On this day…. 17th August
Brought to you by TJ13 contributor Oddball
1997 Belgian GP
Oh what a month that was. It began with my heart being removed by a 50 pence rubber O ring whilst watching the Hungarian GP. Now I faced the prospect of actually missing the Belgian GP in Spa race because of a very friendly duck.
I had driven hard to make the ferry at Hull, but just as I pulled into the port a low flying duck took a liking to my cars front end…it wasn’t a pretty site.The kindly foul appeared to decide to try and take a swim inside my radiator, though it succeeded only in putting enough kinks and holes in it to free the water inside.
One was not amused.
I soon learned the nature of true friendship, as the rest of my group gathered round.. then buggered off to embark the ship. I was left with an injured duck, a brutalised car and the growing feeling I was not going to make the race. I engaged the ‘better half’ though despite her efforts the boat sailed and I rode home with a man from the AA (breakdown service).
It so happened he was an F1 fanatic too. “It’s a bloody good track that Spa… one of the best,” he raved.
“YES!! I BLOODY KNOW.. Thanks for Reminding Me…… PAL”, I silently retorted.
On Sunday, I decided it was time to de-feather the front of the car. I tuned the radio in to the F1 commentary and began to drift away in my mind to the Ardennes mountains. Listening to an F1 race on radio, allows your mind to fill in the blanks.
I chuckled as the cars began to form the grid because an excitable Ralf Schumacher spun his Jordan car at Stavelot and had to run all the way back to the pits for his spare car. I was now imagining how hard the rain was falling and how my mates didn’t have full wet weather gear as most of their spare clothes remained in the car.. Ha ha Karma’s a bitch.
Explaining the incident, Schumacher famously said: “I had nothing to lose, and I lost it.”
Both Williams drivers and Jean Alesi, who was alongside the pole sitter Jacque Villeneuve in the Benetton, were sporting full wet tyres while the rest were on intermediates. The race started behind the safety car, which circulated for what seemed like an age – but was just the first three laps. On lap 4 the race proper began. Villeneuve led from Alesi followed by Schumacher with the rest of the pack quickly falling away.
On Lap 5 Michael Schumacher in his Ferrari made a brave pass inside Alesi at the La Source hairpin, then overtook Villeneuve at the Rivage loop on the same lap.
I was on tenterhooks and fully focused I saw these great moves in my mind’s eye. By the end of the lap, the German had pulled out a full 5 seconds on his competition. One more lap and the gap was a massive 17 seconds.
I was now jumping around, squealing with delight like a 4 year old and if anyone was watching I would have been carted away with a tight jacket and placed in a padded room.
As each lap passed, I could see the drying line and the tiniest details from the hysterical commentary about tyre and track evolution became of epic importance.
I started to smell the oil, feel the pulse of the engines as the cars passed – and of course this race is at Spa, where the pastries are damn fine too.
The circuit isn’t actually in Spa, by the way. It is close to the town of Francorchamps, completely within the municipality of Stavelot.
Michael Schumacher continued to pull further away, and by lap 12 his lead had reached a full minute. The track was drying and the drivers began pitting for slick tyres.
The German pitted on lap 14, survived a couple of hairy moments and managed to stay on track, eventually winning the race by 26 seconds.
Even with the history Michael was yet to write, this for me was one of his greatest victories and stamped his card as Rain Meister.
Its a race I’ve never since watched back, and I never plan to do so as it may spoil one of the greatest races I have ever witnessed.