Argentinian Grand Prix 1997 - Qualifying Report   HomeContentsHelp

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Race Day : April 13th 1997


There were two stars in Argentina. Yeah, and I don't mean Jacques Villeneuve and his ego. I mean a certain young Brazilian who goes by the name of Rubens Barrichello, and the quiet Frenchman Olivier Panis. 5th place in a car that didn't exist until a couple of months ago was a brilliant result for Stewart. One word: wow! But just as incredible was the performance of Olivier Panis. He looked great a couple of weeks ago in Brazil, qualifying well and finishing the race in 3rd position - but to be the best qualifier behind the two Williams cars… well that's just excellent for the Prost car.

Let's ignore what happened with everyone else. They performed pretty well as expected - Villeneuve won Pole Position. Frentzen did what he should have done two weeks ago, and qualified second. Michael Schumacher did pretty much the sort of thing that he's been doing for a while - he qualified ahead of his team-mate Eddie Irvine and in the top six. Ralf Schumacher did a pretty good job with a 6th, but we're getting boring now.

Then again… some teams are looking decidedly down in the dumps tonight. McLaren? What happened? There you were, winning in one of the best looking cars at Melbourne, yet at Brazil and Argentina the performance of drivers Coulthard and Hakkinen just didn't satisfy. David Coulthard came home in 10th place, and Mika Hakkinen, who had his session disturbed by a self inflicted spin, managed to stick the boot in to the team by achieving a truly awful 17th place. Between the two McLaren's you'd also find two Benettons - it seems that they're struggling as much as McLaren to find some sort of consistent form.

It's strange really that these two great teams are having to battle it out for position with teams like Prost, Stewart and Arrows. This isn't how F1 is meant to be! It's a bit more interesting than the two by two grid formations of last year though…. Olivier Panis looked surprisingly assured in his car. Not for him the twitchy fighting of some drivers as the wrestled around the twisty track. Instead he gave a performance that was worthy of the Professor himself. Alain Prost has quite obviously been talking to his protegé. It shows. Winning third place on the Formula One grid is quite something for a team which, in spite of a single win in 1996, has never looked like one with serious potential. Of course, last year they were called Ligier… this year Alain Prost owns the team, and he's deadly serious about success.

The whole qualifying session was straightforward. The circuit, though slippy and narrow, failed to throw anyone unexpected off the track. No red flags, no destroyed cars, in fact, the only thing that suffered was a few egos, and in one of the nicest stories of the weekend, Jackie Stewart's wallet.

The Stewart team boss had made a deal with Barrichello. The end result was that at the end of the qualifying session some small object went flying out of the Brazilian's cockpit. A watch. A watch which was about to be replaced with a Rolex Daytona. It was a promise from the usually tight Scotsman that should Barrichello qualify in the top ten he'd be in line for an example of Switzerland's finest. Rubens will cherish that watch as marking the day when the world seemed a friendlier, more normal place to be. "I am really proud, " he said, "not just for me, but for the whole team. We had a lot of problems at the start of the session, so Jan & I had to share the T-car, which of course is never ideal. Luckily I came back to my race car in time to set my best time. It's our first time in the top 10 & it feels fantastic!"

Ultimately there were two performances to smile about, and neither of them came from the established pros. Let's be happy for these two drivers and forget the rest.

Oh, Damon Hill came in 13th, if you're interested - not bad, but not brilliant either.

Dave Coveney

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