download

#598 1997 Australian Grand Prix

2021-04-25 00:00

Array() no author 82025

#1997,

#598 1997 Australian Grand Prix

Nel corso del primo week-end della nuova stagione fa sentire la sua immancabile presenza Bernie Ecclestone, presidente della FOCA (una federazione a d

resizer-in-6127a37f61bf0-1629987724.jpg

During the first weekend of the new season Bernie Ecclestone made his unfailing presence felt as president of FOCA (that had already fallen into oblivion) and vice- president of the FIA, two contrasting roles but talking about Bernie, the logic of certain dynamics is often lacking. For some time now the English manager has been the real patron of the circus; nothing happens in Formula 1 without him knowing. For example, a bizarre request has been made in this period by a member of the Italian political party Lega Padana to Max Mosley to include in the 1998 calendar a Padania Grand Prix to be held at Imola. This request was not followed up, with Imola continuing to host the San Marino Grand Prix. For a long time, Ecclestone had already indicated Villeneuve as a future World Champion firmly supporting his arrival in Williams only to be annoyed when Sir. Frank decided to dump Hill in favour of Frentzen.

 

"A Hill in a lesser team makes my show dull".

 

The first qualifying of the year was a real nightmare for the reigning champion Damon Hill, who had to reckon with the mediocrity of the Arrows and the Yamaha engine. He's five seconds slower than Villeneuve and somersaults made just to be within the 107% time limit. Hill was twentieth, ahead only of the Tyrrell of Jos Verstappen (another team in free fall) and of his teammate Pedro Paolo Diniz, unable to enter the time limit necessary to take part in the race but pardoned by the race commissioners having set faster times in free practice. The next day the situation went from bad to worse for Damon; already during the reconnaissance lap, the Briton had to park his car at the side of the track because of accelerator problems. March 10th, 1996, when at the wheel of the Williams he won the opening race of the championship leaving his teammate forty seconds behind seemed already only a distant memory and unfortunately for him. Hill had to wait a long time before being able to taste again middle-high classification positions. Knowing that there is someone worse off can hardly hearten Hill. The Lola-Ford arrived in Melbourne intending to run, financed by Mastercard and driven by the unfortunate Vincenzo Sospiri and Riccardo Rosset, who accumulated a delay of ten seconds from Villeneuve, the pole man. Originally, the single-seater, named T97/30, was supposed to make its debut in 1998, but due to Mastercard's wishes, it was brought to debut already in Australia. In the pre-season there was optimism about the success of the project but the shortened timeframe imposed on the team meant that the single-seater was assembled in great haste with virtually no wind tunnel testing.

resizer-in-6127a3ca529e1-1629987799.jpg

The T97/30, equipped with obsolete Ford engines (used by Sauber in '95) and Bridgestone tyres obviously didn't make it to the race. Nor will it have any further opportunities to do so, as Mastercard will see fit to scrap the economic support and leave the team to its sad fate. On the other hand, the Canadian Jacques Villeneuve was immediately very fast, dominating the qualifying session in his Williams-Renault taking pole position with a big advantage over his rivals. Turning in 1'29"369, he took one second and seven tenths from his new box mate Frentzen; Ferrari and McLaren were next but they were more than two seconds apart, with Schumacher and Coulthard in the second row and Irvine and Hakkinen in the third. A surprising result even for Jean Todt, who laconically commented:

 

"I expected Villeneuve to be fast, but not two seconds ahead".

 

The difference with Friday's results were largely due to the choice of tyres, a problem underestimated by many teams including Benetton who placed Alesi three and a half seconds behind Villeneuve on the grid. This year the teams have to choose the tyres to use in qualifying and in the race just before the session that delineates the starting grid. Villeneuve chose the softer tyres, Ferrari the harder ones since as Todt himself admitted:

 

"Williams is a more balanced car and can use the soft tyres, we can't".

 

But Ferrari's strategy is clear: start on hard tyres to make just one pit stop while Williams will be forced to make two and is therefore obliged to have a race in attack to get back in front of the rivals. The day after when the traffic lights go out, Villeneuve makes the rear tyres skid noticeably, compromising the sprint. Frentzen promptly took advantage of it and took the lead but at the first braking Johnny Herbert's Sauber flanked the Canadian on the outside. Eddie Irvine's Ferrari arrived with an aggressive entry being too optimistic in his manoeuvre after having glimpsed a sufficient space to allow him to gain positions.

resizer-in-6127a443bb58c-1629987923.jpg

Villeneuve was sandwiched between Irvine and the Sauber and together with the latter, he was sent into the gravel unable to restart. After Villeneuve's and Herbert's retirement, Irvine's race lasted only a few corners more than the two unlucky drivers: the Irishman's F310B was so damaged to the left front suspension that he could not continue. In the early stages of the race, Frentzen easily kept the lead followed by Coulthard, Schumacher and Hakkinen. The newly-acquired driver of Frank Williams' team immediately imposed an unapproachable race pace for his pursuers favoured not only by the technical advantage of his car but also by the little petrol taken on board and by the use of soft tyres. He was on a more aggressive two-stop strategy while the two McLarens and Schumacher as said, opted for a single stop.

 

The Ferrari driver seems to have more speed than Coulthard, but the conformation of the track does not allow him to overtake easily, so Schumacher can only queue up and hope for some mistake of the Scot, who does not seem to be affected by the pressure coming from behind. To demonstrate the fatigue of the McLaren, Hakkinen struggles to keep contact with the drivers ahead, and on the contrary, he has to look in the mirrors to defend himself from the attacks of the Benetton driven by Alesi pursued by Berger.

 

Frentzen pushed lap after lap and once he was behind a small group of backmarkers he went to the pits for his first stop which relegated him to third position behind Schumacher and Coulthard. It was at this stage when the leading duo found themselves in the middle of the backmarkers that Schumi tried to increase the pressure on Coulthard, who proved to be very determined and aggressive in getting rid of the backmarkers not hesitating on a couple of occasions to block his front tyres in braking.

 

Around lap 30, first Coulthard and then Schumacher made their pit stops and the Scotsman found himself with a good lead over his pursuer, who lost several seconds by staying out two laps more. A curious twist arrived on lap 34 when the international direction framed Jean Alesi stopped on the grass near turn 11 and then lingered on the Benetton box that had been waiting for him for several laps for the pit stop. The Frenchman had been summoned in every possible and imaginable way by his pit wall to make the stop but Alesi continued until he ran out of petrol. The mechanics didn't hide their disappointment just as Flavio Briatore didn't hide it in the post-race, acid to the point of making some tears run down the face of the guilty ex-Ferrari driver.

resizer-in-6127a486466fe-1629987989.jpg

When we are more than halfway through the race, Frentzen is again in the lead with a twenty-two-second advantage over Coulthard and Schumacher and continues to hammer out fast laps to keep his position once the second scheduled stop has been made. However, as the German pulled into his pit lane something went wrong with his right rear tyre and the pit stop lasted 16.4 seconds. An inconvenience that probably cost Frentzen the leadership even if his gap on Coulthard up to that moment did not give him the full certainty of staying ahead.

 

In the meantime, Schumacher caught up with Coulthard, but, as before, he was unable to find a chance to overtake. A frenzied Frentzen closed the gap to the Ferrari driver lapping in a low 1'31" while Coulthard rarely managed to dip below 1'33". However, the worry in the Williams box was growing lap after lap as black smoke rose from the front brakes of Frentzen's car at every braking. The trio was reunited everyone was ready to assist to an exciting final race but surprisingly, Schumacher took the pit lane and made an unscheduled stop. A quick pit-stop, just 4.4 seconds but that relegates Schumi to third position just ahead of Hakkinen. As explained by Jean Todt after the race during the first pit-stop not all the fuel had entered the tank due to a malfunction in the distributor and therefore Schumacher was forced to make an additional stop to avoid running out of fuel.

 

At first, it was thought that the fault lay with the pump filling the cars which had indicated that seventy litres had entered when in fact it had delivered twenty litres less. Only in the following days it turns out that the tank was causing the problem. Therefore, there were two drivers left to play for the first win of the season: Coulthard managed to keep two seconds' lead, then with the passing of laps the gap even increased with Frentzen who seemed to manage the car and his brakes more and more in crisis, being content with the second place. However, this was not enough. Three laps from the end just while the international control room was showing its onboard live broadcast, black smoke was coming out with further intensity from the front left disc, the Williams car spun off at the first braking and ended up in the gravel just where Villeneuve, his teammate had been stuck an hour and a half before.

resizer-in-6127a4f29e487-1629988097.jpg

From a potential one-two, Williams left Australia with a double zero and some questions regarding the reliability of the new car. In a scenario that optimistically had it at the foot of the podium, McLaren found itself with David Coulthard celebrating his second career victory and Mika Hakkinen accompanying him on the podium thanks to his third place. In the middle there was Schumacher who thanks to Frentzen's unexpected retirement had recovered his second place. After an endless wait that lasted too long since Senna's last victory in Australia but on the Adelaide circuit, Ron Dennis' team returned to rejoice.

 

Once out of the cockpit, Coulthard ran to embrace Jo Ramirez, a man closely linked to Ayrton for much of his career. Hakkinen's reaction was also beautiful, embracing the Scot and lifting him up to celebrate. On the podium, the champagne bath with the kind cooperation of the Finn and Schumacher is inevitable. In the press conference Coulthard exclaims:

 

"It's fantastic! I'm feeling emotions even stronger than when I won my first race with Williams. It's an unexpected victory, especially after Williams' dominance in qualifying yesterday. Anyway, I think I'll have to thank Eddie for the chaos he caused at turn one! Not having Frentzen in front at a certain point in the race surprised me, even though he had a two-pit-stop strategy I thought he had built up enough of an advantage to secure it".

 

There were also words of praise for Mika Hakkinen, who praised his team for their hard work over the years:

 

"A fantastic result for the team, finally the hard work is paying off. I am really happy because these have been tough years for us. I had a difficult race, I couldn't get consistent confidence with the car. In any case, we have a good chance of fighting for the title, McLaren in synergy with Mercedes still has plenty of room for improvement from here until the end of the season".

resizer-in-6127a5baacd92-1629988301.jpg

From a potential one-two, Williams left Australia with a double zero and some questions regarding the reliability of the new car. In a scenario that optimistically had it at the foot of the podium. McLaren found itself with David Coulthard celebrating his second career victory and Mika Hakkinen accompanying him on the podium thanks to his third place. In the middle there was Schumacher who thanks to Frentzen's unexpected retirement, recovered his second place.

 

After an endless wait that lasted too long since Senna's last victory in Australia but on the Adelaide circuit, Ron Dennis' team returned to rejoice. Once out of the cockpit, Coulthard ran to embrace Jo Ramirez, a man closely linked to Ayrton for much of his career. Hakkinen's reaction was also beautiful, embracing the Scot and lifting him up to celebrate. On the podium, the champagne bath with the kind cooperation of the Finn and Schumacher is inevitable. In the press conference Coulthard exclaims:

 

"It's fantastic! I'm feeling emotions even stronger than when I won my first race with Williams. It's an unexpected victory especially after Williams' dominance in qualifying yesterday. Anyway, I think I'll have to thank Eddie for the chaos he caused at turn one! Not having Frentzen in front at a certain point in the race surprised me even though he had a two-pit-stop strategy I thought he had built up enough of an advantage to secure it".

 

There were also words of praise for Mika Hakkinen who praised his team for their hard work over the years:

 

"A fantastic result for the team, finally the hard work is paying off. I am really happy because these have been tough years for us. I had a difficult race, I couldn't get consistent confidence with the car. In any case, we have a good chance of fighting for the title, McLaren in synergy with Mercedes still has plenty of room for improvement from here until the end of the season".

 

Schumacher was in the same mood and it could not be otherwise on a day when both Williams were missing:

 

"I'm happy, it was impossible to expect a better result today. Of course, it was not pleasant to have to go to the pits again at the end of the race, even if Frentzen's retirement allowed us to take back the second position. Today it was important to gain some points, the podium was the best for us. I knew that Heinz could not overtake me, I was calm, I was also faster than David but I could not overtake him. Today's cars don't allow us to get close to those in front of us, and the layout of the track didn't help. When they told me on the radio to go back to the pits, I was stunned. I even said: are you telling me or is there a mistake? I couldn't believe it. Our whole race strategy was based on a single pit stop and I had already done that a long time ago, the car was running well, I had no problems, I was second and that's how I was going to get to the finish line as overtaking Coulthard was impossible. And I suddenly felt myself asking for something that I wasn't prepared for and that would certainly have cost me that second place. All right, I said, if that's the case I'll go back in and I went straight back in on that same lap. I only found out later that something had gone wrong with the previous refuelling and that they only realised when they called me on the radio. I almost got stuck somewhere. This is a circuit where you can never overtake. You can't overtake even if you have a car that is two seconds faster than another so you put your mind at rest and wait. And waiting is not in my character, I like to do the things I have to do right away and here... nothing. I thought to myself: it's a pity because second place would have been a great result. After all, we didn't expect it either and I was right there in second place. And now it was all gone. To console myself I also thought that the important thing is to start scoring points right away, so in the end even a third place would have been fine. But luck came my way. When Frentzen broke his brakes, I found myself back in second place. That's good, that's very good. Considering how Saturday's practice went, I'd say the result is more than good. It's the first race, it's too early to make predictions regarding the World Championship, but I'd say we started off on the right foot. The good thing for us, for example is that Williams didn't take any points and we have already collected six points. At this early stage of the championship we need to get points in every race because they will come in handy in the end. I got a bad start and I'll have to try and improve but you see how things go: if I'd got a good start I might have found myself in that funnel at turn one and ended up off the track. The car went well overall but we certainly need to improve. But after all the tests we did this winter, we know where to work and improvements will come".

resizer-in-6127a602e8b10-1629988368.jpg

Finally, Schumacher recounts a curious little detail that happened during the race:

 

"Coulthard's car in front of me was spitting out so much oil that halfway through the race I had already torn off four visors because I couldn't see".

 

Jacques Villeneuve, on the other hand, was furious (and it could not be otherwise) and like Herbert, he lashed out at Eddie Irvine who commented on the events, judging them to be simple race accidents. The stewards agree with him, not punishing the Ferrari driver in any way. Villeneuve, however, doesn't agree and exclaims to the press:

 

"I was on the inside of the corner without any problems when a Ferrari came at me like a kamikaze. Not even a rookie would have done such a thing. Then we hooked up. He was stupid, it made me so angry, how can you attempt a manoeuvre like that in the first corner when you know you're two seconds a lap slower. I didn't even go and talk to him, because Irvine doesn't understand anything".

 

There is nothing to worry about for Jacques who will have a good three weeks to blow off steam and go to Brazil to re-establish the right hierarchies in a championship that started with a bang in every sense of the word.

 

Davide Scotto di Vetta

Contact us

 

Nitidepopeia

 

​©​ 2022 Osservatore Sportivo

About us

 

Academy

 

​Network

Team

 

Cookie Policy

 

Privacy Policy

Create Website with flazio.com | Free and Easy Website Builder