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Flashback: Jacques Villeneuve crowned 1997 world champion after Schumacher error

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Roar Guru
9th April, 2020
8

The F1 paddock headed to Jerez for the final round of the 1997 Formula One season with Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher leading the championship by a single point over Williams’s Jacques Villeneuve.

Qualifying for the race proved extraordinary. For the first time ever the fastest lap times of the top three drivers – Villeneuve, Schumacher and Heinz-Harold Frentzen in the second Williams – were exactly the same. Villeneuve qualified on pole by virtue of setting his lap time first.

This advantage for the pole-sitter did not last for long. Schumacher had a much better start than him and was in front by the time the field went into the first turn. With Frentzen also managing to get past Villeneuve, things looked to be going Schumacher’s way.

This was the case for the first 45 laps or so as Schumacher established a lead and kept ahead of Villeneuve after both rounds of pit stops.

However, after the second pit stop, Villeneuve looked to have more of an advantage over Schumacher, catching up to the back of the German at the end of lap 47. Schumacher’s Ferrari was dropping pace and looked to be suffering from some kind of problem, which helped Villeneuve to close up behind.

Lap 48 proved to be the one that decided the championship. Villeneuve took his chance and dived down the inside of the Ferrari at turn six. While the two were side by side, Schumacher turned in on Villeneuve, making contact with the Canadian’s left sidepod.

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Villeneuve was able to carry on without any major damage while Schumacher went straight into the gravel trap and beached his Ferrari. He was out of the race in similar fashion to his collision with Damon Hill in the 1994 title decider at Adelaide.

Even though Villeneuve did carry on, his pace began to slow and he was being caught by the two McLarens of David Coulthard and Mika Hakkinen.

Under what looked to be some kind of team order, Hakkinen went past Coulthard with a few laps to go. The Finn then went off in pursuit of his maiden grand prix victory with Coulthard still keeping tabs behind his teammate.

Coming into the Senna chicane on the final lap, Hakkinen took the lead with Villeneuve almost looking like he let the McLaren by. Coulthard also got past before the final corner. Any allegations of Williams and McLaren conspiring to fix the race result in some way were quashed after the race.

Either way, Mika Hakkinen took the chequered flag to claim his first win followed by Coulthard to give McLaren their first 1-2 in six years. Villeneuve completed the podium with his third-place finish, enough for him to be crowned world champion of 1997.

To complete this eventful tale, the FIA announced a fortnight after the race that Schumacher would be disqualified from the 1997 world championship for deliberately causing an avoidable collision. No further fines and penalties were imposed, allowing both Schumacher and Ferrari to start 1998 with a clean slate.

Villeneuve would remain at Williams for his title defence in 1998, while Schumacher looked to put the incident behind him and go again for another title charge at Ferrari.

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