Classic Motorsport BlogPost: The 1997 European Grand Prix - Blatant Intention #BlogPost

It’s October 26th, 1997. A Jacques Villeneuve and Michael Schumacher pull up to the first 2 grid slots on the frontstraightaway of Circuito Permanente de Jerez. Both drivers qualified with identical lap times, and Villeneuve’s William’s teammate Heinz-Harald Frentzen qualified 3rd, with the same time. Villeneuve and Schumacher were separated by 1 point in the Championship standings, with Schumacher out front. If Villeneuve finished ahead of the German, he would have the Championship. Schumacher was determined not to let this happen. He turned out to be a bit too determined.

At 13:00 UTC, the lights went off under a clear sky. Schumacher made an incredible jump, clearing Frentzen by 3 car lengths going into the first corner. Villeneuve dropped all the way back to the 3rd position by Turn 1, but made his way back up to 2nd quickly after Williams told Frentzen to back off the pace. Schumacher started to pull away, with Villeneuve driving the car too hard to continue to catch up. Schumacher extended his lead, separating himself from the pack by the time he came down pit lane on Lap 22, with Villeneuve following him down. Both retained their positions and kept a firm lead on the rest of the cars. The gap stayed the same between the Top 2, until Lap 43, when Schumacher and Villeneuve made their second pit stops. Villeneuve had a much better pit stop than Schumacher, putting him less than 2 seconds from the Ferrari and from the Championship.

Villeneuve started pushing the car, and repeatedly made better time than Schumacher, and as the Blue Williams and Red Ferrari dashed into Turn 1 on Lap 48, Villeneuve was less than a second behind Schumacher. Through the first few corners, Villeneuve closed and caught Schumacher’s slipstream down the backstretch. The Canadian sensed his chance. He drove the Williams under Schumacher into Curva Dry Sack, a tight hairpin at the end of the straight. Schumacher saw as the Rothmans Williams darted out of his mirror, and went to defend, however Villeneuve was already far alongside. Schumacher could not back out in time and collided with Villeneuve, sending Schumacher off the track, and out of the race.

The race was not over however, Villeneuve’s right front suspension was damaged, and if he finished worse than 6th then he wouldn’t score points, and he would lose the Championship. Villeneuve drove his hardest, but on the last lap, both Mika Häkkinen and David Coulthard passed Villeneuve. However, it was enough to give Jacques Villeneuve the 1997 Formula 1 World Drivers Championship. Michael Schumacher had lost by 3 points, and Ferrari had lost the Constructor’s Championship to Williams as well. As was well with F1. That is, until people started paying attention to the Lap 48 collision.

Media reaction was swift and critical. German newspapers attacked Schumacher’s reputation. The Frankfurter Allgemeine went as far as calling him “…a kamikaze without honor.” and asked its readers what they thought of the incident. Even in Schumacher’s home country, 28% of the 63,000 responses said they could not support Schumacher anymore. Italian newspapers were even harsher, with most calling for Schumacher to be let go from Ferrari. Some even suggested that Schumacher should have been tried in Spanish court for the accident. British newspapers discredited Schumacher, with many saying that Schumacher “…lost his reputation of a legitimate sportsman.”

Ferrari held a press conference on that Tuesday, with Schumacher stating that he “…is a human, and I made a mistake.” However, Ferrari’s viewpoint was that Villeneuve would have run into Schumacher anyway with how far he had charged into the corner. No one could seem to agree on what had transpired.

Prior to the GP, Max Mosley, President of the FIA, said to everyone in the drivers meeting that if they influenced the Championship battle in any way, penalties would be handed down. After the accident between the 2 Championship leaders, race officials declared it was a racing incident. The fans however, spoke differently. After Schumacher went to defend his position broke Villeneuve, he turned again, shoving the Williams onto the grass. However, even after forcing Villeneuve off the track, he turned into Villeneuve’s sidepod. Many cited his 1994 Championship Finale accident, where he had spun off into the wall from the lead. He rejoined the race still in the lead, but with Championship rival Damon Hill behind him, and if Hill got by, he would win the Championship, much like 1997. Schumacher shoved Hill onto the curb, launching his own car into the air, and damaging Hill’s car, causing him to finish out of the points, while Schumacher was declared Champion after the blatantly intentional move. However, Mosley wanted 1997 to be different.

On November 11th, 1997, Michael Schumacher was summoned to a FIA hearing. He walked in 2nd in the points standings, but walked out disqualified from the 1997 World Drivers Championship. He lost his 2nd Place Points result, but was allowed to keep his race victories from 1997. The FIA panel “…concluded that although the actions were deliberate they were not premeditated.”

Jacques Villeneuve still races to this day, however he would not run in F1 after 2006. Schumacher would go on to win 5 more Championships from 2000-2004, but would not win another before he retired in 2012. Max Mosley would be the President of the FIA up until his retirement in 2009. Watch an analysis of the Villeneuve/Schumacher incident below.

I will try to write more articles in the future, although I have less time now than I did. I hope to release them either on the weekends or on Monday’s. #HelpJackThroughTheOffseason #MakeCarThrottleCarsAgain


Jack Leslie

In reply to by .... 3


01/16/2017 - 08:24 |
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Nice article!

01/16/2017 - 02:22 |
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