Classic F1 Races – 1997 Hungarian Grand Prix

Former teammates Damon Hill (left) and Jacques Villeneuve embrace after the British was robbed of a well deserved victory.

Image Source: crankandpiston.com

The 1997 Formula One Season will be remembered for the battle between Jacques Villeneuve in the Williams Renault and Michael Schumacher in the Ferrari.

In addition to this, there were moments that year in which the less favoured teams manage to fight their way to the front.  

The Hungarian Grand Prix was the 11th round of that year’s championship, held at the Hungaroring in Budapest. Michael Schumacher had dominated qualifying, posting a 1:14.672 to start on Pole Position. 

This was despite the German damaging a new lightweight design car in practice. Villeneuve was second, 0.187 seconds behind.

However, the main story was that defending champion Damon Hill had qualified third on the grid in his Arrows Yamaha. At this stage of the season, he’d only scored one point for his sixth place finish at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. In contrast, championship leader Schumacher has 53 points.

In fact, Hill was the only driver to qualify in the top 10 on Bridgestone tyres. Furthermore, his teammate, Brazilian paydriver Pedro Diniz, was more than two seconds slower, qualifying 19th. 

The starting grid for the 1997 Hungarian Grand Prix.

Image Source: Dailymotion (ITV)

The qualifying report can be found here; Dailymotion (ITV) (Skip to 7:50)

At the start of the race, Hill got a brilliant start off the line to move into second place behind Schumacher. In contrast, Villeneuve had a sluggish start and fell behind Eddie Irvine (Ferrari) and Mika Häkkinen (McLaren Mercedes).

Near the tail end of the field, Gianni Morbidelli (Sauber Petronas) tangled with Jan Magnussen (Stewart Ford) at Turn 7; by the end of the seventh lap, they’d both be out of the race as a consequence.

On lap 6, Irvine began to struggle with tyre wear, leading Villeneuve, Häkkinen and Heinz-Harald Frentzen (Williams Renault) to overtake out of Turn 3, whilst David Coulthard (McLaren Mercedes) hounded him. This forced the Ulsterman into an early pit stop.

On Lap 11, the Briton made his move, lunging down the inside of his old nemesis into Turn 1 to take the lead and began to build up a gap to the chasing pack.

Damon Hill (Arrows Yamaha, left) overtakes former championship rival Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) into Turn 1 to take the lead of the Hungarian Grand Prix.

Image Source: Dailymotion (Formula One Management) The race review can be found here (Skip to 28:05)

A lap later, Häkkinen slowed to a halt and retired due to a hydraulics issue. Shortly afterwards, Villeneuve overtook Schumacher for second. The German, just like his teammate, was also struggling with tyre wear and pitted on lap 14 for new tyres.

The first round of pit stops for the front runners began on lap 24, with Villeneuve pitting from second. A lap later, race leader Hill responsed and pitted. This gave the lead to Frentzen, who had set the fastest lap of the race – 1:18.372.

However, the TV cameras showed debris leaving the rear of Frentzen’s car and on lap 28, a fuel leak caused flames to appear. 

He subsequently pitted, but to the amazement of then Engineering Director Patrick Head and the Williams mechanics, the car’s fuel filler cap is damaged. As a result, they couldn’t refuel and the German’s bad luck continued, giving the race lead back to Hill.

A piece of debris (top image, circled) caused a fuel leak to Heinz-Harald Frentzen’s Williams Renault and damage to the fuel filler cap. To the disbelief of the mechanics and Patrick Head (below), he was forced to retire. 

Image Source: Dailymotion (FOM)

Meanwhile, Villeneuve engaged in a close battle with Coulthard for second place, the pair at this stage seperated by only half a second, as Hill increased his commanding lead.

The Ferrari’s tire woes continued, and on lap 42, Giancarlo Fisichella (Jordan Peugeot) has a look at overtaking Schumacher into Turn 1. Unfortunately for the young Italian, he braked too late and spun off the track, to the dismay of team boss Eddie Jordan. 

On lap 49, McLaren attempted the undercut for Coulthard as he pits from third for new tyres and fuel. He too is suffering tyre wear issues. A lap later, Hill and Villeneuve respond and pit. 

The Arrows mechanics worked hard and Hill was off in 7.9 seconds and maintained first place. Villeneuve was managing his tyres well and Coulthard was closing him down.

As the Canadian exits the pit lane into Turn 1, Coulthard attempts an overtaking maneuver around the outside for second. However, the Scot runs wide and Villeneuve reclaims the position. Michael Schumacher also pits, his tyres still severely blistering. 

Teams that used Goodyear’s suffered blistered tyres, most notably the Ferrari’s and McLaren Mercedes driver David Coulthard.

Image Source: Dailymotion (FOM)

On lap 58, Coulthard’s Silver Arrows grinds to a halt at Turn 2 due to electrical gremlins, rounding off a frustrating day for the Woking based team.

With 11 laps remaining, Schumacher is now fourth, but now has a small train of cars behind him. He is followed by younger brother Ralf (Jordan Peugeot), teammate Irvine and Japanese driver Shinji Nakano (Prost Mugen-Honda).

With three laps remaining, Hill has a 30 second lead over Villeneuve. Although, his luck and that of the Arrows team were about to take a cruel turn as the car’s throttle begins to cut out. This was caused by a hydraulic pump issue.

Hill is cruising around the track trying to sort the problem, but to no avail. The Canadian suddenly has a sniff of victory, and out of the exit of Turn 3 on the final lap, he overtakes Hill with two wheels of the track to steal an unlikely victory. 

Jacques Villeneuve (Williams Renault, right) overtakes Damon Hill to steal a fortunate win. 
Image Source: YouTube (Rede Globo, Portugese)

The final three laps of the race can be viewed here: Dailymotion (DSF+, German)

Johnny Herbert (Sauber Petronas) had a quiet race and finished third, with Michael Schumacher fourth, and Ralf Schumacher fifth. 

Shinji Nakano and Eddie Irvine collided on the final lap, with the Japanese driver able to recover and finish sixth; Irvine dropped to ninth place.

Despite Damon Hill coming so close to a well deserved win, he did try to stay gracious in defeat: “I was getting to the point where I thought where I could count on winning the race, but when you think things like that, something props up. I needed 40 seconds really, not 30 seconds”.

Damon Hill (left), race winner Jacques Villeneuve (middle) and Johnny Herbert (Sauber Petronas, right) spray the champagne over the crowd from the podium.

Image Source: F1-History @ Deviant Art

This race was an example of how cruel Formula One, and sport in general, can be. It was later revealled that the failure was caused by a washer which cost 50 pence. 

Nevertheless, Damon showcased his ability as a racing driver and proved many of his doubters why he is a worthy World Champion.

Trivia (Sourced from Wikipedia)

  • Despite competing in Formula One until they were declared bankrupt midway through the 2002 season, this would be Arrows’ equal best finish; The teams three other second place finishes took place at the 1980 US West Grand Prix, the 1981 San Marino Grand Prix (both Riccardo Patrese) and the 1985 San Marino Grand Prix (Thierry Boutsen).
  • This was also Arrows’ final podium finish and the only one for engine supplier Yamaha.
  • Jacques Villeneuve’s win in Hungary was  the 100th Grand Prix victory for the Williams team; to date the team has recorded 114 wins, only Ferrari (224) and McLaren (182) have more.
  • This race saw the final point scored in Formula One by Shinji Nakano. His only other points finish took place at that year’s Canadian Grand Prix, where he also finished sixth.
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