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#611 1997 Austrian Grand Prix

2021-04-13 00:00

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#1997,

#611 1997 Austrian Grand Prix

Due sessioni di test una dietro l’altra, al Mugello e poi a Fiorano. La Ferrari può solo continuare a lavorare in maniera spasmodica per cercare di la

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Two test sessions one after the other, at Mugello and then at Fiorano. Ferrari can only continue to work spasmodically to try to leave behind the disappointing Grand Prix run in Italy, at Monza. Michael Schumacher, who limited the damage as best he could on the Lombardy track, but who certainly cannot hope for a Williams misstep next race weekend to keep his ten-point lead over Villeneuve.

 

Arriving by plane from Switzerland to Mugello, on the afternoon of 11 September 1997 Schumacher completes thirty laps, scoring a personal best time of 1'24"961. Schumacher dribbles past several reporters in the pits, jumping over a barrier, then he gives himself to a German television station, with which he has a contract, and to RAI, to which he tells about his worries for the forty points still up for grabs from here to the end of the World Championship and for the only ten of advantage on Jacques Villeneuve, besides the performance of the F310B:

 

"We have worked a lot on the new set-up, on the hydraulic differential, but I don't see any improvements. We didn't test ahead of the Austrian Grand Prix as Mugello is more like Suzuka".

 

In the meantime, the Sauber Petronas arrived at Fiorano, a circuit owned by Ferrari, with a V10 engine built by the Maranello company. This was to allow Schumacher to carry out comparative tests between his F310B and the C16. On 12 September 1997, when the German gets out of the Sauber, he is so radiant and satisfied that he immediately makes a joke, which at first glance seems heavy-handed:

 

"We give Sauber the engine and Sauber will give us the chassis".

 

But as soon as Michael realised that his press officer, Heiner Buchinger, was already talking to journalists on the phone, he hastened to say:

 

"I was just saying that for a laugh."

 

However, the very hot day provided positive and useful indications not only for Schumacher, who had the opportunity to try out a different car, but also for Sauber, who had a contract with Ferrari and wanted to be able to make comparisons on the track where the Reds are usually tested. The official best time at the end of eighty-four laps was 1'00"100, just slightly faster than the track record of fifty-nine seconds flat.

 

"It was an experience that is perhaps more unique than rare given that it never happens for a driver to be able to test a different car to the one he drives during the championship. But it was also a good day both for us and  them, with a mutual exchange of experience and knowledge".

 

In addition to engineer Lunetta, who is in charge of Schumacher's Ferrari, there are also Sauber engineers on the track at Fiorano who talk at length with their colleagues from Maranello throughout the day. The tests continue on September 13th and Schumacher completes a further eighty-four laps.

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In the days that bring the teams nearer to the fourth-last engagement of the season, the rumours about the drivers' market increase, with the grid of the 1998 season that is gradually outlined: the official transfer of Giancarlo Fisichella is sanctioned by the High Court, that gives reason to Benetton and allows the change of team of the Roman driver.

 

However, Eddie Jordan didn't despair, because he would receive in any case a conspicuous economic compensation. On the contrary, Damon Hill has some problems. Despite his not so young age, the reigning champion boasted several teams buzzing around him ready to offer him plenty of money to put him under contract. But then McLaren confirmed Hakkinen and Coulthard, while negotiations with Alain Prost failed due to economic disagreements, and his current team, Arrows, announced on 17 September 1997 the appointment of Mika Salo alongside Pedro Diniz.

 

Thus, without even realizing it, Hill remains temporarily without a seat, but fortunately for him with a team still interested in his services: the Jordan, orphaned of the promising Fisichella. The official announcement of the agreement between Hill and Jordan arrived a few days later, during the Austrian Grand Prix. Another officiality arrived always in Benetton house, that promote Alexander Wurz to Fisichella's side, who had so much impressed in his three disputed races in place of Berger, while it wasn't clear who could take Flavio Briatore's place in Benetton, who, interviewed, admitted:

 

"For now there are two certain things in my life: if I leave Benetton I leave Formula 1, but I want to stay in the world of sport. I have many offers but I haven't decided anything yet. Now I have to think about finishing the championship with Benetton, the car is going well, Alesi is in great shape. It's a pity about Sunday at Monza: it was easier to win than to lose. Afterwards I will take three or four months off. I'll close with everything and leave. I also need to recharge my batteries, like Schumacher. The difference is that he's a phenomenon and I'm not. But after so many years I think I have accumulated a wealth of skills and knowledge and so I would like to stay in the sport".

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For this role there is talk of Cesare Fiorio, former Ferrari sporting director, currently at Prost. Jean Alesi, suspended by Benetton, agreed with Sauber for 1998 and 1999. Alesi, who had an offer from Jordan, will have as teammate the English Johnny Herbert and chooses the team that races with Ferrari engines because, according to him, it has great technical possibilities in the next years:

 

"I have been impressed lately by the results, and then coming back to race with a Ferrari engine that I know well makes me very happy".

 

On the other hand, his teammate Gerhard Berger, who has now resigned himself to ending his adventure in Formula One, has a different opinion. However, the Austrian driver can console himself with the return of his home Grand Prix, reinserted in the calendar after an absence of ten years.

 

The A1-Ring at Spielberg has been renovated and significantly modified and is now ready to host a Formula One race again. Since it is a practically new track, the Federation decides to grant the teams a couple of hours of extra practice on Thursday, before taking to the track on Friday for the usual free practice.

 

"It sucks. This circuit is really crap, and they tell me they spent a lot of money to make it like this".

 

Said Jacques Villeneuve in Italian, mistakenly not saying one, at the end of testing.

 

"There are corners where you find yourself in first gear almost stationary. Now I say: Formula 1 is speed, spectacle, rhythm and here you find yourself at a standstill. What is this? Do you know that every time I cross the finish line I have the feeling that I've missed part of the circuit? I ask myself: where were the other corners? It's unbelievable. It's a slow, boring circuit where you can't overtake. Oh, God, you have to be careful all the time. At Monza, I said, "Ah, you can overtake here. Not one. But it's much worse here. Apart from a couple of corners, the rest is a joke".

 

Then Jacques is asked about the difference in competitiveness between Williams and Ferrari:

 

"Williams is much better than its Ferrari? Are you kidding me? Maybe in the first three Grands Grix. Just look at the last few races, they've been a disaster for me. I've had a few fifth places, which is a lot to shoot for. But now we're doing really well again. Here in Austria, then in Germany, in Suzuka and Jerez there are no problems: these are races made for us. We won't leave them any crumbs. And then I will be able to count on Frentzen's help, I don't know if and how much he can count on Irvine".

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During these tests the drivers on Bridgestone tyres emerged, almost monopolizing the first five positions: Hill took the lead, followed by the two Stewart cars of Barrichello and Magnussen, Alesi (the only one with Goodyear) and Jarno Trulli. Schumacher, fifteenth with the old chassis, at more than one second's distance from Hill, doesn't give the idea of being enthusiastic: he complains about a slippery asphalt and an oversteering car, with little traction and poor grip.

 

The day after, the situation at Ferrari's, which appeared at Spielberg with three cars on the new light chassis and two on the old heavy chassis, seemed to improve, despite the seven tenths that separated Schumacher from Frentzen, the day's leader. Schumacher alternates the old chassis with the new one, probably because the last version does not seem to exalt him so much: only in the central sector, the German pays half a second from his compatriot of the Williams. In addition, the German Ferrari driver only has one set of hard tyres, while the Williams driver has soft tyres and uses three sets. Admitted Schumacher at the end of practice:

 

"I feel good on the track. Compared to Thursday we have made a big step forward, the car is more balanced, we just need to find the best set-up and we are working on that. The Williams are very fast, but we will see when the race is over. I hope to stay ahead of Villeneuve for the whole race".

 

After having left the scene to his teammate during the free practice, Villeneuve, equipped with a new edition of the Renault engine, resumed the role of first driver inside the Williams team, undertook a sparkling battle for the pole position with Mika Hakkinen and won with a sublime turn of the wrist at the last attempt, 1'10"304, a little less than one tenth faster than the Finnish driver, who was already tasting his first pole in the season and in his career.

 

More than the pole, perhaps what widened the Canadian's smile at the end of the session was the ninth place obtained by Schumacher, overtaken even by Eddie Irvine, who was just a few thousandths ahead of him. Since they were teammates, it was the second time that Irvine beat Schumacher in qualifying: a real rarity motivated by the fact that the former Jordan's driver carried out the qualifying with soft tyres, on the contrary of the German who mounted hard tyres. In the last desperate qualifying laps, both Irvine and Schumacher were even forced to stop along the circuit, because in the attempt to lighten the cars as much as possible and try to gain a few tenths of a second, the fuel ran out. Ferrari even fit special qualifying rims and sensors to monitor the tyre pressure, but nothing could overturn the result.

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This means not only that the two drivers will have different strategies in the race, but also that Irvine has not done a great job, as he was only a few thousandths behind his teammate, despite having more powerful tyres. Schumacher didn't hide his disappointment, and while standing at the edge of the track he even threw a frustrated kick at his beloved Ferrari, but he didn't give up:

 

"This was not what I expected, I am disappointed, but these things happen. We are all close and I could have done better if in the last two corners of my final lap I hadn't run out of fuel. I couldn't beat Villeneuve, but I could have gained some positions".

 

With a few but coincidental words the poleman of the day shows how focused he is and how determined he is to close the gap in the overall standings:

 

"I have to aim at the success, then we will see. The car is very fast and stable, but the pursuers are strong. I have to concentrate only on the result of the day. The track is slippery, it's easy to make mistakes. At the end of the day, however, it will be better a second place with Schumacher behind me than running unnecessary risks to keep the first place at all costs".

 

Williams gets the pole with the hard tyres, that consequently will be used also in the race, but after the qualifications Villeneuve tries to make believe that he has mounted the soft ones. The game goes on for hours, until it becomes a mystery, increased by the evasive Frank Williams who talks about a secret strategy, which is based on the tyres and by certain behaviours on the tyres of the English team, counter-espionage stuff, like detached plates or numbers made illegible, before everything ends with a general clarification.

 

Opening the second row is a surprise Jarno Trulli, who makes the most of the Bridgestone tyres in what is his last appearance of the season, as Olivier Panis is about to return to the track. Jarno himself, considered to be an amateur at fault, responded to the accusations by declaring:

 

"This time is my great revenge, I have shown that when the car works, I can go very fast. That it's not my fault when it doesn't go".

 

Even the day before things were going badly for the Italian rider: a broken engine at the start and a mule prepared for teammate Nakano had not helped the Italian.

 

"I never got discouraged, even though the spare car was having trouble with the brakes, and in the end I pulled off the best lap of my career".

 

A satisfaction that could mark a turning point in Jarno's career, with Williams betting on him for the future and Prost deciding to reconfirm him. The Italian driver will be flanked by Frentzen, and right behind him there will be two other Bridgestone tyres, Rubens Barrichello and Jan Magnussen, to the delight of Jackie Stewart.

 

Disappointing were Coulthard who didn't go beyond the tenth place, Fisichella who was fourteenth but who accused first a Sauber and then Schumacher of having hindered him preventing him from setting a good time, and the Benetton cars, whose hiccups during this season are no longer news: Alesi was fifteenth, while Berger was eighteenth.

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Tarso Marques, penultimate on the grid, is disqualified and will not take the start because his Minardi is underweight at the controls. What makes the event special is the fact that it is not the car that is lighter but the driver, who has lost weight from 72 to 69 kilos.

And because the car and driver are weighed together, they are disqualified.

 

Schumacher starts from ninth but compared to Monza his pursuit of the points zone may be less complicated: the very fast Benettons seen at Monza did not make it; Stewart has completed two races with Barrichello, and four with Magnussen, so even if it is not what the German needs to lean on to make his comeback, he may subconsciously load up knowing that Jackie's two white cars are unlikely to make it to the chequered flag. Finally, ahead of him there is Irvine.

 

Most drivers are expected to go for a one-stopper, with a few others who might try something different by opting for two; apart from Irvine, only the two Sauber cars and Jos Verstappen have chosen soft Goodyear. At lunchtime, the sun shone on the A1-Ring making the asphalt temperature high and the air temperature pleasantly mild: everything was ready to run seventy-one times on the 4.3 km of the renewed Austrian track.

 

At the end of the reconnaissance lap, Gerhard Berger unexpectedly returned to the pits; the home driver noticed something abnormal on the steering wheel dashboard and went back. Once he realised it was a false alarm, he hurried to the exit of the pit lane, to start his race that had to be all in recovery. Once the red lights are turned off, Villeneuve takes a bad start leaving the way clear to Hakkinen who takes the lead after a few meters. Jarno Trulli gets off to a great start and surprises the Canadian at the next braking of the Remus corner. The Canadian is unable to recover even after the second overtaking because Barrichello is ahead of him in a little time.

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However, Mika Hakkinen, still in search of his first career victory, which he had come close to achieving several times and which today seemed within reach after his second place in qualifying and the fastest time set in the warm-up, was forced to stop. The Finn's race ends before he even crosses the finish line on the first lap: the Mercedes engine suddenly loses power coming out of the last corner. Mika can only park along the track, on the grass, and go back to the pits with all the frustration of the case.

 

With Villeneuve still dazed by the bad start and Hakkinen out of the games, to lead the race surprisingly for everybody Jarno Trulli is ahead of Rubens Barrichello. Behind the Brazilian, Villeneuve, Magnussen, Frentzen and Michael Schumacher follow, the latter somehow manages also this time to slip into the top six.

 

Trulli doesn't let himself be intimidated by the unexpected leadership of the race and starts to record fast laps on fast laps, putting himself at a safe distance from Barrichello and Villeneuve who travel in pairs. After a promising start, the two Stewarts start to slow down the group: Villeneuve remains stuck behind Barrichello, while Frentzen, Schumacher and Coulthard follow Jan Magnussen.

 

The Canadian took all the necessary precautions to try an overtaking manoeuvre on Barrichello, as he had to think of the world championship and of a margin of error allowed close to zero; the same for Frentzen, who was not fighting for the world championship but had however the arduous task of keeping Schumacher under control, and some risky manoeuvre on Magnussen could play in favour of the German. This momentary stalemate benefits Trulli, who is constantly gaining on his rivals.

 

The choice of soft tyres didn't help Eddie Irvine at all, author of an unhappy start and unable to acquire a satisfactory race pace; first Alesi and then Fisichella ousted him without too much difficulty from the tenth position. On lap 23, Villeneuve comes out strongly from the Remus corner, takes advantage of Stewart's wake and goes alongside him at the Gösser corner, where he overtakes and takes the second position. Jacques wastes no time and immediately starts his chase after Jarno Trulli, 10 seconds behind.

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Contrary to his teammate, Magnussen resists the pressure of Frentzen, even drawing breath for a couple of laps when the lapping of Verstappen makes the German lose a few seconds too much, showing how much faster he is than Stewart as soon as he has some free track, recording the fastest lap of the race, the first one under the wall of 1'13".

 

After that Magnussen returns to the pits to make the first of what will probably be two stops for him and Barrichello, given that the Brazilian also comes in on the next lap, 27th. Rubens comes out of the pit lane and finds himself in eleventh position, blocked by Johnny Herbert.

 

Villeneuve meanwhile reduces to only four seconds the gap that separates him from Jarno Trulli, who at lap 37 is called by the Prost pit wall for his first and only stop. Jacques smelt the opportunity: by pushing his Williams to the limit he had a good chance of keeping the lead once he had made his pit stop.

 

Irvine's colourless race came to an end on lap 38: once again in a tussle with Jean Alesi, the two came into contact at the exit of the Remus bend, to be precise wheel to wheel; the Benetton of the French driver was thrown into the air and ended up on the front of Irvine's F310B, also risking overturning. Both cars are seriously damaged, but while Alesi remains stuck in the gravel, Irvine at least manages to bring the car back to the pits.

 

Sixth race in a row without scoring a single point for Eddie Irvine, a zero contribution to the team, both in terms of supporting Schumacher in the Drivers' Championship and in the Constructors' Championship, where Ferrari has been relying for too long only on the Kerpen phenomenon's points.

 

After the race, Jean Todt did nothing to hide his disappointment with the Northern Irishman. Ironically, Irvine not only did not help Michael, but in this case he even caused him harm. Having got rid of Jan Magnussen who had returned to the pits, Frentzen could not shake off Schumacher, who continued to follow him like a shadow, ready to exploit any mistakes made by his compatriot. Mistakes that seemed to arrive on lap 39, shortly after the Alesi-Irvine collision. Frentzen was stuck behind the lapped Gerhard Berger who was slow to step aside, and at the Remus corner Schumacher jumped to the inside and took the position.

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What he didn't notice were the yellow flags shown by the marshals for Alesi's car, still stuck in the gravel, and which Frentzen had instead seen, which is why he had slowed down. The latter's discontent with Berger, however, will be evident when the Austrian will finally be lapped, and will also have to take a not very elegant middle finger from the Williams driver. In any case, Schumacher's was an overtaking under yellow flags, categorically forbidden by the rules.

 

In the meantime, Villeneuve returned to the pits on lap 40: the stop lasted 9.9 seconds, enough to allow the son of art to return to the track with a margin of just two seconds on Jarno Trulli, who despite his efforts could not keep the lead, which was now officially in the hands of the Canadian driver waiting for everyone to make their respective stops.

 

When this happens, the first six positions are occupied in order by Villeneuve, Trulli, Schumacher, Barrichello, Magnussen and Coulthard, with Frentzen even out of the points zone, even if the two Stewarts have not yet made their second pit-stop. A masterful job by Schumacher and the Ferrari box, before the inevitable penalty arrived when there were about twenty laps to go: a ten second stop & go for Michael Schumacher, guilty of overtaking a car under yellow flags.

 

A cold shower that, once the penalty is served, relegates Michael out of the points zone, in ninth position. All was not lost, but to gain at least one point he had to overtake in order Barrichello, who had meanwhile returned for his second stop, Hill and his brother Ralf, who had reached sixth position and was currently six seconds behind.

 

The whole thing is made even more bitter by the fact that Villeneuve is travelling undisturbed towards the victory since Trulli is not a threat. On the contrary, the Italian has to face some complications in these last laps that separate him from his first F1 podium. Alain Prost confesses to a French journalist that during the pit-stop not enough petrol was put in the tank for Jarno to arrive safely at the end of the race. In addition, there is something wrong with the Mugen-Honda engine. Trulli tries to manage the problems as best he can, but he inevitably has to raise his lap times, favouring the immediate arrival of Coulthard and Frentzen.

 

At the 57th lap, the engine of the Prost driven by Shinji Nakano breaks down: a little later, the commentator Murray Walker, commentating the race, seeing the images of a Prost stopped with a broken engine, thinks it is the replay that shows the retirement of the Japanese driver, but the images are live, and the Prost that is going to park in the gravel at the last bend with the smoking engine is the one driven by Jarno Trulli. Double retirement within a minute and a half. From being able to celebrate his first victory as team manager, Alain Prost must bitterly accept a resounding double retirement. Jarno comments as follows:

 

"I only have the consolation of having demonstrated my ability".

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Trulli's unfortunate retirement not only gave Coulthard the chance to move into second place followed by Frentzen but also revived Schumacher's hopes of gaining at least a point. The Ferrari driver is eighth, and the last of a large group of drivers led by his brother Ralf, fifth.

 

It is curious that on Saturday Villeneuve maliciously hinted that according to him Schumacher not only benefited from Irvine's help but also his brother Ralf's one. These veiled accusations were rather fanciful, but somehow they materialized on this occasion since the young Jordan driver was in difficulty and was slowing down his rivals, indirectly favouring his brother.

 

The end of the race is not poor in emotions: at six laps from the chequered flag Schumacher tries an attack on Barrichello at the penultimate bend, the Jochen Rindt. The manoeuvre disorients Barrichello, who misses the apex and ends up wide, on the gravel, where he damages the front suspension as well as the wing. A mistake that cost him his retirement. Jackie Stewart, who like Prost had hoped to be able to celebrate important placings, had to leave Spielberg with another double retirement, given that Magnussen had also retired earlier due to engine problems.

 

At the Remus bend Michael surprised Damon Hill, thus entering the points zone, while at the head of the race Villeneuve fought off Coulthard's unrealistic attempts to get closer, and won for the sixth time in this season, thanks to an exceptional performance made of intelligence and speed.

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On the podium there were also Coulthard, author of a great recovery from the tenth to the second position, and Frentzen, who did his part gaining crucial points in the constructors' classification, where Williams overtook Ferrari. Fourth position for Fisichella, who also made an exceptional comeback from fourteenth place, confirming his great driving qualities. Closing the points zone are Ralf and Michael Schumacher, with the younger brother who, despite Villeneuve's accusations, does not leave the way clear for his brother.

 

"It was not at all easy to win today, I had a horrible start, so I lost the first position to Hakkinen, and then also Trulli passed me under braking. We had taken on a lot of fuel, and in the first phase I was struggling a lot coming out of the corners, especially compared to the Bridgestone cars, as the Goodyears took a while to come up to temperature. Then after a few laps I picked up the pace and was able to be faster than Barrichello. I was very cautious when overtaking because I didn't want to take any risks, like ending up off the track or even retiring".

 

Said Jacques Villeneuve in the press room, before adding:

 

"Today it was crucial to gain points and I could not make such mistakes. Now the psychological advantages are all mine. Now Schumacher won't be able to run defensively anymore, he too will start feeling the pressure, that anxiety that makes you make mistakes. For months now I've been forced to chase and the hunter always finds it harder than the hare. I like to attack, when you are behind in the standings you have to limit the risks to a minimum, because you know that a new mistake can be decisive. Ferrari, with the new adjustments, after Magny Cours seemed uncatchable, now it is back to normal. We are better at aerodynamics, engine, tyres. I have only one fear, the cold, in Germany on Sunday the temperature will be very low and this favours the Ferrari. I'm happy, this is a special victory because it can be worth the World Championship. We dominated, only Trulli and Coulthard bothered us. I'm optimistic, I can't deny it. Once I passed Barrichello it was a matter of pushing hard lap after lap to get closer to Trulli to overtake him during the pit stop window, and that's what happened. As for the strategy, the intention was to delay the stop as long as possible, as long as the fuel in the tank would allow us to, and we did that successfully. In the final Coulthard got closer mainly because of a lot of traffic which slowed me down. I lost a lot of time behind Berger, but again I didn't want to take too many risks. However, I had a margin and I managed my lap times based on what he was doing".

 

Both Coulthard and Frentzen can be equally satisfied. The Scot, for example, did not expect to make the podium:

 

"Before the race, I thought that, given the starting position, it would be fantastic to get a few points. Then Schumacher's penalty and once again the exceptional work of the mechanics in the pits allowed me to reach the podium. Yes, I was getting closer to Jacques but I was aware that it would be almost impossible to overtake him. I thought this race would be harder on the physical side, we did over seventy laps but they weren't that tiring. The real problem was the lapping, as Jacques has already mentioned, and I'm also talking about those more experienced drivers, who didn't exactly behave as correctly as possible".

 

Frentzen, on the other hand, seems to have acquired the solidity he lacked at the start of the season:

 

"This is my third podium in a row, so I can't complain. I did a good race, even though it was hard to manage such a heavy car and the two Stewarts that surrounded and overtook me at the start. In the first stint I lost some time behind Magnussen, then it was even worse with Berger, who seemed not to see the blue flags, and because of him I lost the position to Michael and precious seconds that allowed Coulthard to overtake me. I lost another position during the pit stops, which is not ideal, but I will work with the team to improve on this too".

 

There is little to be cheerful about at Ferrari, because what looked like a potentially decisive advantage from here to the end of the season has suddenly almost disappeared, due also to an F310B that is not keeping pace with its rivals. Despite this, Schumacher tries to see the glass half full, and explains his point of view regarding the penalty he received:

 

"The car went better than I expected. Our biggest problem at the moment is qualifying, where we can't express ourselves at our best. Unfortunately, the penalty meant that I didn't have a chance of an almost certain second place. There was an accident but I didn't know about it. Frentzen slowed down suddenly and I thought he had a problem and I passed him on the inside, I didn't see the yellow flags at all, I swear on Gina Maria. The corner is on the right, I was overtaking and the marshals were waving the flags on the left. If I had noticed, I would have slowed down and, if necessary, given Frentzen his position back so as not to incur a penalty. I'm not stupid enough to get into trouble deliberately and throw away a result. The stewards are doing their duty, but it has to be said that some other system should be invented to improve signalling. In recent days, during practice, about fifteen drivers have been called to the race direction for not respecting the flags. Incidentally, during the race, the blue flags for lapping were not even visible. They put the flags right where the cows usually graze and I didn't notice. It was a shame because I was third at the time and could have finished second. Otherwise, I'm happy with how the car went. It was much better than in the previous days. Unfortunately, it doesn't work in the fast corners and this is an old fault that we have been carrying around since the start of the year. And that being the case, I'm afraid the next few circuits will be more favourable to Williams".

 

And speaking of the upcoming races, Michael admits:

 

"Williams is going strong, the next circuits will be favourable to Villeneuve, without forgetting that for some time now many cars have become competitive, so the battle will be more and more heated. We will do everything we can, that's for sure, we will not give up".

 

Frentzen also has his say on the matter, recounting the episode of overtaking under yellow flags and stating:

 

"I saw the yellow flag, I don't understand how Schumacher didn't notice it. I slowed down, Coulthard was behind us and he overtook me. For a moment I was surprised, then I immediately warned my pits, saying that Schumacher had to be penalised".

 

Regarding the contact in the race between Eddie Irvine and Jean Alesi, the Irishman says:

 

"I was overtaking Alesi when his car ran into me".

 

But Alesi doesn't think the same way as the Ferrari driver, and comments:

 

"He's crazy, I'd love to smash his face in. A guy like that shouldn't be allowed to race. He got three results in one go: he retired, I retired and Schumacher was penalised, crazy stuff".

 

Jean's thoughts are comforted by the words of his namesake Jean Todt, who bitterly admits:

 

"Frentzen brings points to the team, so much so that he is now third in the world championship, but we haven't had any results with Eddie for six races. The Williams are very strong in practice and so they can start ahead, we do well in the race but we always have to make comebacks. Next Sunday's Grand Prix at the Nurburgring will be very difficult for us, although it will be cooler up there than in Austria and that will help us".

 

Nurburgring, Suzuka and Jerez. Only three more races to go, the championship is at its end, but everything is still up for discussion: 68 to 67 in favour of Schumacher on one side, 98 to 86 in favour of Williams on the other. At the Nurburgring, seven days after Austria, Villeneuve goes there charged as never before, also remembering his victory last year:

 

"At the Nurburgring I already won last year beating Schumacher and I think I can repeat myself. Now our car is going better than the Ferrari".

 

Davide Scotto di Vetta

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