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Race Day : June 15th 1997


Ferrari ruin Home Boy’s day...

Braking problems lose Williams their first pole of the season..

For the second year running, Local Home boy Jacques Villeneuve’s pole position was snatched from him in the final minute of qualifying. This time it was Michael Schumacher, taking his first pole for Ferrari since Hungary in 1996, who saw to it that the crowd of over a hundred thousand would not see their hero at the front of the grid.

The teams, reluctant to set an early pace, waited for over ten minutes into a rather dull session before sending the first car out amid the good-natured shouting of the crowd. The Mexican waves seemed to follow Rubens Barrichello round the circuit as he obligingly cleared away a lot of the dirt and dust to set the benchmark of 1.20.4s for others to follow.

Damon Hill, victim yet again of ‘that’ engine and a woefully ill-prepared team, set an early and unspectacular time of 1.20.12 in the Arrows, running the old ‘C’ spec Yamaha after the latest spec engine let go on him the day before. No surprises there. It was to be his best time of the day, for he spun at turn 1 on his fourth lap and was forced to use the spare for the remainder of the session, suffering severe brake balance problems. "On my first run, I spun and it was my fault." He said "Thankfully I got my time in as it was the only time I got for the rest of the session. The spare car had a braking problem and we had to come in and change that and the rest was down to traffic."

Villeneuve set the early pace with a 1.19.4 and it was then a succession of fastest laps for Ralf Schumacher, Giancarlo Fisichella, Heinz Harald Frentzen and Schumacher, fighting his car all the way round the circuit, who all took their turn at the front.

There was a brief period of optimism for McLaren when David Coulthard using the Mercedes V10 evolution engine set a blistering 1.18.4, taking pole before his engine mysteriously died on him. The lead was retaken by Schumacher on his second run and then again to the riotous delight of the crowd, Villeneuve put in what looked like the definitive lap of 1.18.1s.

With a little over five minutes remaining Alexander Wurz sitting in for Benetton’s ailing Gerhard Berger, kissed the concrete wall a little to amorously coming out of the final turn on to the pit straight and lost his wheel. The session was red-flagged to allow his stricken car to be removed from the track and the final few minutes saw a gaggle of cars leaving the pit lane for one last outing.

Coulthard in the spare, ruined his chances by over driving his car into the grass, wrecking his tyres for his final lap. Hill, suffering from severe handling problems was, not for the first time, holding up Rubens Barrichello in the queue of cars all desperate to get round to the start finish line before the chequered flag fell on the session. Somehow he managed to get though and set an extraordinary lap to move up five places on the grid to third. "I am absolutely thrilled," He grinned ""The Ford project 6 engine has much more power and driveability. Our car is very strong aerodynamically, so we can afford to run with a very low wing and its still steady under braking."

With less than ten seconds to go, both Villeneuve and Schumacher crossed the line to start their final charges. The Canadian was uncharacteristically sloppy, using up all the available track space to hold his car in check until a severe brake lock put and end to bettering his time, leaving Schumacher to take the honours by 3 thousandths of a second. " Sure I’m disappointed. The same thing happened last year on the last lap." Villeneuve said afterwards. "I got into turn 1 locking the wheels. You’re just turning all the time and you can’t adjust your brake bias. I braked a bit early and I lost a few tenths. I am very confident for tomorrow as our car is very strong on high fuel loads."

Michael Schumacher of course, had seen the chinks in the William’s armour and not swayed by the team’s apparent sandbagging, knew he had a chance if he was careful. "I didn’t go with any expectations, but after this morning, it showed a little bit that we had a slight chance." He explained in his unique ‘Schumacherese’. "Tyres will be a bit critical but if you know how to handle them and are aware of this, you should be able to deal with it." A small pearl of wisdom from the maestro and one that should be heeded, for whilst tyres will not be as critical as in Spain, criticism has been placed at Goodyear’s door for excessive wear on some rear sets. Bridgestone apparently are consistent throughout the range and have been hearing nothing but praise. It is odd therefore to see regular Bridgestone front runner Olivier Panis so far down the grid in 10th place. Paul Stewart Director of the highest placed Bridgestone team Stewart Ford said, " We feel confident in another superb performance by Bridgestone which will make our planning far easier."

Disappointing too for Jordan Peugeot after posting such promising times yesterday but refusing to be downhearted, Giancarlo Fisichella, who qualified ten places higher in sixth, than he did last year for Minardi, said, "I was still improving my time on the last lap so this is encouraging. The problems we have been having with tyre wear have improved, but we still have some work to do after we have looked at the telemetry data from today."

Team mate Ralf Schumacher broke second gear during the session and liked his spare car so much that he ‘decided to race in it tomorrow.’

It looks that this will not be a walkover for Young Villeneuve. Not only will Schumacher be filling the frame, but Coulthard, Barrichello and maybe Fisichella too will all want a slice of the maple pie.


Chris Richardson



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