1997 – Michael’s moment of madness

The big technical change for 1997 was the return of the tyre war. One of new supplier Bridgestone’s clients were the Prost team, which Ligier had been rebranded as following their purchase by former champion Alain.

The front runner remained loyal Goodyear teams but the season saw lap times tumble and a new debate on reducing cornering speeds.

At the first round Jacques Villeneuve’s lap times had reduced quite a bit lower than everyone else’s and he took pole position easily. But he was bundled out at the first corner by Eddie Irvine.

David Coulthard won at the first race of the season for McLaren but the team were not quite back to full strength yet.

Villeneuve built a convincing championship challenge with victories in Brazil, Argentina, Spain, Britain in the first half of the season. Team mate Heinz Harald Frentzen won just once – at San Marino, on a day when Villeneuve had retired.

But Michael Schumacher kept in touch and when Villeneuve was controversially thrown out of the penultimate round at Suzuka it set up a final round championship decider at Jerez in Spain.

In the final phase of the race Villeneuve made an attempt to pass Schumacher at Curva Dry Sack when the German turned in on him sharply in what looked like a repeat of his stunt at Adelaide two years previously.

But his bid to take Villeneuve out failed and it cost him the championship. It also caused many who had given him the benefit of the doubt over Adelaide to reinterpret their view of Schumacher much more harshly.

The season brought several other dramatic moments. The most worrying came when the Canadian Grand Prix was stopped earlier because Olivier Panis had crashed his Prost, breaking both legs. It gave Jarno Trulli a chance to step up from Minardi and he led convincingly in Austria before his engine failed.

Damon Hill came within a lap of what would have been a sensational win in Hungary. His Arrows-Yamaha was largely uncompetitive all year but at the Hungaroring its Bridgestone tyres were bang on the money and he was leading by 40 seconds when it ran into trouble. He still took second.

Schumacher won brilliantly in the wet at Monaco, when Rubens Barrichello gave the Stewart team an emotional first podium with a fine second place.

When Villeneuve crept towards the line at Jerez at the final line the McLaren drivers orchestrated their finish to let Mika Hakkinen win. It was an omen for what would follow next year.

2 comments on “1997 – Michael’s moment of madness”


  2. This is the post with the fewer comments I’ve ever seen on F1F.

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