent most of the afternoon in the lead. With a 34-second lead in his pocket he looked on course for a shock win. Then came a worrying hesitation when he tried to accelerate: A broken washer had caused a failure in the throttle linkage.

“The first I knew of it was with about three laps to go when I had a problem with the throttle,” said Hill “It is operated hydraulically and the throttle was just an indication of a general hydraulic problem which also affected the gears. When the gears started to give trouble I couldn’t shift and the throttle didn’t work either.”

With his car only accelerating when it felt like it, Hill lost nine seconds on lap 75. The problem worsened dramatically: he lost over 21 seconds on his penultimate tour.

“At one point I was stuck in second. I managed to get it into third, but that was the end because it was a case of the throttle working when it wanted to do. Unfortunately these things get out of your control: when you can’t use the gears or the throttle, that is the end of the story.”

As the final lap began Villeneuve was bearing down on the Arrows. Hill flailed in vain as the Williams cruised past him approaching turn four, two wheels on the grass. Incredibly, as Herbert was another 26 seconds behind, Hill was able to hold on for second place.

“It stopped about three times and I am frankly amazed that I was able to get to the finish because I thought it was going to leave me parked,” he said. “But it picked up at the last second, so I have to say I am really pleased to have finished second.”

While this drama was unfolding Nakano took a run at Irvine and knocked the Ferrari driver off, claiming the final point for sixth place in the progress.

Hill’s misfortune handed Villeneuve a four-point bonus in the championship, but he was charitable enough to admit his former team mate had deserved the victory.

“For the last 15 laps I was thinking there was a good chance that Damon wouldn’t finish the race,” said Villeneuve. “But he was actually going on and on.”

“My hopes had gone down to nothing until the last two laps, when the team told me he was slowing down a lot. So I started pushing again, and when I got close to him he was moving left and right which is normal on the last lap and when he moved over on me I went on the grass because there was no way I was going to lift.”

“He was worth a win today,” Villeneuve added. “He drove really well and he was flying.”

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1997 Hungarian Grand Prix result

Pos. No. Driver Team Laps Time / gap / reason
1 3 Jacques Villeneuve Williams-Renault 77 1hr 45’47.149
2 1 Damon Hill Arrows-Yamaha 77 9.079
3 16 Johnny Herbert Sauber-Petronas 77 20.445
4 5 Michael Schumacher Ferrari 77 30.501
5 11 Ralf Schumacher Jordan-Peugeot 77 30.715
6 15 Shinji Nakano Prost-Mugen-Honda 77 41.512
7 14 Jarno Trulli Prost-Mugen-Honda 77 1’15.552
8 8 Gerhard Berger Benetton-Renault 77 1’16.409
9 6 Eddie Irvine Ferrari 76 Accident
10 20 Ukyo Katayama Minardi-Hart 76 1 lap
11 7 Jean Alesi Benetton-Renault 76 1 lap
12 21 Tarso Marques Minardi-Hart 75 2 laps
13 19 Mika Salo Tyrrell-Ford 75 2 laps
10 David Coulthard McLaren-Mercedes 65 Electrical
18 Jos Verstappen Tyrrell-Ford 61 Gearbox
2 Pedro Diniz Arrows-Yamaha 53 Electrical
12 Giancarlo Fisichella Jordan-Peugeot 42 Accident
4 Heinz-Harald Frentzen Williams-Renault 29 Fuel leak
22 Rubens Barrichello Stewart-Ford 29 Engine
9 Mika Häkkinen McLaren-Mercedes 12 Hydraulics
17 Gianni Morbidelli Sauber-Petronas 7 Engine
23 Jan Magnussen Stewart-Ford 5 Accident

1997 Hungarian Grand Prix championship standings

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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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25 comments on “Last-lap heartbreak for Hill and Arrows as Villeneuve snatches win”

  1. It’s weird how Damon Hill was the only driver able to make use of the Bridgestone tyre advantage. I’m sure if Panis had been there in the Prost he would have absolutely walked this race.

    Having said that, it looks as though Minardi made the most of being on Bridgestones too – Katayama finishing ahead of a Benetton doesn’t happen everyday. Alesi must have had a shocker!

  2. Hakk The Rack
    10th August 2017, 13:16

    I remember this one quite well. Those enormous emotions on early stages of the race (That’s Hill!) and huge disappointment because of Damon’s misfortune. Also Eddie Jordan’s comments regarding Ralf’s attitude, to help his brother to win a championship “Michael needs points more than I do”.

  3. This begs the question:

    Could we use the same tyre rules today?

    Before the weekend begins, you pick one compound to use for the entire weekend. This would lead to the front-runners needing to decide whether to opt for 1 lap qualifying pace, or to try to stop less during the race.

    I’d love to see them give it a try. It’d be better than these confusing tyre rules, which even as a die-hard, I still don’t quite (wish to) understand.

    1. @ecwdanselby Provided that Pirelli can produce two or three compounds that can compete with each other this would be a great improvement to the show. This would also mean the end of that horrible 2-compound rule, which makes it an even better idea.

      1. Wasn’t Hill the only reigning WC in F1 history to be sacked(or not having his contract resigned?)

        1. He wasn’t actually a W/C when he was notified, if that helps?

  4. I remember that I was on a holiday in France and could not watch the race. Without internet I had no clue who won. My parents picked up a French newspaper the next morning and I read that Hill had led almost the entire race and almost won it. My first reaction was “This can’t be true, I really suck at French!”.

  5. The only thing that would make these articles more perfect would be more pictures. Back then, the internet was almost non existent and I hadn’t yet discovered that Autosport magazine existed – I always remember seeing maybe one picture in Mondays paper after the race & that was all the F1 I had to drool over for the next two weeks. How times have changed!

  6. probably the biggest heartbreak ever for us, Arrows fans… =(
    well, at least it made for a very fun challenge on the N64 game back then! =)

    1. @arrows98 F1 World Grand Prix, well reminded! Cool profile pic by the way, I’ve always loved the all-black 98 Arrows, a great look. I mean it’s no Orange Arrows but we hadn’t reached those heady days yet!

      1. thanks, @unicron2002 !!! F1 World Grand Prix was a surprisingly good game for its time…

        I not only love the livery of the all-black Arrows, but the shape of it as well: it was very sculpted for a 1997 chassis, and, according to Hill back then at least, very good around corners. It was just the power of that horrible Yamaha letting them down.

        A car painted with black, good around corners, but with a Japanese engine that just doesn’t go anywhere: no wonder I’ve been supporting McLaren lately… ;)

        1. @arrows98 yep as your pic there shows, the curves around the sidepod and rear of the car were beautiful, and the cloaked in black it just looked awesome.

          The Arrows 98 season compares pretty well with McLaren 2015 now you mention it!

    2. I feel you (arrows = one of the coolest teams ever) – these season reviews make me so nostalgic!

      1. The 97 season was filled with so much drama, it makes for a great retrospective! Things might not be so interesting in 2002…

  7. The 1997 season was the first – and most brutal – instance of how uncompetetive F1 can be, seeing a reigning world champion not being able to even score points for the most part of it because his car was so slow.
    Only perhaps Emerson Fittipaldi’s Copersucar/own-team seasons saw an ex-champ drive a similarly poor car.

    How similar is this to 2017 anyway, huh?

    I had been an anti-Hill fan during his Schumacher rivalry (in 1994 and 1995), but in 1996 I became a fan.
    Him doing so good, but not winning the Hungarian GP in that year broke my heart. And only his maiden Jordan win at Spa in 1998 was able to heal it a little bit. It never healed it completely though… I’m still bitter about it.

    Don’t we wish Fernando had his own Hungary’97 this year as well?

    1. @damon Unless it rains in Singapore I don’t see it happening!

      1. another reason why we need a tyre war so teams can have days like this.

        Also remember back then teams went different routes with development so they had tracks that suited them.. Force India/Jordan always went well at tracks like spa and Germany. It was kind of how it was. I loved that.

    2. “but in 1996 I became a fan”
      I obviously meant his Arrows year of 1997.

      Oh no, we don’t!

  8. Those last 2 laps of Hungary ’97 delivered the most crushing blow I’ve had in all my 25 years of F1 viewing. I was gutted then, I’m gutted now, and always will be! Such a shame, still proud of what Arrows and Hill got so close to achieving though.

    1. “I was gutted then, I’m gutted now, and always will be!”
      – I feel you, bro! That one will never heal :(

      “Those last 2 laps of Hungary ’97 delivered the most crushing blow I’ve had in all my 25 years of F1 viewing.”
      @unicron2002 @keithcollantine
      This is a great topic for converstation!

      When I look back, the worst things that I went through in the last 25 years of F1 – off the top of my head – were:
      – 1994 – Senna’s death
      – 1996 – the disappearance of the last classical low-nose F1 car (Ferrari introduced a high-nose version of B310 in GP Canada – the B310B) making the entire F1 field consist of high nosed cars
      – 1997 – Hill’s Hungarian GP
      – 1997 – Schumacher’s DQ at Jerez
      – 1998 – Introduction of narrow F1 cars
      – 1999 – Schumi braking leg
      – 1999 – Zanardi’s poor showing at Williams
      – 2010-2013 – Schumacher’s Mercedes years
      – 2012 – Schumacher’s grid penalty after pole lap at Monaco

      1. @damon as soon as I wrote that it got me thinking too. I’m with you on some of yours, particularly the Zanardi one – but I was never as big a Schumi fan as you were! So I would have:
        – Germany ’93 – Hill’s puncture when leading
        – Adelaide ’94 – Hill taken out by Schumi
        – Hungary ’97 – Hill again!
        – Germany ’99 – Salo having to give up his win to Irvine
        – Brazil ’01 – Montoya losing his lead after Verstappen took him out
        – China ’07 – Hamilton and that gravel trap
        – Feb ’11 – Kubica accident
        – Brazil ’12 – Alonso just losing the champtionship

        1. @unicron2002
          Good ones Unicron!

          – Adelaide ’94 – Hill taken out by Schumi
          Hah, yup, that was one of the most epic moments in F1’s history for me. But a “positive” one for a Schumi fan though.

          – Germany ’99 – Salo having to give up his win to Irvine
          Oh yeah! It was one of those moments where I was disgusted with not just the situation, but more with how it showed that F1 is so uncompetetive that we don’t even know who the good drivers are.

  9. I remember dancing around like a lunatic every lap Hill led, not believing what i was seeing, almost distraught with 2 to go, then later being quite satisfied when i heard the car was in such bad shape he was lucky to finish,

    I was a big Hill fan in his Williams days, and have not been a Williams fan again after they let a World Champion go,

  10. I am a bit biased, since I am one of the people who, like Hill’s wife, think that he had more dignity in his little finger than other people in their entire body, but I think is without a doubt one of the most underestimated and disregarded drivers in the history of the sport.

    Measured over the course of a season, he was no Schumacher, no Prost or no Alonso. Nor was he a Senna or a Hamilton over one lap, but he was as formidable an opponent as any other driver that was not one of the all time greats,

    While drivers like Schumacher seem to receive all the praise for building the invincible Ferraris of the early 2000s, Hill never really seemed to receive the same credit for his development skills. For him, the Williams was a gift, not something he developed. This is just blatantly unfair. Especially if you look at his other achievements. Turning Arrows into a near-winner, turning Jordan into a championship contender,.. Also, look at the downfall in performance of Williams, Arrows and Jordan after Hill left. They never reached the same heights any more. Not even close.

    Every time he achieved a result, people appeared to point at the car, while with other drivers it was driver skill. Only misfortune kept him from 5 victories in his first full season,The great Ayrton Senna, definitley better than Hill, did not score a single point in that stubborn 1994 Williams. He outperformed Nigel Mansell significantly in the same car.

    The same applies for his phenomenal 1997 Hungary GP, with people pointing at the superior tires, of course conveniently forgetting that no other bridgestone driver qualified in the top 10, his team mate was 2 seconds off his pace and after running into problems 3 laps from the end, he was still over 30 seconds in front of the next bridgestone driver at the finish line. Helped by superior resilience of his tyres? Certainly. The Arrows driven by a gifted driver in a brilliant state of mercy? Even more so.

    Anyone doubting his abilities should just look at his performance in the rain. Despite, again, his ability being largely disregarded or snubbed at, he was the only of Schumacher’s early rivals that could challenge him in the rain. Way more than Hakkinen, Villeneuve, Coulthard, Montoya ever could dream of. When they talk about driving in the rain, people seem to point to his lacklustre performance in Spain 1996. A race in which, ironically (or not) Schumacher shone brightly. People do not talk about his dominant win in the rain in Brazil 1996 or the way he annihilated the field in a sodden Monaco GP until his engine failed him.

    Marginalky better known is his win in Suzuka 1994, where he outraced Schumacher in a out-and-out fight against an invisible opponent. For incomprehensible reasons, people feel the need to point out that Schumacher did not have a better strategy that day. Excuse me? The driver that beat Hill more often in the pitlane than not? And the first time the strategy is not spot on, this has to be mentioned. The other times? Nah, driver skill.
    Some comments point out that Schumacher was faster but unfortunate to need an extra pit stop. Yes. That is F1 racing for you, lighter car, faster car. If he would have been on a 1-stopper, he would have been slower. No way to know of he would have beaten Hill on the same strategy,
    Even more intellectually challenged is the fact that people keep on pointing out that Schumacher was hindered by a backmarker. That just gives me a wry smile on my face. The most common criticism on Hill was that he lost too much time behind backmarkers. When it happened to Hill: bad driver. Other drivers: bad luck. By the way, Something went wrong during Hill’s pit stop. He lost some time and they could not change the rear right tire. Lasted the entire race with it. And outdrove the field.

    I am not taking anything from Schumacher’s achievements (well, option 13 leaves a sore aftertaste, one must say) Nor do I think Hill was a Clark, a Senna or a Prost. But after all these years it maybe is time to get over it, look at his career calmly and just once and for all grant Damon Hill his rightful place in history,

  11. I was so gutted for Hill that day. I also seem to remember Villeneuve saying something far more disingenuous after the race, along the lines of just goes to show when you put Damon in a good car he can still win. A back handed compliment for sure, and untrue as the Arrows was by no means a good car. Anyone else remember?

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