Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor: Carlo Carluccio
– 1997: Michael Schumacher wins his second Grand Prix of the year
On this day, 18 years ago, Michael Schumacher won his second Grand Prix of the year, to overtake Jacques Villeneuve in the points standings. Alex Wurz competed in his first GP, the Wall of Champions was born and Oliver Panis fractured both his legs.
Having started from pole position, most casual observers looking at the statistics would simply assume another easy Schumacher victory, but that would fail to tell the full story of the Grand Prix.
Schumacher had qualified on pole position followed closely by Villeneuve. This was the first race that a Williams hadn’t qualified on pole position since Hungary the previous year.
Third on the grid was Barrichello in his rapidly improving new Stewart Ford, the teams best qualifying position to date. “I am really pleased with the tyres, they are doing a great job.” 1997 was Bridgestone’s first year in F1 (joining Goodyear) and they had made great progress with both slicks and wet weather tyres. Many in F1 felt they were the stronger tyre and it was only the actual identity of the Bridgestone teams that had prevented a victory as yet.
Panis was a disappointed 10th in the Prost Mugen. He had struggled for grip during qualifying and although improving throughout with detail changes to the car could not do any better. Despite this a lot of money in the paddock remained on Panis for a good race.
Alex Wurz, Benetton’s reserve driver, was standing in for Gerhard Berger who had been sidelined with sinus problems. He qualified 11th.
Schumacher got away well from Villeneuve and a fast starting Fisichella. Rubens had dropped to 8th resulting in Hakkinen braking hard and unexpectedly causing Panis to hit the back of the McLaren. They both made their way to the pits for attention. Panis would resume after the a news nose was fitted.
At the start of the second lap, we had an incident that would rechristen a section of concrete permanently. The infamous Wall of Champions,
After a safety car to clear up debris from Katayama’s accident on lap 6, Schumacher built his advantage over Fisichella to 10 seconds before coming in to change tyres for the first time.
It became apparent as David Coulthard continued, that he was on a one stop strategy. He finally pitted on the 40th lap.
When Schumacher stopped for his second tyre change, DC was 15 seconds clear. Schumacher blistered his set of tyres and had to stop once more for fresh rubber, McLaren chose to stop DC for a precautionary stop when fate played it’s hand.
The car stalled as DC tried to accelerate away. The team managed to restart the car, but he had lost over a lap by that point and the race was also under a safety car following a horrible accident to Panis. Within 3 laps the race had been red flagged and the results stood 15 laps short of the full 69.
Panis had stopped for a second time on lap 43, he was closing fast on those ahead of him when he crashed heavily through the fast sweepers after the first chicane. Something in the rear suspension had broken and Panis was pitched heavily into the wall. The front of the car was torn off and Panis suffered fractures to both of his legs.
Schumacher was awarded the race win as he had been leading the race on the countback lap. Alesi was classified second and Fischella took the last place on the podium. DC was eventually classified 7th.
Panis would be out until the Luxembourg Grand Prix, held at the Nurburgring. His career would never reach the same heights again. He continued with a declining Prost team in 1998 and 1999, he worked with McLaren extensively as a test driver, and had further seasons in F1 with BAR and Toyota until his F1 retirement in 2004.
Jarno Trulli would be employed by Prost as his replacement for the following French Grand Prix. He had impressed many teams since his debut and with the Prost car at Magny Cours, qualified 6th fastest. He was to qualify 3rd for the Austrian GP and lead confidently until his engine failed.