European GP History. Part 3 of 4: Jerez 1997

By Carlo Carluccio

Written in association with Missed Apex Podcast. Listen in the player below the article and please don't forget to comment.

I’d been to the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in 1997 and a friend and I attended on all three days of the meeting. As he lived around 25 nautical miles - as the seagull flies - we travelled up each day using country lanes, which circumnavigated the serious traffic problems of getting into the ‘Home’ of British motor-racing.

Each day we would traipse around the circuit taking photos from all vantage points. I say taking photos but that would be untrue. Anthony took the photos as he had the skill for it and I’d pay him to get an extra set of prints made at the chemist - which I could actually view without becoming nauseous.

On the Sunday, I stood at the front of the Silverstone Club’s grandstand and screamed myself hoarse as Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari took the lead and pulled away to almost 40 seconds ahead. Then practically cried as he ground to a stop. Of course all the locals cheered the German’s retirement and saluted their home grown Jacques Villeneuve as he triumphed…

I guess an explanation is in order as to what the British Grand Prix has in common with this week’s theme of the European Grand Prix? Seven races after the British round, the F1 circus found solace on Japanese soil but young Jacques transgressed the yellow flags for the third time that season and was subject to start from the back of the grid.

Under appeal he took the start at Suzuka from pole position with the intention of affecting Schumacher’s race. But the two Ferrari team-mates worked together brilliantly and completely threw the Williams’ team game plan and came through to win the race. The two championship protagonists would head to the final race of the season – the European Grand Prix in Jerez separated by a solitary point.

The main story from qualifying at Jerez was Damon Hill’s remarkable fourth place in the Arrows Yamaha - just 0.058s behind third place Heinz-Harald Frentzen. Hill was also just 0.058 behind second place Schumacher’s Ferrari and just 0.058s behind the Williams of Villeneuve. In other words the first three all set the same time to the 1,000th of a second in qualifying. Their final gird position decided by who stopped the clocks first.

The 26th October dawned bright and if I’d been able to escape work I would have attended the race. Sadly I had to watch ITV’s questionable product with advertising included for free – Yay!!

Schumacher launched away from the line to lead Frentzen until Villeneuve was allowed through with team-orders. The positions stayed the same after the first stops and as they resumed racing after the completion of the second stops I cried as the Ferrari retook the lead.

At last Ferrari were going to win the title again.

Except on lap 48 Villeneuve attempted an audacious move on the inside of Schumacher who instinctively twitched left then deliberately turned right to halt Villeneuve’s progress. Except he failed… the %£(&$!@~=**

There had been unusual activity during the race where Williams and Mclaren both worked to stop the threat of Eddie Irvine supporting the lead Ferrari car – something that was almost confirmed when Jacques relinquished the lead to the Woking cars and David Coulthard gave up victory to Mika Hakkinen. Something both teams vehemently denied.

Yet to prove he wasn’t bitter of Mika’s undeserved success, DC gave an interview to Autosport in 2014 where he confirmed the collusion. “Ron [Dennis} had made that deal with Frank {Williams}, which none of us knew anything about, that if we helped Williams in their quest to beat Ferrari they wouldn’t get in the way of helping Mclaren.”

So… let me get this straight. Mclaren and Williams work together, unethically, to beat a sporting competitor; yet for years use the British media to portray Ferrari as cheats?

Oh the sweet irony…