Monaco Grand Prix 1997 - Qualifying Report   HomeContentsHelp

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Race Day : May 11th 1997

The 55th Monaco Grand Prix

German lock-out as front row falls to watchful adversaries.

In the closing moments of the most eagerly anticipated qualifying session of the season so far, Heinz Harald Frentzen, driving his Williams FW19, clinched thefirst pole position of his career. A rather frustrating hour was had by drivers suffering generally from a lack of mechanical grip and marginal downforce settings.

From the outset the contest seemed to be between only four drivers, one of which, Giancarlo Fisichella, driving with a maturity and experience beyond his years, found himself in a head to head with mid session pole sitter Michael Schumacher, briefly attaining a place alongside him at the front of the grid.

By contrast Frentzen’s Team mate Jacques Villeneuve, anxious to better his dreadful performance last year, found it hard to get to grips with the circuit, making life difficult for himself with a succession of rather untidy laps. His speed was undeniable however and on his fastest lap, with six minutes remaining, he was up on Schumacher in both sections. Distracted by the Tyrrell of Jos Verstappen coming into the Anthony Noghes corner onto the pit straight, his car twitched first left then right coming within millimeters of the barriers and it undoubtedly lost him the pole. Still recovering from his mistake he booted the car unnecessarily hard into Ste Devote after passing the start finish line, losing his rear end and suspension in a hard swipe with the Armco and came to a premature stop dangerously close to the tunnel entrance five turns later. His earlier time was sufficient to enable him to keep third position. "I was going for it and it wasn’t the car." He said, seemingly unconcerned and rightly so, about the presence of the Tyrell, "I made a few mistakes in my last lap, mostly in the last corner and lost enough time to not get pole."

The best was yet to come, for even as Villenueve was coasting to a standstill, Frentzen was starting his final set of laps and, a little less than two minutes of electrifying driving, saw the young German not only topple fellow countryman and sparring partner Schumacher from a superb pole held for most of the session, but, after taking his first win at Imola recently, again put his team mate on the defensive and take a psychological advantage for the start of tomorrow’s race. Commendably shy he just said, "A very pleasant moment!" and added with a smile, "I’m in a good mood!"

Schumacher, despite a desperate bid in the last 5 seconds of qualifying and in a Ferrari that seemed a lot happier on the twisty circuit, was unable to better Frentzens time, ending the hour 3 thousandths of a second slower than the Williams time of 1.18.216. "It’s not satisfying having been on pole for most of the session," He said, "but I have enough reason to be satisfied, being 2nd in front of another Williams.... Mr V!"

Teammate Eddie Irvine suffering badly from understeer, was unable to get higher then 15th, his car, in complete contrast to Schumacher’s looked unsettled and unwieldy. In his almost musical Irish lilt, he moaned, "We put new sets of tyres on but nothing changed."

The glummest face in the pitlane belonged to young Ralf Schumacher who was unable to push his Jordan Peugeot to the limits that his team mate and arch-rival had achieved. "I am not satisfied with the position I made-it is my fault I did not manage to go any faster." He grumbled, "I am frustrated because I wanted to do better." He has indeed been outclassed by Fisichella all weekend and whilst both have driven the circuit before, albeit in lesser Formulas, the performance of the Jordan team thus far at Monaco has been creditable to say the least and should go a long way in helping them to keep their supply of works Peugeot engines for next year. Giancarlo, understandably was over the moon, "I am very happy with this result, as I had set myself a target of finishing in the top six, so second row on the grid is Fantastic! For the race I am really hoping to be on the Podium." For a young driver to be saying such things after only 4 F1 races and in his first season, is confidence indeed.

Ironically, the team that have been instrumental in hanging this Peugeot Sword of Damocles above Team Boss Eddie Jordan’s head, did not fare so well. Shinji Nakarno under threat of the sack by boss Alain Prost did little to improve his job prospects by finishing second to last in front of Jos Verstappen’s tug-boat Tyrell. Even Prost number one driver, Olivier Panis winner of this race last year, could do no better than 12th, his soft compound Bridgestones for the first time this season losing advantage to the ‘hards’ that most of the Goodyear teams-with the exception of McLaren-seemed to be running.

Damon Hill’s lamentable progress downward in the TWR Arrows A18, proceeded with vigour as, despite only being a little under a second and a half off the pole time, he only managed to beat his team mate Pedro Diniz in the closing stages of the session ending his day 13th, but, as of late, still a regular finisher in front of one or other of the Benettons. "I’m not happy about being 13th," he stated, "but everyone in the team made a good effort." Starting to talk about his car, he obviously thought better of it and merely said, "It’s always fun to drive here though." New fires will undoubtedly be lit this weekend regarding rumours of the World Champion’s possible signing with any number of teams for next season. Hill has been practically invisible this weekend which will not amuse his sponsors and he probably did not envisage his Champion’s patina disappearing quite so fast. Monaco, being the one circuit where the Arrows may have had a look-in towards the front of the pack, could signify an early Swan song for his time with TWR.

Both the Benettons and McLarens continued to disappoint. David Coulthard finishing as highest Brit, in 5th and Mika Hakkinen, who clipped the inside barriers exiting the new Swimming pool complex, piscine, a rather fortunate 8th. With Jean Alesi a row behind and Gerhard Berger a distant 17th, the pecking order in the top five teams is definitely beginning to change.

Johnny Herbert, despite heading the tables in the mornings warm up and also on Thursday’s timed practice, only managed seventh for the Sauber Petronas team.

Rubens Barichello scraped into the top ten in a strictly average Stewart Ford, but happily cosseted within his new team, he could have come last and exuded positivism. "This morning we had a problem with torsion bars on my car, so we had to change the set-up for qualifying. In a way we had to guess at another type of set-up." Rather mystifyingly and, bearing in mind his final position, he continued, "In the end the car was even better than this morning, which just goes to show how well the team are working. If you look at the times you can see how little it would have taken for us to be in the top six." Well, quite but that’s what all the teams except one, are saying. ‘If only....’

With barely 2 seconds covering the first 17 places and only 3, the whole grid, and despite the Williams and Ferrari’s being regarded as unbeatable, cars have not been so evenly matched since 1978, when the start of the Turbo years and big money sponsorship enabled enormous gulfs in chassis and engine development to polarise the grid.

One has of course to put the sensible cash on the likes of Schumacher, Frentzen and (maybe not quite so much), Villeneuve. But if you were a betting man, you’d go with Fisichella for Victory and most definitely, as he says, a podium finish. The processional nature of the track will mean that other than co-operating back markers, overtaking will be a pig and the closer a driver can judge his distance from the barriers, the more tenths of a second a lap will be gained.

To finish here will be of the utmost importance not only for the teams but for the sponsors who will be looking for their investment to absorb and eventually reflect the success that they all crave association with.

There has ever been a dull race at Monaco and this looks to be no different. There may even be an Italian flag hanging over the podium.

Chris Richardson


Top 10 qualifiers:

H H Frentzen	1.18.21
M Schumacher	1.18.23
J Villeneuve	1.18.58
G Fisichella	1.18.66
D Coulthard	1.18.77
R Schumacher	1.18.94
J Herbert	1.19.10
M Hakkinen	1.19.11
J Alesi	1.19.26
R Barichello	1.19.29

1997 Championship Contents

Formula 1 Contents