Villeneuve started the race under appeal from disqualification, after continuing to practice at full speed under waved yellows.
At the start Villeneuve got away well, and dived across in front of Schumacher. For one moment it looked like the race may have ended at the first corner, but thankfully they didn't touch and the race could get under way. Hakkinen made his way up to 3rd, whilst Frentzen lost 6th place to a Benetton. Irvine on the 2nd lap made a blinding move on Hakkinen and Schumacher to take both in one move, and was now up to 2nd and chasing after Villeneuve. A lap later he took the Canadian and so into the lead, and pulled out a storming 4 seconds a lap gap over Villeneuve. It was a possibility that the Ferrari was running light, but it turned out to be otherwise.
By lap 8 both Stewarts were out of the race, whilst Katayama also retired from his final Japanese Grand Prix. By lap 10, Irvine had 11.4 seconds over Vileneuve. Benetton and McLaren were already for stops, and looked set for a three stopper. Nakano made a good move on Marques and took 13th place. By lap 17, Irvine had pitted and rejoined behind Frentzen in 3rd place. Villeneuve now had the lead. Irvines performace in the race was unbelievable, harrying Frentzen for third, despite a full fuel load, and Frentzen now on a very light load. Schumacher soon pitted, whilst Williams were preparing for theirs. Villeneuve pitted first, and rejoined just in front of Schumacher. Schumacher made short work of him, and so took the place. Frentzen also pittted, and so Irvine was back in the lead again. Nakano, meanwhile, had a damaged right rear, took a trip over the chicane, and then slowed to retire from the race. Irvine now had a 8.8 second lead over Schumacher, and slowed. And Slowed. Irvine then allowed Schumacher to take him, and then made his job holding back Villeneuve who was now in third place.
In 4 laps, Schumacher took his lead to 6.8 seconds. Williams were in disarray, and looking for a way to take the initiative, preparing to pull in Villeneuve early as he was unable to do anything with Irvine. Villeneuve's stop was a disaster, with some problem with the fuel nozzle, making his stop a long 13.4 seconds. Irvine soon pitted, and rejoined ahead of Hakkinen (who had been running in 6th place). Schumacher also pitted, and rejoined the race ahead of Irvine by quite some distance in second place. Frentzen now had the lead until he pitted. Panis' Mugen Honda let go in a big way - not a good day for the Japanese elements in the race. When Frentzen rejoined the race he was with Irvine, and managed to stay just ahead, despite Irvine pushing hard. All was quiet until lap 41, when Frentzen came upon Diniz, who delayed him somewhat. Despite a late charge, Frentzen was unable to catch his fellow German, the main chance coming on lap 51 when Hill delayed Schumacher somewhat. The Germans tyres were past their best, and he had trouble getting past the Arrows. Frentzen, though, managed to get by quickly and cleanly, reducing a 4 second lead to 1.1 seconds... Drama was over, and Schumacher took a truly deserved victory. Championship wise, he was either 1 point behind Villeneuve if the Canadian keeps his 5th place, or 1 point ahead if he doesn't. It is down to the wire in 1997, and the just about as close as it can get.
1. Schumacher 2. Frentzen 3. Irvine 4. Hakkinen 5. Villeneuve * RESULT PENDING APPEAL 6. Alesi 7. Herbert
-- Stephen M Baines
"[The Autosport sticker] started to peel off in the middle of Eau Rouge and it distracted me. In fact it was the first thing to hit the barrier" Tiff Needell - Jaguar XJR-15 Challenge - Interview with Autosport