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Reflections on the Austrian Grand Prix
23 September 1997
European Bureau Chief
It was, by any standards, a small mistake. There was a lot of dust
flying around, it was hard to see the marshalls waving yellow
flags. Yet, when we look back on the 1997 Formula One season it might
well be remembered as the moment when the fate of the championship was
Michael Schumacher in his reliable but slow Ferrari was
desperate to get past Frentzen and when he saw his chance he took
it. Unfortunately for him it was at the very corner where the yellow
flags-under which overtaking is forbidden-were being waved. The
penalty- a 10 second stop-go was enough to relegate the double
champion into 8th place. He managed to force Barrichello into a silly
mistake which moved him up into 7th and then with just one lap
remaining he squeezed past Damon Hill to salvage one, solitary point.
Michael reckons that without the penalty he could have been second but
it is now all academic.
We have three races to go and the pendulum seems to have swung
firmly in favour of the French-Canadian. Last year he beat Schumacher
at the Nurburgring-next week's venue and the ultra fast Japanese track
in Suzuka also favours the Williams driver.
On top of that his team mate Heintz Harald Frentzen has
finally got going, it was he who managed to hold up Schumacher lap
after lap whereas Eddie Irvine, Michael's No 2 was way back and could
offer no assistance whatsoever. David Coulthard justified once more
Ron Dennis' decision to keep him with a brilliant second place but one
has to feel sorry for Mika Hakkinen whose luck is truly appalling. He
had Villeneuve's measure, led from the start only to have his engine
expire after a few miles. He may yet end up as Chris Amon some 25
years ago. The New Zealander led lots of races, started from pole yet
never ever managed to win a Grand Prix. I just hope for Mika's sake
that he will not suffer a similar fate.
Whilst Villeneuve won the race let us not forget rookie Trulli
who drove like champion in his Prost and led for over 20 laps. It was
very sad to see his engine and that of team mate Nakano expire within
seconds of each other. Must be somewhat disconcerting for Eddie
Jordan and his 98 drivers Ralf Schumacher and Damon Hill-this is the
engine they will be getting next year in place of the Peugeot which
will be exclusive to Prost.
Finally one must spare a thought for Jackie Stewart and his
long-suffering team. After a brilliant practice session both cars ran
like trains. Had Rubens not made a silly mistake he would have ended
up in the points. It certainly looked as though the Ford engine which
gave the team so much trouble to date is finally beginning to come
good. Not a minute too soon .
Now,with just one point between the two protagonists it
promises to be a nail-biting finish. I am not a betting man but must
admit that right now Villeneuve has to be the odds-on favourite.