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Race Day : September 7th 1997

Alesi takes second pole of his career as drivers show respect for the death of a Princess

As mark of respect for the funeral of Diana the Princess of Wales, both Damon Hill and Johnny Herbert wore dark armbands and, as the moment of silence spread across the world so an eerie silence fell over the Monza circuit. A small circle of drivers and mechanics formed around the World Champion as the pit lane came to an uneasy standstill. Team bosses and Tifosi alike quietly pondering the tragedy that had befallen the British nation and no doubt anxious to get qualifying underway, which it did in a subdued mood and with a burst of spontaneous applause from the massive crowd..

Jean Alesi in his Benetton took the honours for only the second time in his career just pipping Heinz Harald Frentzen to the front slot by little more than 5 hundredths of a second. Giancarlo Fisichella in the Jordan Peugeot came in a brilliant third giving his Italian fans reason to cheer.

Fisichella took an early lead in the opening minutes of the session followed closely by Jacques Villeneuve. Positions changed quickly after that with both Frentzen and Mika Hakinnen taking brief glory at the front.

Halfway through the session Fisichella again pushed himself to the front with a glorious 1m 23.06s and despite improving yet again to his final best of 1m 23.066s was unable to attain the spot that he has coveted since his magnificent second place at Spa. Having been called to the stewards for failing to observe the waved yellow flag after Jarno Trulli spun off, his lap times for that run were disallowed and he was given a one race suspended ban for the rest of the season. However since his fastest time today was made on his penultimate laps (the run after the one disallowed) his qualifying position was not affected. "It is a wonderful position for me to be in for my first F1 race at Monza" Said a delighted Fisichella. "I hope to end up in the top three in the race as well. I feel optimistic and know that we have a good race set up following testing here last week. I hope I have given something to the fans today and that I can do the same tomorrow." Team mate Ralf Schumacher finished in 8th position, hampered by steering problems resulting in a complete change of suspension components.

His older brother Michael was not doing so well finishing his session well down the field in 9th position. Experiencing the same problems that have beset Ferrari during the middle half of the season. the German was probably not very surprised, as his testing session at Monza had been disappointing also. "Naturally I am disappointed with today's qualifying when I just could not do better." He said. "I think the problem is that the moment the track temperature goes up, our tyres overheat, so they do not work properly and they lose grip. I said last week in testing that it would be difficult for us to get a good grid position at Monza. With so many competitive cars on the grid, a few tenths of a second costs you a lot of places on the grid. We have to accept that, but tomorrow I will do my best to make the most of the situation."

Consolation came however for the fans when former Ferrari driver Alesi scorched to pole a little over half way through the session and never lost it. His only other pole being with the Scuderia at the same circuit three years ago. "Everything has gone as perfectly as I could have hoped and it has followed on from our good test here last week." Said a delighted Alesi "Our car is very competitive with a full fuel load, so if I get a good start, I have a good chance. It’s a wonderful feeling. I speak French but I have Italian blood I am looking forward very much to the race". Team mate Gerhard Berger did not fare so well, locking his brakes at the first chicane with fifteen minutes remaining and finishing seventh.

Despite a late charge Villeneuve was unable to come anywhere near the Frenchman’s time and the flag fell to the muted cheers of the crowd having to make do with an ex-Ferrari driver on pole and Roman and countryman Fisichella third.

On a day of international mourning maybe it reflected the mood the British drivers were in. Hill managing no better than 14th and Herbert his usual 12th slot. Scotsman David Coulthard managed third row with a sixth.


Chris Richardson



Final qualifying times for the Italian Grand Prix

Saturday Sept 6th 1997


1 Alesi (Benetton-Renault) 1m 22.990s

2 Frentzen (Williams-Renault) 1m 23.042s

3 Fisichella (Jordan-Peugeot) 1m 23.066s

4 Villeneuve (Williams-Renault) 1m 23.231s

5 Hakkinen (McLaren-Mercedes) 1m 23.340s

6 Coulthard (McLaren-Mercedes) 1m 23.347s

7 Berger (Benetton-Renault) 1m 23.443s

8 R. Schumacher (Jordan-Peugeot) 1m 23.603s

9 M. Schumacher (Ferrari) 1m 23.624s

10 Irvine (Ferrari) 1m 23.891s

11 Barrichello (Stewart-Ford) 1m 24.177s

12 Herbert (Sauber-Petronas) 1m 24.242s

13 Magnussen (Stewart-Ford) 1m 24.394s

14 Hill (Arrows-Yamaha) 1m 24.482s

15 Nakano (Prost-Mugen) 1m 24.553s

16 Trulli (Prost-Mugen) 1m 24.567s

17 Diniz (Arrows-Yamaha) 1m 24.639s

18 Morbidelli (Sauber-Petronas) 1m 24.735s

19 Salo (Tyrrell-Ford) 1m 25.693s

20 Verstappen (Tyrrell-Ford) 1m 25.645s

21 Katayama (Minardi-Hart) 1m 26.655s

22 Marques (Minardi-Hart) 1m 27.677s



1997 Championship Contents

Formula 1 Contents