Austrian GP History - Episode I - 1997

By Carlo Carluccio

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

I have recently been christened an ‘angry man yelling at clouds’. It would appear that somebody, somewhere, has developed a unique ability to criticise others - to what they obviously believe is a very cultured degree. Yet their reluctance to furnish us with their own musings suggests a stunted intellect that still needs to be suckling a mother’s teat.

Back in my youth, these individuals were referred to as ‘big girl’s blouses’. It’s truly refreshing to see, that the more things change - the more they stay the same.

Enough of the trivial... I always baulk when I read or use the word ‘truly’ because, inevitably, it reminds me of a once promising Italian driver, Jarno Trulli, who failed to deliver on an epic scale.

When people speak of Max Verstappen making the step to F1 so soon after his car racing debut, they often mention Kimi Raikkonen as another who made similar progress in short shrift. But people seemingly forget that Trulli was another who reached the summit with haste.

He had won countless titles in karting, including becoming World Champion, when he first competed in a handful of races in the 1995 German F3 championship. In 1996 he became German F3 champion and ascended into F1 with Minardi for 1997.

Within SEVEN races of his F1 debut, Jarno was promoted to the Prost Grand Prix team, subsequently qualifying sixth for his first race with the French marque. And whilst this proved an exceptional performance, it was superseded by Trulli’s performance at the 1997 Austrian GP around the Osterreichring.

In his Mugen powered car he qualified a brilliant third and took the lead within a lap – a lead he maintained all the way to his pit-stop on lap 38. Jacques Villeneuve’s title winning Williams emerged after the pit-stops in a lead he maintained till the end but Trulli followed in an assured second place until his Japanese engine decided to commit hari-kiri. It was only his fourteenth F1 race.

So in the interests of cloud yelling – I have to express an opinion I have long held about an element of this tragic story – Honda.

In 2013, Martin Whitmarsh announced a renewed collaboration between Mclaren and Honda. Unsurprisingly he was ousted and replaced by Ron Dennis - who seemingly wanted to glorify in the renewed relationship.

The media, and many publications, couldn’t avoid dragging their tongues along the windows of their offices - whilst reminiscing about the Marlboro Mclaren-Honda team from almost a quarter of a century before. The rhetoric being that just putting these two behemoths together would have everybody quaking in their boots…. Yeah right!!

Personally I had been watching Honda’s forays into F1 ever since they had left in 1992 and it was ultimately poor. Although not a full works Honda entry, Mugen was founded by Mr Honda Jnr; so to all intents and purposes the relationship is similar to AMG and Mercedes.

With Toyota entering F1 in 2002, Honda had to save corporate face and bought into the BAR dream. Despite investing hundreds of millions they achieved diddly squat. Well not quite, just the 1 fortuitous victory in 2006 when Jenson Button lucked into a Hungarian rain shower.

So why did Honda succeed so dramatically in the late 80’s? Other than the fact that Honda bested an arrogant and naïve mind-set amongst the European engine builders? The Japanese also teamed up with Williams and Mclaren; the 2 greatest F1 organisations of the 80’s and 90’s - employing Mansell, Piquet, Prost and Senna. That’s some roll call.

30 years on, those Europeans have moved the original goalposts on and the Japanese engineers have been found wanting…