The Jerez GP of 1997

The JV Masterpiece - Here we are for the second tale of our F1 classics. This time Jerez 1997.

I always thought that Jacques Villeneuve was somewhat underrated for his accomplishments. He was Cart Champion, F1 World Champion, won Indianapolis, and came « that close » to winning Le Mans. He might not have been the most consistent driver, but on his day, he performed some amazing races. And no one can ever doubt his almost unparalleled ability to overtake.

So here we are, Jerez 1997. Last race of the season, Schumacher and Villeneuve going head to head for the championship.

On a personal note, Jerez is one of my favorite track. Firstly, the atmosphere around that track is unique. Seconldy, between F3, F3000 and F1, I must have completed close to 3000 laps there. Last but not least, it has always been a very succesful track for me. Jerez is a tiny track, it is narrow. But when you look at the 1997 cars, the track looks perfectly normal. It just makes you realize how much bigger the cars have gotten through time. Not really sure this is the best thing.

Qualfying saw an unprecented event happen. Villeneuve, Schumacher and Frentzen all set the same lap time of  1.21.072. Villeneuve set the laptime first, giving him pole position, while Schumacher was second and Frentzen third.

Schumacher started on new tires while Villeneuve started on used. Michael got the better start and took the lead at the firt corner. The ferrari dominated the first stint of the race, with a lead oscillating between 3 and 5 seconds. Michael pitted first, handing the provisional lead to the Williams, but he took back the lead when the Canadian pitted.

The second pitstop did not change the order and Schumacher seemed to be in control of the race. Schumacher got a bit lucky in traffic with Fontana grossly holding up Villeneuve. At the time I remembered thinking that this was the end.

But suddenly Schumacher started to lose pace and Villeneuve came back like a rocket. He did not spend much time behind, knowing that this was his opportunity. He got a good exit out of turn 7, and from behindd, nicely hidden, dived inside Schumi at the Dry Sack, where Michael did not expect him. Schumacher had a knee-jerk reaction and the 2 cars collided, with the German ending in the gravel.

With a damaged car, Villeneuve nursed his Williams to the end, letting the 2 Mc Larens through on the last lap. He claimed third and the world championship.

It is hard to believe he never led a race ever again after that. But on this day, he clearly deserved this win and this championship. /


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