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Race Day : August 10th 1997

Villeneuve inherits race win on final lap after heroic Hill suffers hydraulic problems.


"I was getting to the point where I could count on winning the race, but whenever you think things like that, something happens." Damon Hill: Arrows

"We’ve never been in such good shape for a race." Eddie Irvine: Ferrari


It should have been Damon Hill’s day, it should have been his race and the statistics, that the top three qualifiers in the Hungarian Grand Prix always produces the winner, almost worked for him. It was only due to an unfortunate hydraulic problem occurring less than four miles from the flag that cost him his first win with the Arrows team after 399 attempts, on a day when nothing could go wrong. All teams have to take such major disappointments in their stride yet it must have been particularly galling for Tom Walkinshaw boss of the Arrows team to watch his star performer lose the lead with barely 6 corners remaining after controlling the race from the tenth lap. "We lost... we came second... we should have won it." Said a mightily unhappy Walkinshaw. "With a 30 second lead with 2 laps to go, he was only cruising and he loses hydraulic pressure. It’s not easy.... Damon did a fantastic job and he deserved to win. You never win ‘til you’ve passed the line and that’s motor tracing."

It was also supposed to be processional. ‘Lack of passing places’ they all said. ‘Expect a dull race’, they said ‘you won’t see Schumacher for dust,’ they nodded knowingly, tapping their forefingers on the sides of their noses. ‘What the hell’s that Arrows doing there?’ It wasn’t going to be easy for the world champion, but with the chassis and Bridgestone tyres obviously in sympathy with the slow and twisty circuit, the under-powered Yamaha V10 was able to compete on a more equal footing with the Renaults, Mercedes and Ferrari’s. What nobody expected was for the Arrows to steal the march on even the Ferrari’s, current darlings of the track and scoot off into the haze. That, surely was Schumacher’s scenario?

Tyre compound choice was again crucial and most of the Goodyear runners had gone for the soft option. Hot weather before, has caused blistering especially with the Ferrari’s and it was therefore unusual to find them opting for the stickier tyres with a track temperature of 32 degrees and rising.

With all the best plans laid for a faultless race, a spin in the warm up session ended Michael Schumacher’s chance of that statistical win. Losing all the advantage that the new lightweight chassis and it’s extra fuel carrying capacity brought to his qualifying performance, he was forced to use the spare car and as such, was slow to leave the grid when the lights went out.

Struggling on the ‘dirty’ side of the track Jacques Villeneuve, as predicted, failed to find the right traction for a smooth getaway. "My start was pretty bad." He said. "Whether it was wheel spin or clutch slip I didn’t go anywhere." It was Hill drawing level with Schumacher at the first turn, who slotted in behind the German after also fending off the second Ferrari of Eddie Irvine who stuck with the leading pair for barely 4 laps before entering the pits with tyre balance problems, serving as a warning for his team mate, that similar problems might occur. In an ironic pre race statement Irvine said that "We’ve never been in such good shape for a race." He should know better than to tell the world that for whatever excuses Ferrari might put out later, they could easily be ridiculed

Hill, by lap 4, had set the fastest lap of 1.19.6 and was harrying Schumacher’s Ferrari for the front slot. "The first couple of laps he (Schumacher) was pulling away." He said. "Then I managed to close in on him quite easily and you could see that his tyres were blistering. I knew I had to pass him as there were cars coming up behind and I could go a lot quicker." This he did at the end of the pit straight on lap 10, squeezing through a gap that the Ferrari driver was extremely reluctant to concede. Once passed, he was away and apart from a brief stint in second behind Heinz Harald Frentzen when he made his first stop, he commanded the race until his untimely demise.

"I did not make the best of starts, but I managed to stay in the lead." Said Schumacher afterwards. "After a few laps I began to have problems with my tyres, which we had not seen in practice. The front tyres should have been the ones to give trouble, so I was surprised to see blisters on the rears. The second set worked properly, but the next two had the same problems as the first. I had to run at a slower pace in order to look after my tyres."

The Ferrari began to hold up Mika Hakkinen who had both Williams lying in wait behind, striving to get past. This played into Hill’s hands nicely and he was able to open out a gap of over 5 seconds before Hakinnen retired his McLaren Mercedes with the same problem that was to affect the Arrows A18 later. "I didn’t have a gearbox anymore." Said Hakinnen. "I was looking good, but I was stuck behind Villeneuve." It was a keen observation by the Finn, as Villeneuve was indeed making little progress, the Williams looking sluggish and plodding. With Schumacher in the pits for the first of seemingly many tyre changes, Villeneuve was suddenly in second place in front of team mate Frentzen, who was setting a fastest lap of 1.19.03s. Was this to be a comeback for Williams?

By the time that the first pit stops were due, Hill had a seven second lead over Villeneuve. The Canadian, suffering a longer stop than Hill who stopped a lap later, lost nearly two seconds to the Arrows stop of 8.9s due to a sticking wheel nut. With David Coulthard running up the pitlane behind the Williams, they rejoined the race in 3rd and 4th places, Hill having managed a lightening ‘in’ lap to maintain a 9 second gap over Villeneuve on exiting the pits.

Frentzen had the lead and 19 seconds on Hill, but after setting another fast lap of 1.18.3, the refuelling coupling flew off his car and ominous gouts of flame started erupting intermittently from the rear. It was therefore not surprising to see the pit crew waiving their hands horizontally to signify that it was all over when Frentzen finally came to a rest in the pits, slinging his wheel away unceremoniously as he got out of the car.

The Benettons meanwhile had quietly disappeared. From being the talk of the town a fortnight ago, Gerhard Berger, lying in 13th place had been lapped by the top three drivers. They were not the only team illustrating their ups and downs in fortune. Jordan Peugeot who also ran well at the German Grand Prix and after qualifying 13th and 14th were making a race of it, With Ralf Schumacher passing a troubled looking Jean Alesi albeit well down the field.

By lap 30, Hill had pulled out a 12 second lead over Villeneuve who had the renewed threat of a rapidly closing Michael Schumacher who unexpectedly pitted for new rubber on lap 33 losing his fourth place to Johnny Herbert’s Sauber.

As Hill continued to pull out a massive 22 second lead on Villeneuve so Coulthard started to close on the Canadian. The remaining McLaren driver pitted alongside Herbert on lap 51 and both Hill and Villeneuve came in a lap later. Hill was out and long gone by the time that the Williams driver shot out of the pitlane inches behind Coulthard who was coming round to complete his ‘out’ lap. The Scotsman ran wide allowing Villeneuve to take him at the first corner. After another stab at passing, Coulthard was forced to let him go until on lap 65 his race came to a standstill with a failed alternator. This pushed Herbert up to third and Schumacher senior 4th, his brother Ralf doing an excellent job in trying to force the unwieldy Ferrari into a mistake but despite his blistering tyres, the German with all his experience, would see out the race in front of the Jordan and take 3 points for the championship. "I was a lot quicker than Michael" Said a modest Schumacher junior. "But I felt to have tried any harder to overtake him would have been too much of a risk. I nearly spun twice as it was so I decided to back off and save my fifth position." Michael confirmed his brother’s statement with uncharacteristic sentiment. "My brother was quicker than me and if I had not been fighting for the title, I could have let him pass."

Tension must have been high in the TWR pits with only two laps to go. An Arrows Yamaha fronting a Grand Prix, 34 seconds ahead, must indeed have been a strange experience for the team and when Hill reported on the radio that his throttle was not backing off, there still must have been optimism that within two and a half minutes the race would be theirs. This was not to be. Still staying on course, Hill was slowing rapidly and Villeneuve began to eat the seconds hungrily. "Damon was really flying, but I thought that there was no way he could finish" Villeneuve said. "By the end of the race it was looking pretty grim because he was going on and on and on. Then, the pit crew told me he was slowing down. When I got to him I saw he was going left and right and I knew he was going to block me which was normal on the last lap, so I just went onto the grass. He had the race in his pocket, It’s a shame for him."

As Hill slowed, unable to select his gears, he started swerving the car to try to rejoin his severed electrical connections. Villeneuve passed in a cloud of dirt as he ran along the grass verge and into the final 4 corners that would take him to an extremely fortuitous victory 9 seconds up on the Arrows. Hill’s lead over third placed Johnny Herbert was such that he managed to cross the line 11 seconds in front so salvaging 6 points from his days work.

Hill was in a philosophical mood "I was getting to the point when I thought I could count on winning the race, but whenever you think things like that, something happens." He said "To be fair, second place is better than nothing, and we almost got nothing. The car was really coughing and spluttering towards the end and a few times it stopped completely. I had Tom(Walkinshaw) on the radio and he was saying, ‘try to keep it in 5th gear’, but by that time I couldn’t get any gear at all except 2nd."

A win here, would have marked the first win for Bridgestone tyres, ending the virtual monopoly that Goodyear has enjoyed for the last ten years. Heavily influential in the performance of the Arrows Yamaha, it has been their best showing to date and it is certain that more teams will join the Japanese company next season when their contracts with Akron Ohio expire.

For Yamaha too, it would have been a maiden victory but ironically, having for so long relied on and been let down by, the V10 to keep them going, the tables were now reversed. Rough justice perhaps, it was the car that let the engine down at the crucial moment.

As the two Union flags hung above the podium flanking the Maple leaf of Canada, the National Anthem played for the winning constructor, Williams. It could have been a reconstruction of so many of last years results. It was hard not to make comparisons with Hill’s unmistakably smooth driving style in the Arrows A18 which apart from a different paint job, could so easily have been a Williams cruising with ease around the Hungaroring today.

An early tussle with his arch nemesis brought back briefly the glory days of 1994, and with it the nostalgic pleasure of seeing this English Gentleman at his finest. Team boss Frank Williams, whilst pleased that he lucked in to 10 constructors points, must surely realise that this was not his victory. Poor race preparation and average pitlane activities would not have won Williams this race. It will have done Hill a great deal of good regarding the allocation of competitive drives for next season. The chances of a seat with McLaren look more positive, but as with Berger, it may not be possible to maintain this form. The next race in Belgium is a different circuit, all about fast corners and straight line speed and Hill must reconcile himself to the possibility of again qualifying back in the mid field. Hill has driven a lot of excellent races this season and it is all too obvious that, with his wealth of qualifying experience and ‘given the right equipment’, as he once said, he is more capable than most of doing the job.

His win would have been a popular one, as Berger’s was at Hockenheim. Schumacher, speaking probably for himself still echoed the sentiments of the collective pit-lane bar one team perhaps, when he said, "I hoped Hill would win, as he deserved to and also because it would have helped me in the championship. I must congratulate him and the team on the good job they did."

With the mellowing of his arrogant ways over the past two seasons more often than not, Schumacher can display more than a touch of benevolence and it was almost with a sense of regret that he finished with, "It was like the old days, we two battling, unfortunately I couldn’t fight back, but maybe next time..."

Maybe Hill had a small moment on the Podium before the champagne party began when he heard that Anthem. It played for him as much as for Williams and it must have gladdened the hearts of millions of his fans globally, that he was back where he rightfully belongs.


Chris Richardson


Race classification

Hungarian Grand Prix Budapest 10 Aug 1997


1 Villeneuve Williams Renault 1:45:47.14

2 Hill Arrows Yamaha 1:45:56.22

3 Herbert Sauber Petronas 1:46:07.59

4 M Schumacher Ferrari 1:46:17.65

5 R Schumacher Jordan Peugeot 1:46:17.86

6 Nakano Prost Mugen Honda 1:46:28.66

7 Trulli Prost Mugen Honda 1:47:02.70

8 Berger Benetton Renault 1:47:03.55

9 Irvine Ferrari 1:44:51.83 DNF

10 Katayama Minardi Hart 1:45:48.74 1 lap

11 Alesi Benetton Renault 1:45:56.52

12 Marques Minardi Hart 1:46:19.96 2 laps

13 Salo Tyrrell Ford 1:46:20.75



14 Coulthard McLaren Mercedes 1:29:14.70 DNF

15 Verstappen Tyrrell Ford 1:26:25.37 DNF

16 Diniz Arrows Yamaha 1:14:03.70 DNF

17 Fisichella Jordan Peugeot 0:57:52.83 DNF

18 Frentzen Williams Renault 0:39:13.43 DNF (fastest lap 1.18.372s)

19 Barrichello Stewart Ford 1:46:20.75 DNF

20 Hakkinen McLaren Mercedes 0:16:26.00 DNF

21 Morbidelli Sauber Petronas 0:10:07.94 DNF

22 Magnussen Stewart Ford 0:08:09.74 DNF


1997 Championship Contents

Formula 1 Contents