Michael Schumacher collides with Jacques Villeneuve

Villeneuve takes title as Schumacher’s attack gets him thrown out

1997 European Grand Prix flashback

Posted on

| Written by

Jacques Villeneuve won the world championship 20 years ago today after surviving a controversial attack from rival Michael Schumacher in the 1997 European Grand Prix.

Third place on the road was enough for Villeneuve to win the championship which eluded his late father Gilles Villeneuve. And the race saw a breakthrough win for Mika Hakkinen, who Villeneuve waved through as he collected the points he needed to take the title.

But after the collision Schumacher faced the wrath of the FIA and received an unprecedented penalty.

The road to Jerez

The scene was set for an epic conclusion to the 1997 F1 season. Against expectations, Schumacher and Ferrari had capitalised on mistakes and misfortune by Villeneuve and Williams. Schumacher had led the standings for much of the year as his rival had a series win-or-bust races. The writing seemed to be on the wall for the years of Williams-Renault supremacy: Star designer Adrian Newey was long gone and the 1997 finale was to be Renault’s last race.

Then Schumacher hit a late-season slump. He took just two points from three races while Villeneuve won twice in eight days, flipping the championship on its head. But the Williams driver fluffed his chance to lock up the title in Japan by collecting his latest in a series of penalties for failing to observe waved yellow flags. Schumacher won and when an FIA hearing upheld Villeneuve’s disqualification, that meant the Ferrari driver headed to Jerez with a one-point lead.

Ferrari headed to the final race in confident mood. A front wing upgrade at Suzuka had boosted the F310B’s performance and the tight, slow Spanish circuit was a venue where they could expect to challenge Williams. Schumacher’s manager Willi Weber brought a stash of merchandise bearing the slogans ‘Michael Schumacher, three times world champion”.

Villeneuve, still smarting from his exclusion in Japan, was trying to apply pressure to his rival in the media. “I was aware, like everyone else, how he had won other championships, mainly against Damon by putting Damon in the wall,” he explained last year.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

“We must have spent the last two or three weeks just mentioning, remembering, reminding people that those accidents and Michael was good at taking people off to win championships.”

Villeneuve wasn’t the only Williams team member pushing this line. Williams’ Patrick Head, who had the memory of Hill’s 1994 title defeat to Schumacher still fresh in his mind, reminded the media: “The man who goes into Jerez in the lead is in a position where, as we’ve seen a number of years previously, he can be very aggressive with the person behind and if both don’t finish [will win the title].”

The season had already begun when the decision to switch the season finale from Estoril in Portugal to Jerez was announced. The second Spanish race of the year was dubbed the European Grand Prix, and was the first season finale held in Europe for 13 years. The return to Europe came at the instigation of Renault, due to their impending exit from F1, and hasn’t been repeated in the 20 years since.

Renault CEO Louis Schweitzer was behind the decision to leave. He told Patrick Faure, who had masterminded the Williams tie-up, they had nothing left to prove in the sport.

“We went there having won everything,” said Renault’s managing director Jean-Francois Caubet at the time. “Around 75% of the races had been won by a Renault engine between 1995 and 1997 and we’d had five consecutive titles.”

Now Renault intended to leave on a high. They plastered the Jerez circuit with their logos ready for a big send-off. “We had asked Bernie to have the last race in Europe for a large television audience, and we wanted to win and leave in front.”

The drama of qualifying ensured many would tune in.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

1997 European Grand Prix qualifying

Lap times in Formula One had been officially recorded to three decimal places since 1981. But around the 4.4-kilometre Jerez circuit it proved insufficient.

Throughout practice the track ‘ramped up’ quickly as the racing line cleaned up. The steadily-improving McLarens headed the final practice session and had either of them been able to replicate their sub-1’21.0 lap times in qualifying the sharp end of the grid would have looked very different.

The championship tension was telling. Schumacher’s team mate Eddie Irvine held Villeneuve up twice around the narrow course. Penalties for impeding weren’t an issue 20 years ago. Villeneuve made sure the world remained alert to the possibility of Ferrari tricks by storming up the pit lane to remonstrate with Irvine while the Ferrari mechanics tried to push his car away.

Soon after qualifying started, Villeneuve put his car on top, rounding the circuit in one minute, 21.072 seconds. This was soon to become the most famous lap time in F1 history.

Schumacher tried to beat it, but came across a tractor recovering his brother’s spun car at the Senna chicane. Crucially the scene was covered by stationary yellow flags, rather than waving ones, which meant Schumacher did not have to back off to the extent Villeneuve should have in Japan. It was a close call, but that was nothing compared to what happened when Schumacher crossed the line and matched Villeneuve’s 1’21.072.

This was bizarre enough, but the conspiracy theorists’ day was complete when Villeneuve’s team mate Heinz-Harald Frentzen set another 1’21.072. “Shit!” exclaimed Schumacher, watching in his car. “Exactly the same time…”

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

McLaren’s claim to pole position was thwarted by traffic. David Coulthard also went off at the gravel trap as neither driver got within half a second of their practice times.

Outgoing world champion Damon Hill nearly produced another shock in his Arrows. As in Hungary the combination of a slow track and Bridgestone’s durable tyres had put him in contention. But approaching the final corner Ukyo Katayama, driving his last grand prix for Minardi, spun in front of him. Hill crossed the line five-hundredths of a second off pole position.

That bumped the McLarens back to the third row. Irvine was next, six-tenths off Schumacher following a problem with his brakes, which ruled out the prospect of him being able to help his team mate as he had in Japan.

Gerhard Berger, heading for retirement, was the first of the Benettons in eighth. He hadn’t endeared himself to his team by failing to get out of Jean Alesi’s during one of his team mate’s flying laps.

Alesi’s final weekend in a Benetton before his move to Sauber was not going well. He crashed in practice, switched to the spare car and spun twice in qualifying before encountering his team mate. It drove team principal David Richards to despair. “They’re like kids,” he commented on the pit wall. “That’s the last time they drive one of our cars,” he added jokingly.

1997 European Grand Prix grid

Row 11. Jacques Villeneuve 1’21.072
2. Michael Schumacher 1’21.072
Row 23. Heinz-Harald Frentzen 1’21.072
4. Damon Hill 1’21.130
Row 35. Mika Hakkinen 1’21.369
6. David Coulthard 1’21.476
Row 47. Eddie Irvine 1’21.610
8. Gerhard Berger 1’21.656
Row 59. Olivier Panis 1’21.735
10. Jean Alesi 1’22.011
Row 611. Jan Magnussen 1’22.167
12. Rubens Barrichello 1’22.222
Row 713. Pedro Diniz 1’22.234
14. Johnny Herbert 1’22.263
Row 815. Shinji Nakano 1’22.351
16. Ralf Schumacher 1’22.740
Row 917. Giancarlo Fisichella 1’22.804
18. Norberto Fontana 1’23.281
Row 1019. Ukyo Katayama 1’23.409
20. Tarso Marques 1’23.854
Row 1121. Mika Salo 1’24.222
22. Jos Verstappen 1’24.301

On the evening before the race Renault threw a farewell party in the paddock, inviting all of the drivers. After that, there was just one act left in the 1997 season.

1997 European Grand Prix

To win the championship, Villeneuve needed to keep Schumacher behind him. But the instant the lights went out the Ferrari shot into the lead and Villeneuve was on the back foot. Frentzen drew alongside him into turn one and Villeneuve, not prepared for that eventuality, hesitantly let his team mate by. Six laps later they swapped places and the chase was on.

Frentzen unexpectedly burst into an early lead
Schumacher and Villeneuve’s championship fight had been a proxy war for much of the season, in that they had seldom faced each other on track. They hadn’t even appeared on the podium together in the preceding 15 races. Now Villeneuve was on the hunt and the pair swapped fastest laps.

Schumacher was the first of the pair to pit for tyres and fuel. His pace was slightly quicker over the first stint, eking out a lead of 5.2 seconds by lap 20. However he was delayed briefly by the Minardi of Tarso Marques as he came in.

Williams were waiting for Villeneuve on the same lap but he stayed out a lap longer, also catching Marques on his way in. He rejoined the track with Schumacher in sight. Frentzen, however, ran longer, and by backing off his pace held up Schumacher enough for Villeneuve to get within striking distance.

Irvine was too far back to help Schumacher in the same way but Ferrari had other ideas. After Frentzen pitted the title contenders, separated by less than a second, began to pick their way through traffic. Katayama and Jos Verstappen pulled smartly aside for both drivers on lap 29. Next was Norberto Fontana’s Sauber.

Earlier in the year Ferrari had used their engine customers to their advantage by having Johnny Herbert let Schumacher through at Spa. On the morning of the European Grand Prix, according to Fontana, Ferrari team boss Jean Todt appeared in the Sauber motorhome and issued an edict: “Villeneuve must be held up if you come across him on the track.”

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

Obligingly, Fontana waved Schumacher through after turn one then took his time letting Villeneuve by. At the end of the lap Schumacher’s lead was up from 0.8 seconds to 3.1.

Villeneuve fought back. He chipped away relentlessly at Schumacher’s advantage, so that by lap 38 there was just 1.4 seconds between them. This was crucial, as Schumacher caught a fresh batch of traffic, which they could now progress through as one. Giancarlo Fisichella and Shinji Nakano moved aside. So did Ralf Schumacher, making no obvious concession to his brother’s title charge.

Once they were out of that queue Schumacher got the hammer down. His next stop was fast approaching, and in one lap he took half a second off Villeneuve. He was due in sooner, however, and appeared to be carrying less fuel, as he was stationary for a second longer than his rival. Nonetheless, Schumacher made it out in front of Coulthard whereas Villeneuve dropped behind the McLaren after his pit stop one lap later.

It made little difference as Coulthard came in the next time around. Now Villeneuve had a clear run at Schumacher and the Ferrari driver was struggling. on lap 46 Villeneuve took one-and-a-half seconds out of him. The next time around they were separated by just three-tenths of a second.

Lap 48 was Villeneuve’s opportunity. “I knew that the two laps after my pit stop, when I had fresh rubber, that’s when I would have to make my move,” he said. “And on the lap I actually went for it I knew that was the last lap I could.”

The longest straight on the track ran from turn five, Sito Pons, to the Curva Dry Sac hairpin. It was the only realistic passing point on the track. “I was just a metre or two closer to him than I had been on any previous lap,” said Villeneuve. “I knew I could go for it. And I knew that I had to surprise him which means pull out at the last minute possible, then he wasn’t looking in his mirrors.”

Villeneuve didn’t give the slightest indication he was about to make a move until the last possible moment. Then he dived for the inside of the corner, braking desperately late. Schumacher squeezed him, Villeneuve put a wheel across the dirt. Then the Ferrari turned into the Williams.

“When I got next to him and he hadn’t turned in on me yet I couldn’t believe it,” Villeneuve remembered. “I thought ‘wow, he didn’t actually run into me’. And then half a second later I felt a big jolt and I thought ‘OK, no, he did run into me’.”

Schumacher slithered wide into a gravel trap, from which he strangely failed to emerge. He climbed out of the cockpit and stood beside the barrier, staring down the oncoming track. A few moments later, Villeneuve reappeared on his 49th lap.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

“You got him, you bastard, you beauty,” erupted a voice in Villeneuve’s ear. “Michael is out.” Now he only needed to take the chequered flag inside the top six to win the championship.

When Villeneuve pounced, Schumacher turned in
But having felt the hit, Villeneuve was concerned his car was damaged. Fearing a suspension problem he backed his pace off by five seconds a lap at one point. In fact it was not his suspension which had borne the brunt of Schumacher’s attack but his left sidepod. The contact had wrenched the battery from its mountings, its only connection to the car now the electrical cables which fed power to it.

The McLarens were closing in on him. Head, anxious to avoid any trouble, paid Ron Dennis a visit. Villeneuve would offer no resistance to the silver cars. Meanwhile McLaren had a plan of their own and told Coulthard, who had jumped his team mate at the first round of pit stops, to let Hakkinen back through again.

As the final lap began a coasting Villeneuve was passed by Hakkinen. Coulthard went up the inside of him at the final corner but this put both drivers in two minds.

“I think David slowed down after the last corner because he wasn’t sure if I would win the championship or not,” said Villeneuve. “When I saw him slow down I slowed down as well.” The slowing pair were both nearly passed by Berger as the leading quartet crossed the line covered by less than two seconds. Villeneuve later said had he realised Berger was so close he would have let the Benetton driver by as well to finish his F1 career on the podium.

Hakkinen therefore took a completely unexpected breakthrough victory. Coulthard had good reason to feel frustrated about the outcome. “There was no discussion before the race that it might be a possibility,” he said afterwards. But few denied Hakkinen was overdue a win following his near-misses earlier in the year at Silverstone and the Nurburgring. He and Coulthard raised new champion Villeneuve aloft on the podium.

Villeneuve’s engineer Jock Clear (now at Ferrari) felt the result was a vindication. “you saw today that Michael’s car was just as good as ours. The driver, I’m afraid, made the difference on the day.”

“How many times have we heard Michael praised? I hope there’s enough praise for the way Jacques drove today because he out-drove Michael. And Michael cracked. Exactly the same as he did in ’94.”

Another double championship triumph gave Renault pause for thought. Having decided to leave, would they be better off to remain? On the flight back to Paris, Schweitzer turned to Faure and said: “So, when are we coming back to F1 then?”

1997 European Grand Prix result

Pos.No.DriverTeamLapsTime / gap / reason
19Mika HakkinenMcLaren-Mercedes691hr 38’57.771
210David CoulthardMcLaren-Mercedes691.654
33Jacques VilleneuveWilliams-Renault691.803
48Gerhard BergerBenetton-Renault691.919
56Eddie IrvineFerrari693.789
64Heinz-Harald FrentzenWilliams-Renault694.537
714Olivier PanisProst-Mugen-Honda691’07.145
816Johnny HerbertSauber-Petronas691’12.961
923Jan MagnussenStewart-Ford691’17.487
1015Shinji NakanoProst-Mugen-Honda691’18.215
1112Giancarlo FisichellaJordan-Peugeot681 lap
1219Mika SaloTyrrell-Ford681 lap
137Jean AlesiBenetton-Renault681 lap
1417Norberto FontanaSauber-Petronas681 lap
1521Tarso MarquesMinardi-Hart681 lap
1618Jos VerstappenTyrrell-Ford681 lap
1720Ukyo KatayamaMinardi-Hart681 lap
5Michael SchumacherFerrari47Accident
1Damon HillArrows-Yamaha47Gearbox
11Ralf SchumacherJordan-Peugeot44Water leak
22Rubens BarrichelloStewart-Ford30Gearbox
2Pedro DinizArrows-Yamaha11Accident

Schumacher is excluded

The manner in which Schumacher had tried to have Villeneuve off sparked a seismic reaction. Parallels between it and Adelaide 1994 were widely drawn.

Third place was enough for Villeneuve to take the title
At first Schumacher stood his ground, pointing the finger at Villeneuve. “I braked on the maximum. He braked even later. With this braking point I wouldn’t make the corner and he wouldn’t make the corner. So he used me a little bit as braking. I probably wouldn’t have done anything different.”

That changed when he came face-to-face with Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo. “I really thought that Jacques Villeneuve had not been in front of me and that I had the right to defend my position,” said Schumacher. “But in the evening I was not so sure any more. I remember exactly that I was flabbergasted when our president Luca di Montezemolo said to me something like: Man, what were you thinking – and I thought: What? Why am I the idiot now?”

At a press conference two days after the race Schumacher softened his stance, though he complained about an “exaggerated reaction” to the crash. “I miscalculated Villeneuve’s attack and I was out of the race. Jacques won and that took so much away from the Tifosi and the team. I am a human being, sometimes I make mistakes too. Not very often, but this was a big one.”

In the Formula One world and beyond, Schumacher’s move prompted howls of disapproval. “Disgusting,” said Jody Scheckter, then the most recent driver to have won the world championship in a Ferrari.

Reaction came from the very top of the Ferrari hierarchy. Gianni Agnelli, president of owners Fiat, didn’t spare his driver’s blushes. “Schumacher makes no more than a mistake a year,” he said. “But when he falls for that, all the world will know.”

“What happened in Jerez is just hideous, and all the consequent turmoil can be explained. But it was a mistake, period. Only thing is he was so stubborn as to take 48 hours before admitting he had made a mistake. And there was also something he should not have said right after the race, like ‘I would do the same again’. Anyway it’s all over now.”

Much later, Schumacher admitted “if I could undo one thing during my Formula One career, I would choose Jerez.”

By then the sport’s governing body had taken action. Eight years earlier FIA president Jean-Marie Balestre had been criticised for intervening after Alain Prost drove into Ayrton Senna during the 1989 Japanese Grand Prix.

McLaren and Williams were cleared of collusion
By 1997 Max Mosley was in charge of the FIA, and race director Charlie Whiting made it clear he did not intervene in the same way directly. “The closest I’ve seen Max come to saying anything was after Jerez 1997 when Michael Schumacher drove into the side of Jacques Villeneuve’s Williams as they disputed the final round of the championship,” said Whiting in 2011.

“Max was in the control tower, not in the stewards’ room or race control, and he said to the chief steward something along the lines of, ‘So, a small investigation now?’ And the steward said, ‘No, it was a racing incident.’ Max left it at that. It had been a question, not an instruction. And nothing did happen at that race.”

But after the race the FIA was moved to investigate – and not just the Schumacher-Villeneuve incident. McLaren and Williams were hauled before the court on charges of colluding to rig the outcome of the race. This was swiftly dismissed as the WMSC ruled “there was no arrangement to fix the results”.

FIA World Motor Sports Council verdict on Schumacher

The World Council found that Michael Schumacher’s manoeuvre was an instinctive reaction and although deliberate not made with malice or premeditation. It was a serious error. The World Council decided to exclude Michael Schumacher from the results of the 1997 FIA Formula One World Championship for drivers. The final results of the FIA Formula One World Championship have been modified accordingly. The results of the Constructors’ Championship remain unchanged. Michael Schumacher retains his points and victories recorded during the 1997 season.

In lieu of any further penalty or fine, Michael Schumacher agreed to participate in the FIA European road safety campaign for a total of seven days in 1998

Villeneuve’s analysis of the clash was that Schumacher had initially made way for him, then realised his only hope was to try to take the Williams out. “His immediate first reaction was to turn to the left,” he said. “You can see he makes a little kink to the left and then a split second later he turns hard right, straight into me.”

“I think his immediate instinct was ‘make room for him’ and then I think he thought ‘I’m going to lose the championship’ and he turned into him. And this was all in a tenth of a second.”

Following a hearing 16 days after the race, the FIA World Motor Sports Council judged that Schumacher made a “serious error” which “was an instinctive reaction and although deliberate not made with malice or premeditation”. He agreed to take part in an FIA road safety initiative and was excluded from the championship standings.

Schumacher said the verdict was “quite a tough decision”. It was an unprecedented verdict: No driver before or since has been individually excluded from the world championship. But a widespread view in the media and among fans was that the FIA had been too lenient.

Mosley justified the penalty saying it set a precedent for similar incidents in the future. “The important thing in the Schumacher case was to make sure that drivers were left under no illusion that if you tried to win the championship by taking the other bloke off the track and out of the race as had happened several times in the past, it was just not going to work,” he said.

“You will not succeed because we will take the title off you. That was the chief message.”

Mosley insisted the FIA would not have allowed Schumacher to win the championship by taking Villeneuve out. “Schumacher might well have won the title in 1997 and that would have been Ferrari’s dream after such a long spell without it but we would still have cancelled it out,” he said.

“As it was, he was runner-up, but we took that away and his results, brilliant as some of them were, count for nothing for that year.”

Between 1989 and 1997 four crashes occurred between championship contenders in title-deciding races: Prost and Senna in 1989, the same two again in 1990, Schumacher and Hill in 1994 and Schumacher and Villeneuve in 1997.

In the 20 years since there have been none. Whether or not Schumacher’s punishment was too lenient, the precedent seems to have been set.

1997 European Grand Prix championship standings

1997 drivers championship standings

1Jacques Villeneuve81
2Heinz-Harald Frentzen42
3David Coulthard36
4Jean Alesi36
5Gerhard Berger27
6Mika Hakkinen27
7Eddie Irvine24
8Giancarlo Fisichella20
9Olivier Panis16
10Johnny Herbert15
11Ralf Schumacher13
12Damon Hill7
13Rubens Barrichello6
14Alexander Wurz4
15Jarno Trulli3
16Mika Salo2
17Pedro Diniz2
18Shinji Nakano2
19Nicola Larini1

NB. Michael Schumacher, 78 points, was excluded.

1997 constructors 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...

Got a potential story, tip or enquiry? Find out more about RaceFans and contact us here.

46 comments on “Villeneuve takes title as Schumacher’s attack gets him thrown out”

  1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nt-3KT6ktHU&t=3s

    Some more thoughts from Jacques from this special race.

    1. Just saw it, great, great video.
      Ferrari and Schumacher, Brawn, Todt were such a despicable lot back then. Absolute masters of the dark arts. Thankfully they didn’t get away with it that year.

      1. They were a despicable lot since Benetton days. It was good on FIA to disqualify that driver from the years result due to this crash tactic which was already played out once before with Hill in australian GP of 1994.

      2. As33, Williams weren’t entirely clean themselves given that, despite the efforts of some journalists at the time to deflect criticism away from the team, Coulthard has unequivocally stated that Ron Dennis had colluded with Frank Williams (with Ron agreeing that McLaren would help Williams beat Ferrari in that race).

      3. +1 The unholy trinity.

  2. Lovely article, can’y believe that’s 20 years ago already.

  3. Schumacher and Villeneuve’s championship fight had been a proxy war for much of the season, in that they had seldom faced each other on track. They hadn’t even appeared on the podium together in the preceding 15 raced. Now Villeneuve was on the hunt and the pair swapped fastest laps.


    1. I only became aware of this stat this year, it’s mad… but then when I think about it not surprising at all because I’ve always viewed ’97 as a weird one. Two title contenders close all year in the championship, yet rarely close on track (until Jerez).

      So Schumacher/Villeneuve was never a bonafide rivalry in the same way that Senna/Prost, Schu/Hill, Schu/Hakkinen were in the 90s.

  4. With respect to Mosley’s comments…I’m still not convinced that had MS gotten away with it and put JV out instead of himself, he would still have had the Championship stripped. What would have stopped MM from resorting to the same ‘instinctual’ fallback in MS’s defence. After all, he got away with it in 94.

    And it is completely untrue for him to say that his (MS’s) results counted for nothing that year, for he was stripped of them. No, in fact his results stand in the history books. He miraculously never had his wins, poles, and points taken away, in spite of being stripped from the Championship. Kangaroo court, just like in 94.

    So MS took himself out of the Championship by bouncing himself off JV’s sidepod, not the FIA. The FIA (MM) then proceeded with a smoke and mirrors ‘punishment’ that did not change anything. All it possibly did was warn other drivers not to do this, but then few drivers think whacking someone off the track, or attempting to, is a way to ‘succeed’ like MS did. MS got off completely unscathed, other than to embarrass himself, and Max and Bernie and MS/Ferrari lived to continue the skewing toward them, to go on and demolish the competition with further one-sidedness in MS’s favour. Max and Bernie weren’t going to let the juggernaut of moving MS and his crew away from illegal Benetton’s over to Ferrari to end their WDC drought be stopped.

    1. Why would he lose his wins and points for races before Jerez, that doesn’t even make sense? He was still the better driver that year but he made a big mistake and paid for it (punishment or not). Had he not turned in that second time it’s entirely possible Villeneuve would have been the one in the gravel as there was no way he was making the corner without Schumacher to keep him on the track.

      1. Bull crap as always. That’s just hypothetical. What Schumacher fans love to say to berate Villeneuve.

      2. Why would he lose his wins and points? Oh only because he was removed from the Championship that’s all. Why wouldn’t removed from the Championship mean removed from the Championship, as in, no points? But then why would I expect someone that knows what JV’s grip level was like, and therefore knows JV would never have made that corner, to see common sense?

        1. Constructers have lost points and money before now.

    2. I think setting a precedent was more important to the FIA. If you try and take your rival out you will be excluded from the Driver’s Championship. Schumacher had already lost the title, I doubt he cared much about being runner up.

  5. The thing I remember most about qualifying isn’t so much that 3 drivers set an identical time, It’s that because nobody could believe it we spent most of that evening checking the systems as we were convinced there was a glitch somewhere.

    After checking the primary & backup timing systems we had we (And the FIA) started looking through data from the teams including telemetry (Which we normally didn’t have access to back then) to check that everything was correct. It wasn’t until about 8pm that everyone was sure that Jacques, Michael & Heinz had indeed set identical times.

    Back then as is mentioned in the article the timing system went to 3 decimal points & while the on-screen timing graphics today only show 3 decimal points the actual timing systems can account for more & the various other GPS, Tracking & telemetry systems as well as things that can be done using the ‘photo finish’ camera ensure that even if the computer shows drivers set identical times there are now ways of figuring out who was faster even if it was by the tiniest margin.

    1. @gt-racer Thanks for the added detail, remarkable that three drivers hit the exact same timings.

    2. @gt-racer thanks for the inside info!
      For the longest of times I was completely convinced that it was an error on the timing system or something like that, but now I now it was just a once in a lifetime event.

      So, you say nowadays the timing has highest resolution, how would it be handled in 2017 if it happened again?
      By using this extra telemetry or the order in which the drivers set the time (which is what the rules say I think)

      1. @mantresx If the timing system was to show 2 or more drivers had set an identical time they would look at the telemetry & tracking systems & should they be inconclusive they would just go with whoever set the time 1st as was done at Jerez 1997.

  6. This and a list of other such incidents is why it’s ridiculous to consider Schumacher among the ‘greatest’ drivers of Formula 1. You don’t get to be great with this kind of behaviour.

    1. Rotating Chin Man
      26th October 2017, 15:38

      Is it, then, also ridiculous to consider Senna among the greatest for deliberately crashing into Prost? Not to mention the long list of other drivers he crashed into earlier in his career while building himself a reputation such that when you saw him in your mirror, you got out of the way.

      Or Prost for crashing into Senna? Or Alonso for deliberately holding up Hamilton in the pits? Or Mansell for ignoring black flags? Not gonna be many left.

    2. @david-br It wasn’t this kind of behaviour that makes him one of, if not the, greatest driver of all time. It was his driving ability that did that.

      1. I see what you mean, but the undisputed greats of their generation would never do things like that. Champions like Fangio and Clark prove that you don’t need to be a complete sociopath to achieve greatness. I know these days we are all obsessed with Senna and Schumacher, but I would love a driver to come through who carried themselves in the same way as Fangio and Clark: utterly brilliant behind the wheel, gentlemen out of the car and who the other drivers held the utmost respect for.

      2. @jerseyf1 One of the most successful and one of the most talented, maybe. Anything else is really undeserved.

  7. the perfectly imperfect end to a tumultuous year. some of the races were dull (some were incredible) but it was the unfolding narrative that made this season great, kind of similar to 2010 where the spectacle was lacking at times, but the overall intrigue was as high as it’s ever been. – the key? more than 2 competitive teams!

  8. “The return to Europe came at the instigation of Renault, due to their impending exit from F1, and hasn’t been repeated in the 20 years since.”

    Estoril is in Europe Keith :)

    1. Think he meant that the decision to originally have Estoril at the end of the season (It traditionally used to be before Suzuka) was done so the season ended in Europe & that when Estoril failed to meet the new FIA safety standards they replaced it with Jerez rather than simply dropping a race completely (As usually happens) to ensure the season still ended in Europe.

  9. A great conclusion to a fantastic series of articles, thanks @keithcollantine.

    I remember that 1997 was a great season, but time has made me focus on Jerez when I think back over it, but this series really did bring back some great memories. The form that Oliver Panis showed before his accident really was remarkable and, as a huge fan of Damon Hill’s, Hungary is also a race that stands out.

    But the main thing this series has done is make me remember Patrick Head’s great line in an interview he gave a while ago (“Jacques Villeneuve really did make heavy weather of winning the championship in 1997”, imagine it in Head’s distinctive voice, it is a lot better that way.) With the car advantage he had, he really should have wrapped this season up well before Jerez, even without the shenanigans at Suzuka. It was remarkable that Schumacher was in with a shout with just over 30% of the final race remaining. It was a great way to end a great season.

    1. Unfortunately for JV he had to fight the team a bit in order to get to have his own setups after them continually telling him the computer knew better. So Head had a role to play in JV sometimes struggling. Didn’t help that MS had a contracted rear gunner in EI too.

    2. @geemac

      With the car advantage he had,

      The thing that is often overlooked is that while Williams started the year with a car advantage, A few races into the season Ferrari had caught up & by Mid-Season McLaren weren’t that far behind either.

      Remember that Williams lost Adrian Newey before the season had even started & were never able to develop that car as well as they would have had Adrian stayed (I think there 1998 car shows how much losing Adrian hurt them, Especially when looking at Mclaren). At the same time Ferrari had brought in Ross Brawn & Rory Byrne & McLaren had Adrian from around mid-season & simply out-developed Williams so by the tail end of the season I don’t think Williams had any advantage at all.

      On top of that remember that Williams also made a lot of blunders in the pits with poor strategy, poor pit stops & poor weather forecasting.

      1. many of the same mistakes they made in 95 which they also blamed on the driver.

        Williams made very very fast cars. But their competitors were regularly better in every other department. Mostly because they had to be but Damon especially suffered it in 95. Yes he lost it, but Williams lost it for him long time before that. Remember early races Michael couldn’t get near him. Brazil, Argentina, Imola, & Monaco qualy Damon was epic.

        Willams would often lead a race then come in and have a pit stop 5 seconds slower than Benetton and on days that there was 3 stop this was impossible to get over.

        1. Always nice to see Damon being appreciated in retrospect. At the time many pundits, even British supporters chose Schumacher as their favourite almost like kids choose Man Utd.
          Adrian Newey reiterated only last year how his biggest career regret was not giving Senna a better car. A car that later became Hill’s and was found to have design faults. Senna was really troubled over Benetton’s cheating too.

      2. At Melbourne the Williams was something like 1.5 seconds clear in qualifying? i think a lot of the varying degrees of competitiveness that season were down to the tyre war. Some weekends a team who struggled on Goodyears could suddenly be competitive the next (look at Jordan – qualified well at Nurgburgring, well down in Jerez).

        But when you look at the season as a whole…Williams were significantly better for the majority of the season. 11 Poles in 17 races (10 for Jacques) and a lot of races they threw away good results by plain bad management/driving.

        Mclaren were only truly competitive at the end of the season at Nurburgring (and Monza). Australia they won because Villeneuve was out and Frentzen had brake trouble.

        The calls for Schumacher having a rear gunner in Irvine that year are laughable…only race he had help from Irvine was Suzuka (when Jacques was crawling around at the front holding the whole pack up) most of the season Irvine was miles off Schumachers pace (if you ever read James Allens book on Schumacher, interviews with Irvine back this up..in a bad car he couldn’t get near Michael, the gap closed up as the Ferrari become more competitive in 98 and 99).

        Although Williams struggled for pace in a few races (Germany/Italy) ferrari had some shockers. Spain Schumacher qualified 7th, Italy and Austria 9th. so there were plenty of races where JV could have gained a lot of points but due to a combination of poor driving in some races and some terrible tactics from Williams, Ferrari had a sniff of a chance.

        Villeneuve was a capable driver and he was very good at winning from Pole once he was out in front but when he was in the pack he seemed to make mistakes if you look at his 96/97 seasons you can see that.

  10. Thanks for this great series Keith. Truly enjoyed it.

    One request: Would you like to continue and declare driver rankings for this 1997 season as well (as you would for 2017). I am really curious where you would rank Michael, Panis and Jacques.

    1. I know a mathematical model is not the same, but if you look on f1 metrics you will see schumacher is considered, given the same car, the best performer not only in 1997 but also from 1993 to 1998; villeneuve is considered 2nd in 1997, after all there was (in average) a huge difference between williams and ferrari. He didn’t say where the others rank, though, but he has all that info from every season.

      1. Funnily enough, read that article the other day again. brilliant article although in some ways slightly flawed.

        A Driver ratings for this season would be great Keith! Schumacher undoubtedly would be top of that list, some of his drives that season were incredible, Monaco he was 6 seconds ahead after 1 lap in the rain and 30 seconds ahead by lap 5.

      2. @esploratore Good to see the F1 Metrics model being mentioned here. From the mid-90s Schumacher was the best driver by far. He was nearly a second per lap faster than any other driver in that era, which suggests the Williams was still much faster than the Ferrari in 1997.

  11. Can’t believe Villeneuve never won another race after 1997, even after spending almost a decade more in F1. There’s something so sad about that to me.

    Funny that Heinz-Harald Frentzen can say he once set the fastest qualifying time but, even though he had no grid penalties, they only let him start third!

  12. I’ve really enjoyed this series & I loved 1997 as a season. Maybe it’s rose tinted glasses; maybe nostalgia; maybe the fact that I played a lot of Sony’s F1’97…
    As others have said, Villeneuve should have had this sewn up long before the finale but ‘97 had a twisting & turning narrative that had a bit of everything: Williams, dominant but tactically suspect; Ferrari, shrewd but just not quite there technically; McLaren, fast but fragile; Benetton, in disarray following the departure of their A-Team. The tyre war and a competive midfield meant the there always something surprising at each race. I honestly don’t think that F1 has yet recovered a competitive playing field since the ‘98 rule changes…

    1. @skylab 1997 was a great season indeed. There was a lot of unpredictability due to the competitiveness of the field and the tyre war. However, I believe Formula 1 was even more competitive in 2008 and 2009, which was over a decade later.

      1. @f1infigures My wife & I had our first child in 2008 – I didn’t get to concentrate fully on the seasons following that! :)

  13. Schumacher was indeed a naughty boy during the incident however it pretty obvious Villenueve was going to end up 10 metres in the gravel without the contact(something Jacqueline admitted himself many years later)

    He doesn’t even attempt to turn right till after the collision and even with it still ends up at the edge of the track.

    1. No I don’t think that is accurate whatsoever. I’m going to call you on that one and ask that you provide a quote from JV saying that. You’re way off on that.

      1. As requested


        James Allen also mentions in his book, edge of greatness, that post race the common consensus in the paddock was that villeneuve would have ended up in the gravel without heavy contact.

        1. Fair enough. I stand corrected. I don’t agree with your comment that he didn’t even attempt to turn right after the collision. He had just been hit and was trying not to be forced off to the inside. After a whack like that I don’t think a driver can be expected to have full control over the car at that instant.

  14. Sad ending for Michael, as he had been just supreme all year. But it was one of the greatest seasons ever.

  15. Thank you very much @keithcollantine for this great series! It has been a thoroughly enjoyable read from start to finish. Is this the last article or is there some kind of season wrap-up still coming?

Comments are closed.