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1997 European Grand Prix

European Grand Prix
Andrew Frankl Report 10-26-97 12:30p PDT

European Grand Prix & F1 1997

The Good, the Bad, the Ugly...

Andrew Frankl

Oh dear! What can I say after sticking my neck out and hoping for a Ferrari victory?! Not a lot really. The guy got it wrong, drove into his only rival and to top it all claimed innocence! Wow! That, as the saying goes is just a little bit rich.

Certainly as far as the British daily papers are concerned. Take the Daily Telegraph: "Villeneuve flavours success with touch of poetic justice". Or The Sun which had a picture of the triumphant new world champion: "You got what Shu deserved". (This paper can never resist playing on words..) Last year's champion Damon Hill was equally scathing: "I said before the race I didn't think Michael could afford to take Jacques off because it would tarnish his image. But what he did here underlines in people's minds just what his antics and tactics are. At least he is consistent".

Frank Williams, boss of the winning team simply said "It was Adelaide revisited only this time it was Jacques and not Damon." And Jacques..well, he simply said: "Michael tried to take me off but he did not do it well enough." Astonishingly enough Schumacher was unrepentant. "I would do the same again". Asked about the crash he said: "a mistake by me? I braked at the maximum and he braked even later. He used me a little bit as his braking system." A bit strange and a bit sad really, in the days before on board cameras maybe he could have explained it away but having seen the replay 20 times there is no doubt in anyone's mind except his that he drove into his rival's car deliberately. Even the Italian daily sports paper had a banner headline: "Schumacher-what folly!"

So ends the 1997 Formula One motor racing season, a season rich in drama, rich in excitement.

On the plus side the biggest and in fact only injury was that of Olivier Panis, he broke both legs in Canada but was back in action a few weeks later.

A tremendous tribute to the new rules and regulations. Also on the plus were some sensational drives, especially those of Schumacher in Monaco and Spa.

On the minus side there were some boring processions such as the race at Monza and of course the unnecessarily dramatic finale just 24 hours ago. Now everybody will take a few days off, start meeting their new teams, their new cars and soon they will be back behind the wheel testing next year's cars.

The Auto Channel will of course follow all the off-season developments and will be back with you on the grid on March 8 1998 in Australia. See you there.

Reflections on the European Grand Prix

From Jerez, Spain

One would think that the outcome of tomorrow's race is the most important thing in the world the way some newspapers and magazines are trumpeting it over here in Europe and no doubt in Canada.

I will never forget sitting in the press interview room waitintg for Boris Becker, the great Wimbledon champion who had just lost totally unexpectedly in the second round to an unknown Australian. The German journalists were beside themselves, they simply could not believe it. Boris came in,sat down, and in his usual quiet,civilised way said:" Gentlemen, I lost a tennis match,not a war".

That just about sums up my feelings about the outcome of the European Grand Prix which is going to be held in Jerez, Spain as the track in nearby Portugal was not ready.

The facts are as follows: after 16 rounds of the 1997 Formula One World Championship there is just point between contenders Michael Schumacher and his French-Canadian rival Jacques Villeneuve. If neither finishes then the German wins-as he is ahead by one point-if Villeneuve gets one point and Schumacher gets none then Jacques gets the title because of his 7 victories versus Michael's 5.

There is an awful lot of brouhaha concerning a crash on the first corner between the protagonists, so much so that Max Mosley, head of the FIA-motor racing's world wide body issued a statement threatening draconian measures should anyone get involved in turning the race into a dodgem style knock-out. In a way I can understand him, it would not be the first time. There was a famous encounter between Senna and Prost some years back which gave Senna the title and more recently Schumacher and Hill collided in Japan giving Michael his first title. To this day there are some people who are convinced that it was not a freak accident but a deliberate shove by the young German who was driving for Benetton at the time.

This time everybody is concerned that the number two drivers could be drawn into the Battle of Spain (as some fanciful journalists are referring to this car-race) meaning that Irvine might eliminate Villeneuve and Frentzen might do the same to his countryman. Honestly, can you imagine Heinz-Harald pushing off Germany's favourite son?

I very much doubt it even though they really don't like each other very much at all. As for Eddie-well, he already took Jacques off once this year, right at the beginning of the season in Melbourne so I suppose he could do it again but as he would almost certainly get a year long ban again I doubt it.

It would be foolish to ignore all the other drivers who are keen to make their impressions on this, the last race of the season. During Friday's practice for instance Panis and Hill were really flying partly because of their excellent Bridgestone tyres. Mika Hakkinen is another driver who would very like to win at long last instead of just qualifying well, leading and dropping out time after time with blown engines. Gerhard Berger whose last Formula One race this is going to be for the time being anyway would also like to leave on a winning note, so the outcome will not just depend on Schumacher and Villeneuve, in other words it will not be a private race for two.

Sensational is the only way to describe the years final practice session. Under bright blue skies for the first time in the history of motor racing three drivers had identical times down to 1/1000th of a second.

First Jacques Villeneuve rocketed around the track then a few minutes later his great rival Michael Schumacher equalled the time. Seconds later Villeneuve's teammate Heinz Harald Frentzen went out in a last minute desperate effort to dislodge the Ferrari driver from the front row. We thought he might have done it, but to everyones amazement he too recorded 1 minute 21.072.

The reason why Villeneuve is starting Pole Position is simply he got there first. So are we likely to be watching either a very brief race with a hughe crash right after the start or a thrilling battle down to the last corner. I do hope it will be the latter.

The race itself will be over 69 laps of the 2.748 mile long track and it will start at 2pm Spanish time which is like the crack of dawn in California. Still, if you are a keen F1 fan and have access to ESPN2 or a satellite dish I think you could do a lot worse than adjust your alarm clock.

On the other hand if all that is too much trouble listen to our regular Grand Prix cybercast at 12:30pm PT on Sunday afternoon.