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#598 1997 Australian Grand Prix

2021-04-25 00:00

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#1997, Fulvio Conti, Davide Scotto di Vetta, Translated by Francesca Zamparini,

#598 1997 Australian Grand Prix

During the first weekend of the new season Bernie Ecclestone made his unfailing presence felt as president of FOCA (that had already fallen into obliv

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On Friday, March 7th, 1997, the Formula 1 World Championship will be back. The competing teams are twelve and the drivers twenty-four. There are more or less the same names with some new additions: two new teams, Stewart (named after the three-time world champion Jackie) and Lola. The rookies are five. From what we have seen during the winter tests, Ferrari, Benetton, McLaren and Ligier are much better than last year. Ferrari is back in Melbourne with some new faces but without an old one, the most famous, that of the Englishman John Barnard. In his place, there are Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne from Benetton. Together with Schumacher, on which the team relies heavily, there are all the premises for Ferrari to improve. Williams and Benetton have an excellent engine: Renault, even in the year of its withdrawal, wanted to do things in style to win again, and the two teams have built good cars. McLaren, too, seems to be better than before thanks to Mercedes’ efforts, and it will be one more rival for all. Ligier - bought by Prost some days before the opening race - is fast, too. The professor’s treatments could bring it to the top of Formula 1. There are two teams on which everyone has high expectations: Minardi and Sauber. The first one, bought by Briatore, promises good things. The second runs with the mysterious Petronas engines, which are none other than last year’s Ferrari engines (046). Then, Jordan keeps the Peugeot engines, which are one of the best. For what concerns the tires, besides the American Goodyear, this year there will be the Japanese of Bridgestone, which supplies Ligier, Arrows, Minardi, Stewart and Lola. For once, the Formula 1 world champion does not start the season as the favourite. For quite some time Ecclestone has been pointing out Villeneuve as a future World Champion, firmly supporting his arrival in Williams, yet he was annoyed when Sir. Frank decided to dump Hill in favour of Frentzen.

 

"Hill in a minor team makes my show dull".

 

Berger and Alesi, who have been the big promises of Formula 1 for many years, have a way better Benetton than that of 1996, experience and the will to do great things. At 32 years old, Jean must show Briatore and himself that he is mature. Last December, Flavio Briatore warned him.

 

"It’s time to show you’re mature".

 

Now the atmosphere in the Anglo-Italian team is more relaxed, even if at the start of a world championship there are always some sources of tension.

 

"Usually, the doubts hunt you because you don’t know exactly the value of your car. The winter tests are very useful, they give you some precise indications on the work done by the technicians of your team. But, for us as for everyone else, the certainty coming from a direct confrontation is missing. The honest confirmation of the race. However, this year I’m way more relaxed and confident than in the past given the motivation that encourage me to keep going and, in any case, the new Benetton 197, which is better than last year’s car".

 

Alesi has been a serious guy since forever, a true steering wheel professional. However, never has the Avignon driver prepared himself so assiduously and with such total concentration. Jean trained in Entreves, Aosta Valley. Up there at the foot of Mont Blanc in the Auberge de la Maison, with his partner Kumiko and his daughter Helena, born a few months ago, the 32-year-old driver of Sicilian origin alternated a severe physical training with the days spent at the circuits for the tests. Running, cross-country skiing, gym, weights, gymnastics, even climbing on rocky walls to strengthen hands and wrists. He also took an in-depth course in computer science to understand everything engineers do in terms of electronics on increasingly sophisticated cars.

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"I have to admit that to be completely ready, I left nothing to chance. I know very well that at this point of my career I’m taking a risk. In my mind I want to continue racing in Formula 1 for a long time because I feel fresh and above all unfulfilled. I want to win. For the first time, I’m also feeling free, unconstrained. At Ferrari, it was hard because I felt the weight of a big pressure from the fans and the press. And last year in Benetton was very hard because I was driving a car that wasn’t built for me and there was Schumacher's heritage to take in. Now I think I can give a hundred percent, without limits".

 

How will the season be?

 

"Not easy, as always. Everybody wants to win. Williams because they are the champions, Ferrari because they need to return to the absolute top, then us and McLaren. But even other emerging teams have ambitions. For example, Ligier-Prost or Jordan. In short, we could predict a good fight. Or at least that’s what we all hope: a total domination by Williams, once again, would be a real disaster".

 

During the first weekend of the new season, Bernie Ecclestone makes his unfailing presence felt as president of FOCA (already fallen into oblivion) and vice-president of the FIA, two contrasting roles; 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, which is 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. The first unnecessary controversy of the season, on the eve of the Formula 1 World Championship: Michael Schumacher is the one involved, currently in the north of the Australian continent and expected in Melbourne only on Wednesday or Thursday. But he is preceded by the echo of some statements he recently made to some German newspapers, without hiding any of his thoughts:

 

"There’s nothing special about the Melbourne track and, above all, it isn’t an interesting circuit for drivers, on a driving level: there aren’t challenging fast curves or areas suitable for overtaking".

 

Ron Walker, the president of the Australian Grand Prix, answers harshly:

 

"With this statement, the Ferrari driver wants to save his face from a possible bad result in the race this weekend. I was hoping a driver of Schumacher’s calibre would have a bit more class. However, here, from Friday, we will need drivers trained in competitive cars, not prima donnas".

 

The other drivers, brought up, have not missed the opportunity to ingratiate themselves with local fans. Like David Coulthard, who declares:

 

"That of Schumacher is a personal opinion. I think that whoever made the circuit did its best, respecting the safety rules. It is indelicate to criticise those who have tried to work at their best".

 

And Berger adds:

 

"A very nice, excellent-level track with an interesting combination of curves. A valid circuit that does not require changes".

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For their part, some days before the Grand Prix, the organisers had to minimise the attempted sabotage by unknown people who sprayed 500 metres of asphalt with diesel.

 

"These are irresponsible people".

 

Meanwhile, Judith Griggs, boss of the circuit, broke her leg on Monday sliding on the slippery asphalt, right in front of her office on the pit lane, and will have to deal with this for three weeks. In his pre-World Championship statements, Schumacher also says that:

 

"The moment of truth will only be in 1999 and will be favoured by the Ferrari wind tunnel under preparation".

 

However, he does not exclude the possibility of winning the title already in the season that is about to start.

 

"For this year, my main goal is to still improve the competitiveness of the car to get back to the top. Nevertheless, three, four or five wins are not necessary: if I became world champion with two wins, it would be enough".

 

And to those who reminded him of the expression ‘a happy father is a second slower per lap’, Schumacher, new dad of little Gina Maria, replies without hesitation:

 

"When I drive, I’m totally focusing on my work".

 

For his part, Ferrari president Luca Montezemolo says: 

 

"Sunday? At dawn, I’ll be obviously glued to the TV, but that’s not the problem. The problem is simply to be able to contain the emotion until that hour because it is such an important moment. Then, eventually, a balance can be made after the end of the first race of the season". 

 

For the president of Ferrari, this start of the Formula 1 World Championship seems to be completely obscure: 

 

"It is difficult, really difficult to say how things will go this year. Before the start of the championship, you never know what the real values are. On the other hand, there is nothing more unreal than the comparison of lap times during winter tests: punctually, every year, the so-called winter world champions have always proved to be the opposite in the race".

 

Moreover, Ferrari’s president is very satisfied with a particular project, that of a stronger Formula 1 team and that of the wind tunnel (a Renzo Piano’s work), which is about to be completed.

 

"Actually, our team is very close-knit, and I’m very confident in this teamwork. As concerns the wind tunnel, I can say that it will be at the top of worldwide technology and that it will allow us to make further developments in the field of aerodynamics in the future".

 

Nonetheless, despite everything, Ferrari’s president does not say too much:

 

"By the way, not even after the Australian Grand Prix we will really understand what the real values are. In my opinion, it will be necessary to wait to return to the European tracks to take stock".

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While Ferrari’s president gives this interview, the jumbo cargo that carries the three chassis of the Maranello team to Melbourne, plus another one disassembled in a box, risks getting lost in the sky due to a failure of the gyroscopes on board. Hence, an emergency landing preceded by an abundant spraying of many tons of kerosene unloaded to lighten the plane. This allows the three F310Bs to finally land in Melbourne safely. As soon as the devastated cargo reveals the compartment in Melbourne and the Ferraris come out, there is awe, horror, and controversy. Ferrari changed colour. The old red now looks like McLaren’s orange of last year. Even the mechanics in uniform look like those of McLaren a year ago, white shirt, red pants, and white and red shoes. One day before the start of the race weekend, asked about the point at which Ferrari is, Schumacher - who in the meantime is arrived in Melbourne - replies:

 

"Honestly, I don’t know, it’s what I want to find out. From what we’ve seen during winter testing, many teams are close, chronometrically speaking. Maybe there have never been so many teams this close and competitive. But nobody knows exactly where their team is. Maybe Williams is the only one knowing to be ahead, but how much? Who will fight with them? We don’t know, but I hope we’ll be the ones to fight with them".

 

Irvine, however, who is asked how he feels after the frustrating past season, comments: 

 

"A few days ago, I looked in the mirror and discovered grey hair. But I don't think it's due to the '96 season. Last year things started one way and developed accordingly. There was only one car to bet on, and it wasn't necessarily mine. This year we are in a better shape and despite the grey hair I think I can do good things".

 

Schumacher does not think he can win in Melbourne:

 

"Last year I retired, this year I hope to finish the race and get some points. For now, the most important thing is to get points. Then, later in the season, I hope I can fight for the title. I want to fight for the world championship, I'm not interested in intermediate wins. And for the World Championship, you must score points, immediately and always".

 

About his feelings about the car and the engine, he says:

 

"Let’s talk about the engine: it is great, we are all satisfied. Here we’re running with the old one, but it doesn’t change anything because it is very reliable and suitable for this track. The car, its drivability and its balance worried me a little. But only during the first few outings on the track, because now we have made big steps forward. The team is more complete, united, and calmer. It doesn't lose its bearings, keeps a direction, discovers a path, and follows it until the end. Much of this is also thanks to the arrival of Ross Brawn. A man who always knows what to do. A great addition. It wasn't his former role, but given the necessity to fill the place, the choice fell on him".

 

Asked about a recent comment by Barnard in which he said that the F310B is the result of a compromise, which is resorting to very large side pods to compensate for the high temperatures of the engine, Irvine answers:

 

"Yes, maybe that’s true. We knew that Renault engines had lower temperatures and higher efficiency and allowed more aerodynamics. But we are also working in that direction, except that the results do not come overnight".

 

On the limitations resulting from too many regulatory standards, the Northern Irish driver goes on saying:

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"Not in those terms. I think that yes, it is true, all the aerodynamics should be eliminated, but we should compensate with greater mechanical efficiency. But this is an abstract form of thinking. Today racing is different: beyond the cars there are the drivers, the circuits, the strategies. Maybe less overtaking, but if I look at the official data, with spectators increasing every year, I can tell that people like it that way".

 

In addition to the new tires that, by being softer, are consumed more quickly and involve more pit stops during a race, reflecting on possible changes that will involve Formula 1, Irvine admits:

 

"I agree, but I would like to say a few more things about circuits. The future of Formula 1 is based on street circuits like this, where you don’t overtake, but people come and have fun. The future is this and not the great tracks in the countryside where more and more people struggle to go. Here you come on foot or by tram, it’s like going to the cinema".

 

On the past year and the rivalry with Hill, Schumacher answers:

 

"A year in Ferrari enriched me from a human perspective. In the most difficult times, we all felt united, and this is a priceless experience. Damon made that choice for a thousand reasons that I understand, he will have to work a lot in his new team, but he will be able to have some satisfaction. Anyway, if I overtake him, I'll already have a handkerchief in my pocket to wave at him".

 

Free practices and qualifying confirm that also this time Bernard has not made (perhaps) a great car, but a practical car that works. Last year in Melbourne Schumacher had covered 300 kilometres with the F310; this time he arrives with more than five thousand kilometres that immediately helped to discover that he could not keep the F310B on track. And with small aerodynamic modifications now the car, they say, is finally driveable. It took five thousand kilometres to discover that the new engine, the famous step 2, is not fast, so they put it aside without a second thought to return to the old step 1, which at the end of last year gave some satisfactions. Looking at the lap times of practice sessions, the first, the free ones, we can see that the current Ferrari goes much faster than the one that limped a year before in Melbourne. The gaps are no longer abyssal. Now it is the details that matter, like a corner taken better or worse or the use of a tyre instead of another. Ferrari is much closer to Williams. But so is Benetton, which surprises, despite the emigration of Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne to Maranello. Jean Alesi speaks well of this year’s car, and we can already see that he is more motivated, as well. Williams is always good because it continues to exploit all the work of the past years. This is also thanks to the inventions of Adrian Newey who is now in court in Imola for the death of Senna. At Williams, they dumped him, and now he works at home, no one knows for whom. At the same time, McLaren’s worth is unknown.

 

"This 1997 is likely to become the best Formula 1 year for a long time now".

 

Admits Michael Schumacher, while Jean Todt states:

 

"If you start from the top three positions of the grid, there is a chance to win, but if you start further back it is the end. Even on circuits like this, where overtaking is almost impossible, race strategies and stops for refuelling can make you win".

 

The choice of tires has been added to the various strategies this year. In fact, before qualifying, the teams must choose the tyre compound that they will use in qualifying and then in the race. 

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It will be an extra difficulty for the whole championship but in the first race, with a lack of experience in terms of new tires, the choice will be even more difficult. Finally, this year’s tires seem to be wearing out more quickly and therefore an extra pit-stop will be perhaps required. The first qualifying of the year has been a real nightmare for the reigning champion Damon Hill, who has to deal with the mediocrity of the Arrows and the Yamaha engine. He is five seconds slower than Villeneuve and made somersaults just to be within the 107%-time limit. Hill is twentieth, only ahead 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. On Sunday, the situation goes from bad to worse for Damon; already during the warm-up lap, the Briton has 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, seems already a distant memory, unfortunately for him. Hill will have to wait a long time before being able to taste middle-high classification positions again. Knowing that someone looks worse than him is not consolation. 

 

The Lola-Ford arrived in Melbourne intending to run, financed by Mastercard, and driven by the unfortunate Vincenzo Sospiri and Ricardo 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 time frame imposed on the team meant that the single-seater was assembled in great haste with virtually no wind tunnel testing. The T97/30 - equipped with obsolete Ford engines (used by Sauber in ‘95) and Bridgestone tires - obviously did not make it to the race. Nor will it have any further opportunities to do so, as Mastercard seems willing to scrap the economic support and leave the team to its sad fate. On the other hand, the Canadian Jacques Villeneuve has immediately been 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 takes one second and seven tenths from his new teammate Frentzen; Ferrari and McLaren follow, but they are more than two seconds behind, with Schumacher and Coulthard in the second row and Irvine and Häkkinen 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 is largely due to the choice of tires, a problem underestimated by many teams including Benetton, who sees Alesi three and a half seconds behind Villeneuve on the grid. This year, the teams must choose the tires to use in qualifying and in the race just before the session that delineates the starting grid. Villeneuve chose the softer compound, Ferrari the harder one, since Todt himself admitted:

 

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

 

But Ferrari's strategy is clear: start on hard tires to make just one pit-stop, while Williams will be forced to make two and is therefore obliged to have an offensive race to get back in front of the rivals. On Sunday, when the starting lights go out, Villeneuve makes the rear tires skid noticeably, compromising the sprint. Frentzen promptly takes advantage of it and takes the lead, but at the first braking, Johnny Herbert's Sauber flanks the Canadian on the outside. Eddie Irvine's Ferrari arrives with an aggressive entry, being too optimistic in his manoeuvre after having glimpsed a sufficient space to allow him to gain positions. Villeneuve is sandwiched between Irvine and the Sauber and together with the latter, he is sent into the gravel, unable to restart. After Villeneuve's and Herbert's retirement, Irvine's race lasts only a few corners more than the two unlucky drivers: the Irishman's front left suspension of his F310B is so damaged that he cannot continue. In the early stages of the race, Frentzen easily keeps the lead, followed by Coulthard, Schumacher and Häkkinen

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The newly acquired driver of Frank Williams' team immediately imposes an unapproachable race pace on 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 tires. He is on a more aggressive two-stop strategy while the two McLarens and Schumacher, as previously 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. As a demonstration of the trouble in which McLaren is, Häkkinen 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 pushes lap after lap and once he is behind a small group of backmarkers, he goes to the pits for his first stop, which relegates him to third position behind Schumacher and Coulthard. It is at this stage that the leading duo find themselves in the middle of the backmarkers, and Schumacher tries to increase the pressure on Coulthard. Nevertheless, the latter proves to be very determined and aggressive in getting rid of the lapped cars, only hesitating on a couple of occasions when locking up his front tires while braking. Around lap 30, first Coulthard and then Schumacher make their pit stops and the Scotsman finds himself with a good lead over his pursuers, who have lost several seconds by staying out two laps more. A curious twist arrives at lap 34 when the international direction frames Jean Alesi stopped on the grass near turn 11 and then lingers on the Benetton box that has been waiting for him for several laps for the pit-stop. The Frenchman is summoned in every possible and imaginable way by his pit wall to make the stop, but Alesi continues until he runs out of fuel. The mechanics do not hide their disappointment, just as Flavio Briatore does not hide it in the post-race, acid to the point of making some tears run down the face of the guilty ex-Ferrari driver. 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 pulls into the pit lane, something goes wrong with his right rear tire and the pit -stop lasts 16.4 seconds. 

 

An inconvenience that probably costs Frentzen the leadership, even if his gap on Coulthard up to this moment has not given him the full certainty of staying ahead. In the meantime, Schumacher catches up with Coulthard but, as before, he is unable to overtake. A frenzied Frentzen closes the gap to the Ferrari driver, lapping in a low 1'31"0 while Coulthard rarely manages to dip below 1'33"0. However, the worry in the Williams box is growing lap after lap as black smoke rises from the front brakes of Frentzen's car at every braking. The trio is reunited, everyone is ready to assist to an exciting final fight but, surprisingly, Schumacher takes the pit-lane and makes an unscheduled stop. A quick pit-stop, just 4.4 seconds, but which relegates Schumacher to third position, just ahead of Häkkinen. 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 pit-stop to avoid running out of fuel. At first, it is thought that the fault lies with the pump filling the cars, which indicated that seventy litres had entered when in fact it had delivered twenty litres less. Only in the following days, it turns out that it was the tank that was causing the problem. Therefore, there are two drivers left to fight for the first win of the season: Coulthard manages to keep a lead of two seconds, then with the passing of laps the gap with Frentzen even increases, with the driver seeming to manage the car and his brakes more and more in crisis, settling for second place. However, this is not enough. Three laps from the end, just while the international control room is showing its onboard live broadcast, black smoke comes out with further intensity from the left front disc, the Williams car spins off at the first braking and ends up in the gravel just where Villeneuve, his teammate, was stuck an hour and a half before. From a potential one-two, Williams leaves Australia with a double zero and some questions regarding the reliability of the new car. In a scenario that optimistically had them at the foot of the podium, McLaren finds itself with David Coulthard celebrating his second career victory (the first one in 1995 in Portugal with Williams) and Mika Häkkinen accompanying him on the podium thanks to his third place. In the middle there is Schumacher, who thanks to Frentzen's unexpected retirement recovered his second place. 

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In the points, the consistent Berger, Panis’ Ligier (called for the first time Prost) and Larini. After an endless wait that lasted too long since Senna's last victory in Australia (but on the Adelaide circuit), Ron Dennis' team rejoices again. Once out of the cockpit, Coulthard runs to hug Jo Ramirez, a man closely linked to Ayrton for much of his career. Häkkinen’s reaction is also beautiful, hugging 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 the win".

 

There are also words of praise by Mika Häkkinen, who commends 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 be consistently confident on 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 is in the same mood, and it cannot be otherwise on a day when both Williams are 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 second place. 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 serious 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 they suddenly asked for something that I wasn't prepared for and that would have certainly 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 that 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: 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 then 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 score points in every race because they will be 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 worked 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".

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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, is furious (and it could not be otherwise) and like Herbert, he lashes 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, does not 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 took ourselves out. 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. Montezemolo comments the second place of Schumacher like this: 

 

"Let’s accept it with a smile, even if we could have started better and ended better".

 

Also because Scuderia Ferrari promises improvements in the next races, as admitted by Michael Schumacher:

 

"We started well, but there is still so much to do".

 

Jean Todt, head of Gestione Sportiva, adds:

 

"It is important that the F310B showed good qualities. We will now develop it. We have many innovations ready that we will introduce from race to race, already from the Brazilian Grand Prix, on March 30th, 1997. We work on all areas: mechanics, engine, aerodynamics. And we know what to focus on, we have clear ideas in mind".


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