The drama began with Berger stalling at the start of the parade lap. He got going, and looked set to rejoin the grid in last place, however Ralf Schumacher managed to stall on the grid and caused the start to be aborted. Berger was therefore ...
The drama began with Berger stalling at the start of the parade lap. He got going, and looked set to rejoin the grid in last place, however Ralf Schumacher managed to stall on the grid and caused the start to be aborted. Berger was therefore allowed back in his place, and Ralf would go to the back. Except due to an error he wasn't held back on the new parade lap, and so was held back after giving him a radio signal.
The drama continued at the new start with Villeneuve away well, but Coulthard did it better and charged up the inside (with Michael Schumacher also doing the same) and almost managing to take the lead at the first corner. That Coulthard didn't quite do it was more amazing than the fact he was even in a position to try! It unsettled Coulthard, allowing Schumacher to take second. Frentzen was already falling back, and was in an uninspiring 6th place. Ahead of him was Alesi and Hakkinen. Coulthard continued to battle with Schumacher, and it was clear that the Germans car was somewhat slower than the McLaren (4 clicks on the main straight). After a long time of absence from Grand Prix racing Morbidelli (replacing Larini) had jumped the start and so was pit bound for a stop/go penalty.
After a few laps trying to get past Schumacher the McLaren edged closer and closer, and made its move on the main straight, Coulthard took advantage of his straightline speed advantage and got by Schumacher by the corner at the end of the straight. Coulthard could now charge after Villeneuve. Or that was what was expected, but the McLaren team had other ideas, and Coulthard was soon pit bound for his first pit stop. Schumacher followed into the pits, and so it was a race of mechanics. The McLaren team won the race, but a nasty collision between Schumacher, Alesi and Coulthard was only narrowly avoided. Hakkinen soon pitted also. The Arrows of Damon Hill now found itself up in the points, but that was as far as it went, with the Arrows pulling off by the pit wall with a blown engine - 0/6 for the Hill-Arrows combination this year. On the way back to Arrows, Hill took the most direct route - straight through the Williams pit. Apparantly Hill gave a wink as he walked past Frank. Frank didn't acknowledge him and continued to stare at the pit monitor. By the end of 21 most of the first round of stops had been completed, and Villeneuve found himself with 3.7 seconds over Coulthard, with Panis, Hakkinen, Alesi and Schumacher behind. Frentzen, meanwhile, was languishing in an undistinguished 9th place - his Williams shredding tyres like there was no tommorow.
On lap 26 Panis pitted, and was the last person to do so for the first round. Williams were also ready for a second stop for Frentzen. Remember, this was lap 26 of 64, and already two stops were needed. Frentzens tyres were covered in massive blisters. Schumacher and Alesi were having a fight, and also managed to get past Hakkinen in the process. Hakkinen pitted for new tyres, his teammate Coulthard likewise soon pitted. The Goodyears were not having a good day. The pit stops continued with most of the front Goodyear runners needing to stop. On lap 33, Trulli came in for a new nose - a major difference to the other teams pit work.
Salo also was having problems with his tyres. His were not blistering but blowing, with the left rear tyre shredding itself. Panis was now running in 4th place, and was all over the McLaren of Coulthard. He outbreaked the Englishman at the end of the pit straight and into third. Panis looked the major threat to the Williams. Frentzen was pit bound again to shed another set of blistered Goodyears. Coulthard also stopped for his third stop in 40 laps. Berger also pitted. Villeneuve also pitted, but only for his second stop. His Williams was in a different class to Frentzens. On lap 45 the order was Schumacher, Villeneuve, Panis, Alesi, Herbert and Coulthard. This was rectified on the next lap as Schumacher pitted to drop the German to 4th. Panis was now a real challenge to the Williams, running a good second a lap faster, and then Panis started taking 1.3 second chunks out. It looked like we might just get a race.
Traffic soon put paid to that idea, with Panis stuck, but now Alesi was in pursuit. Panis was stuck behind Ralf Schumacher for what seemed forever. Finally he got by, only to be caught in traffic again - scratch that bright idea. Alesi was now on Panis' tail, as they were stuck behind the Ferrari of Irvine. It was a total coincidence that Schumacher was charging after Alesi...... Finally after a long time Panis got through, as did Alesi. Schumacher had no problem getting past his team mate. A few laps later it was Schumachers turn to be stuck behind someone - Jos Verstappen. Irvine received a ten second stop-go penalty for blocking. Justice was done, though too late as it robbed us of a chance of a battle for the lead. And so Villeneuve continued to take the win, never really bothered, in a race where others couldn't make their rubber last, yet Villeneuve and the Bridgestone runners could make it last as long as they wanted.
1. Villeneuve 2. Panis 3. Alesi 4. M Schumacher 5. Herbert 6. Coulthard 7. Hakkinen 8. Frentzen 9. Fisichella 10. Berger 11. Verstappen 12. Irvine 13. Magnussen 14. Morbidelli 15. Trulli
--------------------------------------------------------------------------- Last Updated: May 25, 1997 by Stephen M Baines ---------------------------------------------------------------------------
-- 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