The 1997 Argentine Grand Prix, otherwise known as the XX Gran Premio Marlboro de la Republica Argentina, was the third round of the 1997 FIA Formula One World Championship, held at Autódromo Oscar Alfredo Gálvez in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on 13 April 1997. The race, which was the 600th World Championship Grand Prix to be staged, would see Jacques Villeneuve claim his sixth career victory, leaving him level with his father Gilles Villeneuve in terms of outright wins.
Villeneuve had start the weekend in familiar fashion, sweeping to pole position by almost eight tenths of a second from Williams-Renault teammate Heinz-Harald Frentzen. Olivier Panis was best of the rest for Prost-Mugen-Honda, with Michael Schumacher just ahead of Rubens Barrichello in fourth.
The Canadian racer duly aced his start to claim the lead, knowing that he would have to break clear having opted for a three-stop race. Behind, Frentzen got away poorly but held on, with Schumacher clattering into the side of Panis into the first corner.
Eddie Irvine therefore charged through to claim third, while Panis, with bent steering scrambled ahead of Barrichello to secure fourth. Schumacher, meanwhile, would end up in sixth, only to slam into the back of Barrichello and spin the Stewart-Ford Cosworth around in front of him.
The subsequent scattering of the field saw David Coulthard and Ralf Schumacher collide, resulting in a wheel being ripped from the McLaren-Mercedes. Jos Verstappen and Jan Magnussen would also contrive to hit each other and leave debris on the circuit, resulting the Safety Car being called.
The safety car remained out for four laps, with Villeneuve leading from Frentzen and Panis, who had jumped Irvine shortly before its intervention. Villeneuve duly aced the restart o build a small lead, although his escape was aided by the failing clutch of Frentzen, which caused the German racer to retire a lap later.
Incredibly, Panis was able to match Villeneuve's pace in the Prost, largely due to his Bridgestone tyres compared to the Canadian's fast wearing Goodyears. Indeed, the Frenchman would make several half-hearted looks at claiming the lead as Villeneuve tried to break clear, only for his engine fail before Villeneuve's first stop.
With Panis out the pressure was off for Villeneuve, who was able to complete his three-stop strategy without issue. However, the Canadian's pace would tail off dramatically every time his stints came to an end, allowing Irvine to entertain a late hope of challenging for victory.
Ultimately, however, the Brit would run out of time to fully attack the Canadian, leaving Villeneuve to sweep across the line to claim victory. Behind Irvine came the Jordan-Peugeot of Ralf Schumacher, surviving a mid-race collision with teammate Giancarlo Fisichella to claim a maiden podium finish and set a new record for youngest podium finisher, with Johnny Herbert, Mika Häkkinen and Gerhard Berger completing the scorers.
Jacques Villeneuve called the circuit "little better than a go-kart track". Michael Schumacher would comment "you must concentrate to the maximum here", noting the lack of straights which requires constant attention from the drivers.
Jacques Villeneuve moved level with David Coulthard atop the Championship after the second round, with the Scot ahead having finished in Brazil, while Villeneuve had retired in Australia. Gerhard Berger, meanwhile, had moved into third ahead of Michael Schumacher, with Mika Häkkinen completing the early top five. Eight drivers would end the weekend with points to their name.
In the Constructors Championship it was McLaren-Mercedes who continued to lead the way, leaving Brazil with a seven point lead. Williams-Renault were up to second, leaping ahead of Benetton-Renault, although the two French engined squads were technically level on ten points. Ferrari, meanwhile, had slipped to fourth, with Prost-Mugen-Honda and Sauber-Petronas also on the board.
The full entry list for the 1997 Argentine Grand Prix is outlined below:
Despite improved performances from Heinz-Harald Frentzen during practice, Jacques Villeneuve was once again the dominant driver in the Williams team, taking the team's 100th pole position in Buenos Aires.
Olivier Panis continued to underline the strong potential of his Prost team and the Bridgestone tyres by taking third position on the grid. Team principal Alain Prost was more than satisfying, commenting later in the day that he believed "they were the best team in 1997".
However the "performance of the afternoon" as described by Louise Goodman, would come from Rubens Barrichello. After battling engine problems earlier in the day, he went on to put his Stewart fifth on the grid. Barrichello had been told by his team principal that he would get a new rolex watch if he qualified within the top six. Barrichello eagerly threw off his wrist watch when he returned to the pits.
The Schumacher's were sitting near eachother on the grid. Michael was sitting in fourth, whilst his brother Ralf, despite suffering another spin, had put his Jordan sixth on the grid.
Benetton and McLaren had both opted for the harder compound tyre. Both teams believing the softer compound would suffer from severe degradation in the heat. It had compromised their grid position, however both team's were hopeful for an improvement on the race day.
The full qualifying results for the 1997 Argentine Grand Prix are outlined below:
|1||3||Jacques Villeneuve||Williams-Renault||1:24.473||—||181.507 km/h|
|2||4||Heinz-Harald Frentzen||Williams-Renault||1:25.271||+0.798s||179.808 km/h|
|3||14||Olivier Panis||Prost-Mugen-Honda||1:25.491||+1.018s||179.345 km/h|
|4||5||Michael Schumacher||Ferrari||1:25.773||+1.300s||178.756 km/h|
|5||22||Rubens Barrichello||Stewart-Ford Cosworth||1:25.942||+1.469s||178.404 km/h|
|6||11||Ralf Schumacher||Jordan-Peugeot||1:26.218||+1.745s||177.833 km/h|
|7||6||Eddie Irvine||Ferrari||1:26.327||+1.854s||177.608 km/h|
|8||16||Johnny Herbert||Sauber-Petronas||1:26.564||+2.091s||177.122 km/h|
|9||12||Giancarlo Fisichella||Jordan-Peugeot||1:26.619||+2.149s||177.010 km/h|
|10||10||David Coulthard||McLaren-Mercedes||1:26.799||+2.326s||176.643 km/h|
|11||7||Jean Alesi||Benetton-Renault||1:27.076||+2.603s||176.081 km/h|
|12||8||Gerhard Berger||Benetton-Renault||1:27.259||+2.786s||175.711 km/h|
|13||1||Damon Hill||Arrows-Yamaha||1:27.281||+2.808s||175.667 km/h|
|14||17||Nicola Larini||Sauber-Petronas||1:27.690||+3.217s||174.848 km/h|
|15||23||Jan Magnussen||Stewart-Ford Cosworth||1:28.035||+3.562s||174.163 km/h|
|16||18||Jos Verstappen||Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth||1:28.094||+3.621s||174.046 km/h|
|17||9||Mika Häkkinen||McLaren-Mercedes||1:28.135||+3.662s||173.965 km/h|
|18||21||Jarno Trulli||Minardi-Hart||1:28.160||+3.687s||173.916 km/h|
|19||19||Mika Salo||Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth||1:28.224||+3.751s||173.789 km/h|
|20||15||Shinji Nakano||Prost-Mugen-Honda||1:28.366||+3.893s||173.510 km/h|
|21||20||Ukyo Katayama||Minardi-Hart||1:28.413||+3.940s||173.418 km/h|
|22||2||Pedro Diniz||Arrows-Yamaha||1:28.696||+4.496s||172.334 km/h|
|107% Time: 1:30.386|
- T Indicates a driver used their test/spare car to set their best time in that session.
- Bold indicates a driver's best/qualifying time.
ITV's Jim Rosenthal noted that the drivers had been "taking huge lumps off last year's record times". Simon Taylor would further attribute this to being due to "the extra grip from the latest tyres from Goodyear and Bridgestone".
Interestingly both Jacques Villeneuve and Heinz-Harald Frentzen had falled ill ahead of the race. Villeneuve even commenting to James Allen "I feel like death today". Nonetheless they were both cleared to start the race by FIA doctor, Sid Watkins. Nonetheless there was speculation as to whether they would finish the race. The large bump on the circuit was so jarring for Villeneuve that he stated he closed his eyes each time he went over it. Martin Brundle commenting "I wouldn't be the one who would want to hand in his sick note to Frank Williams". There was concern for Frentzen, having suffered a fuel pump failure on his car during the warm-up.
The Stewart team had done a phenomenal job in qualifying, commenting ahead of the race, Jackie Stewart noted "We are very pleased, the team have worked so hard to get into this situation. We really have had a tremendous practice and qualifying, we are more than pleased. If we finish that in itself will be a major achievement, none of our cars have done ever a full race distance, not even in testing. We would like at least one car to finish and if it finished in the top ten that would be fantastic". Adding to this, Rubens Barrichello noted "I'm not just proud for me, I'm proud for the whole team because it was a great job, we had little problems in qualifying so to score fifth place in qualifying, its so close to the front, its great."
There was anticipation among the Jordan camp, the team finally looking hopeful for a strong result ahead of their 100th grand prix. Team principal Eddie Jordan commenting "in the qualifying we were strong, we were very strong in the morning warm-up, running on a specific strategy in terms of the structure of the tyres, we really feel quite confident at this stage." The Jordan's were running on hard tyres, however interestingly as commented by Simon Taylor "they are making them work better than McLaren and Benetton have. So I reckon they are probably going to go for one pit-stop. If the car is reliable and the drivers stay on the road, we could see a podium today". In conversation with Murray Walker, Benetton chief designer, Nick Wirth noted "we are on a calculated gamble, Murray, the hotter it gets the better we are going to like it".
McLaren had attributed their problems to struggling to get the power down. Häkkinen having such tremendous wheel spin that he spun off the circuit in warm-up whilst testing the spare car. He then swapped back into the race car, and like the previous day, he continued to struggle to perform. The team struggling for downforce would be forced to put in extra wing.
Damon Hill confirmed to James Allen ahead of the race "we can go for one stop. However the penalty of that is your going to have to carry extra fuel and your going to be penalised for that because the car is so heavy". Then commenting on sickness of the drivers at the Williams camp, Hill noted "it must be traditional here". Hill himself had fallen ill at Buenos Aires the previous year when he himself was driving for Williams. Despite his lowly grid position, Hill noted he was "getting a great buzz from setting up this car".
Ahead of the race in Buenos Aires, the air temperature had risen to 28° with a track temperature of 33°. Murray Walker noted "some of the team's are going to be happy about that, others are not. The ones that are will be the McLaren team, the Benetton team and the Jordan team, because they are running on hard compound Goodyear tyres. The Bridgestone runners at the front are going to be very happy about it too. Olivier Panis starting third on the grid, Rubens Barrichello, a magnificent fifth in the Stewart-Ford. But others are not going to be so happy, because those that are on soft compound tyres will want the temperature to come down a bit". The expected high degradation for those drivers starting on soft tyres would likely see them being forced to stop three times in the race. A notable advantage for Panis and Barrichello with their more durable Bridgestone tyres, expecting to only stop once.
On the formation lap, Frentzen failed to make it off the starting line. However as he did not drop to the back of the field, and having only fallen down to eighth behind Irvine, he would subsequently be allowed to regain his second grid spot on the formation lap.
Villeneuve got a magnificent start, with his Williams teammate, Frentzen, trailing behind him. The Ferrari's got an excellent start, Schumacher aggressively attacking Panis at the start, forcing the Prost driver far to the right of the track. Schumacher had taken third, however he was forced to take a very inside line into the Curva N°1, his Ferrari teammate, Irvine, taking the normal racing line was able to sweep by his teammate around the outside of the first corner. Barrichello in the Stewart attempted to do the same, however he instead collided with Schumacher who failed to give way. Barrichello was spun right round, the two cars tangled among eachother.
Their accident caused the midfield to bunch up, Coulthard collided with the rear of Ralf Schumacher, causing his left front wheel to dislocate. Berger ran wide into the gravel trap, whilst Salo's Tyrrell collided with the second Stewart of Magnussen, causing the Dane to spin. Schumacher and Coulthard were both eliminated from the race, whilst the two Stewart's of Barrichello and Magnussen had sustained damage to their car. Barrichello had his front wing quickly replaced, however the mechanics would spend a much longer time repairing the car of his teammate, Magnussen.
The safety car was brought out to which Murray Walker commented "this is the first time in Formula One that the safety car has come out as early as this". The safety car would allow the marshalls to clear away the debris and wrecked cars of Schumacher and Coulthard. One of the marshalls at the scene of the accident was incorrectly waving a red flag to which Martin Brundle noted "they should be waving a white flag, and a yellow flag, not a red flag". Schumacher having seen the red flag sprinted back to the pits in the hope of the race being restarted. However as further added by Martin Brundle "there was total confusion there from race control".
With the safety car brought out, the order read Villeneuve ahead of Frentzen, Panis, Irvine, Fisichella, Hill, Herbert, Schumacher, Alesi, Diniz, Verstappen, Häkkinen, Katayama, Trulli, Salo, Berger, Larini, Nakano, Barrichello and Magnussen.
After three laps, the race was resumed, Villeneuve immediately began to sprint away into the lead of the race. Behind him, his teammate, Frentzen, appeared to be struggling to match his pace, coming under extreme pressure from Panis's Prost. Frentzen had been struggling with clutch problems which had been the cause for his slow start on the formation lap. Then, on the fifth lap, his clutch failed completely and he was forced to pull his car off the track to retire. Following Frentzen's retirement, James Allen noted at the Williams garage "I'm standing looking over the shoulder of Patrick Head, the technical director of the Williams team, who is staring at the telemetry and basically just scratching their heads. They cannot understand what the problem is with Heinz-Harald Frentzen's car. We are all waiting for him to come back into the paddock, and as soon as he comes back, I'll tell you exactly what is wrong with it. A lot of head scratching and a lot of frustration as well for Patrick Head, a technical man, doesn't like to know one of his car's has failed, without knowing why. Michael Schumacher, meanwhile came steaming in, saw him with his helmet off, straight into the company office, slammed the door and no sign of him for the rest of the afternoon I imagine".
Now free of the troubled Williams of Frentzen, Panis began to put in some impressive lap times, catching Villeneuve and running as the fastest car on the track. The Prost car was running much quicker than expected and as observed by Brundle "Panis tried both one stop and two stop fuel this morning, and I just wonder if Alain Prost has elected to do a two stop strategy and take the race to Williams. As I believe their car is fast enough to win this race on merit without having to plod around on a one stop. And if he is one stopping, and he is carrying that kind of speed, he is looking extremely strong".
Ralf Schumacher was making progress, having first dispersed with Herbert's Sauber, he then overtook the Arrows of Hill to take fifth position. He would then set about chasing after his Jordan teammate, Fisichella, who continued to hunt Irvine's Ferrari for third position. After his first lap drama, Barrichello was recovering well, moving past the tail enders of Salo, Larini and Nakano to take fifteenth, and had begun to challenge Berger's Benetton for fourteenth position.
On lap eight, Panis would go on to break the lap record with a 1:29.090. He had closed right onto the tail of Villeneuve's Williams and was applying the pressure. Murray Walker noting "he is going for broke and victory!". Brundle steadily adding "I was in the gym with Olivier last night and that's just how hard he is working. Even the night before the race, he is in the gymnasium. And I said to him 'how does the car feel?'. He said 'Martin it is absolutely fantastic, it does everything I want it to'. But I said 'the pace of this race is going to take it out of you?'. And he said 'no I'm fit, I'm ready to go, it's no problem for me'. So Panis has a lot of confidence behind that steering wheel".
The Bridgestone tyres once again proving to be much superior to their Goodyear competitors, the third fastest car on track, behind only Villeneuve and Panis, was the Bridgestone shod Stewart of Barrichello, who had continued his rapid climb up the field and was now in twelfth position.
Panis had began to halt his "relentless pursuit" as described by Martin Brundle. Brundle further elaborating "interestingly I have noticed the Bridgestone guys have settled down a little bit, I wonder if those slow laps had hurt the Goodyear runners more than it hurt the Bridgestone runners. As it seems to have stabilised a little bit, I think it took Villeneuve two or three laps to get those tyre temperatures and pressures back where he needed them for the handling of the car. The construction of those tyres are completely different between those two cars and perhaps that is why they have settled down into this pattern. And Panis is actually dropping back by 3-5 tenths per lap."
Herbert was putting in a sterling effort for Sauber, after being overtaken by Schumacher's Jordan, Herbert had subsequently passed Hill in the Arrows and then going on to retake fifth place from Schumacher. He then continued to put in more fast laps, as both he and Schumacher closed in on the lead Jordan of Fisichella in fourth position. There were other interesting battles developing, a little further down the field, Hill led a train of cars that included Alesi, Diniz, Verstappen, Häkkinen and Barrichello all race within a couple of seconds within one another. Martin Brundle noting "the only clear cut overtaking opportunity here is at the end of the pit straight into turn one, if you have got good straight line speed. If you do it around the hairpins at the back of the circuit, it can so easily end in tears with tangling of wheels and tripping over eachother". Behind this battle trailing at the back of the field were Berger, Magnussen, Katayama, Salo, Larini, Trulli and Nakano.
Alesi was racing all over the rear of Hill's car, the Arrows driver lacking speed due to his heavy fuel load on his one stop strategy. On lap 16, Alesi attempted a manoeuvere around the outside of Hill into the first corner. Brundle stating "they're going to touch if they are not careful", only for the two cars to immediately collide as Hill refused to give way. The two cars spun, both drivers had now dropped behind the four car train that had developed behind them. Brundle noting "that was Jean saying I've got the line, I'm coming in. He does that too much I have to say, Damon had nowhere to go. Damon would have to give the corner up to Alesi's determination and slight arrogance, because he was not far ahead to say this is my corner, move over chap". Having an excellent race and now leading the train for seventh position, was the second Arrows of Diniz. Diniz was being described as doing a "great job" by Murray Walker.
On lap 18, Villeneuve prepared for his first pit-stop at the end of the lap. Panis, behind him had been steadily dropping back and then, on the same lap that Villeneuve was due into the pits, Panis suffered an electrical failure, his Prost car grounding to a halt out on track. An excited Murray Walker commented "and that removes all the pressure from Jacques Villeneuve as Eddie Irvine is some nineteen seconds behind the French-Canadian. Bitter gall for Olivier Panis, who drove so brilliantly to take third place on the grid, to harry Jacques Villeneuve to good with a different strategy to the French-Canadian. But Villeneuve, now only has his physical condition between him and a second victory out of three races in 1997".
The Williams team thereafter faced a more relaxed afternoon, opting not to bring Villeneuve into the pits now that his main rival had been eliminated from the race. Villeneuve was allowed out on track for an extra lap before being brought into the pits. After a 7.5 second stop, Villeneuve exited the pits only just ahead of Irvine's Ferrari. Herbert in the Sauber had closed right up behind Fisichella's Jordan and was now putting in a spirited challenge for third position. On the same lap as Villeneuve, Herbert also dived for the pit-lane. After 7.3 seconds, Herbert was released from the pit-lane, Brundle noting "its a good stop, an important stop there. The Sauber team need to get Johnny Herbert ahead of the Jordan on the track. Because I believe he is actually faster than Fisichella and they need to use their strategy to give him track position. They will be quite pleased with that stop, but we need to see how Fisichella will go. How good is Fisichella on his in-lap, how good can Jordan do him a stop and can Jordan get him out in front of Herbert".
Further down the field, Hill and Alesi continued to battle hard following their initial collision. Alesi once again put a move on Hill into the first corner, the two cars avoided contact, however Alesi outbraked himself into the approach of the corner and let Hill re-take the position.
Ahead of this battle, Barrichello had been called into the pits, Martin Brundle commenting "it was a smart move to pull Barrichello in early because he was being held up by Verstappen no doubt about it. They called him in early, the called him in to give him a new set of boots". Irvine, who was running a comfortable second had also came into the pits, a lap after Villeneuve had pitted.
With both Irvine and Herbert pitted, the Jordan cars now ran in second and third position. However Fisichella had since been caught by his teammate, Ralf Schumacher. The Jordan's were looking likely to one stop, opting not to respond to Herbert's pit-stop. However there was catastrophe for the team when Schumacher pulled an aggressive move up the inside of his teammate and knocked Fisichella off the circuit.
Schumacher continued unscathed, however Fisichella had been left beached in the gravel and was out of the race. Murray Walker noting "that is the worse thing you can possibly do as teammates. I remember when that happened with the McLaren teammates once and there was a real inquest afterwards. Because if there is anybody you have got to get clear of its your own teammate. One of the Jordan people said to me yesterday, Ralf Schumacher goes absolutely ballistic if he ever sees Fisichella in front of him in times or on the track. And I am assuming he went ballistic there. But anyway he is in second place and he is catching Villeneuve!".
The same lap, Barrichello ended his fine comeback drive when the hydraulics failed on his Stewart. There was further drama when Larini had a calamitous pit-stop when his refuelling rig failed, forcing him to stop in the pits for over thirty seconds.
Despite his earlier embarassment in taking out his teammate, Schumacher had closed the leading gap to Villeneuve down to 6.7 seconds. The Jordan driver pushing his car to the limits after having been described to have had "an enormous number of spins in the free practice and qualifying". Berger meanwhile was making a slow advance having disposed of Diniz heading into the first corner. After 28 laps Villeneuve led ahead of Schumacher, Irvine, Herbert, Häkkinen, Alesi, Diniz, Berger, Hill, Salo, Verstappen, Magnussen, Katayama, Trulli, Nakano and Larini.
After a difficult qualifying, the one-stopping cars with the harder tyres were now making progression through the field. Schumacher, Häkkinen and Alesi were the notable front runners who had yet to make a stop. Alesi in sixth place setting the new fastest lap with a 1:28.964. The air temperature rising to 35° and as mentioned by Murray Walker "the hotter it gets, the more the McLaren, the Benetton and the Jordan are going to like it and the less Villeneuve on a two stop strategy with soft tyres is going to like it."
Villeneuve continued to control the pace at the front of the field, making his way through the first line of backmarkers. Martin Brundle noting "Ralf is all over the road, he is really charging. Villeneuve responded with a 1:30.1, then Schumacher on the next lap redoubled his efforts to catch him with a 1:29.6. Villeneuve is cruising along whilst Ralf is using everything he has got at the moment. I suspect Jacques is doing no more than he has to this afternoon".
Around lap 35, the one-stopping cars were preparing for their only stop of the race. Diniz became the first of the one-stoppers to enter the pits, the Arrows driver suffering a slow pit-stop of over 15 seconds. However there was worse for his teammate, Hill, who stopped out on track with an engine failure.
Ralf Schumacher had also entered the pits, he completed a strong 11 second pit-stop, exiting the pits in third behind Irvine, Herbert, Häkkinen and Alesi. Martin Brundle noting "that's bad news for him, he is going to get hooked up in the scrap between Alesi and Häkkinen. Track position has not worked out well for him. The thing that is going to save him is that these two are going to be stopping anytime soon anyway". On the 36th lap, Alesi did indeed enter the pits, as did his Benetton teammate, Berger.
On the 37th lap, Villeneuve came in for his second pit-stop. Irvine in the Ferrari was left leading the race, as he passed the pit straight for the first time as a leader, behind him, now in second place was Herbert's Sauber. Herbert was lucky to avoid an out of control Katayama who spun off in the approach to the first corner. The Prost of Nakano was forced to take evasive action on the grass to avoid the Minardi. Brundle noting "he just lost it by himself, and Nakano went off again in sympathy, locked his brakes. His attention went to the spinning Minardi rather than what he was doing and just followed suit really. Johnny kept his head and just stayed off the brake pedal and turned the steering which is what you should do in that incident". Herbert thereafter entered the pits for his second pit-stop, dropping him down from second to fifth.
Häkkinen was the last driver on track who had yet to stop, however on lap 39 he finally entered the pits for his first stop. After a 9.1 second stop, Häkkinen rejoined the track ahead of his chief race rival, Alesi. Irvine, however was performing well at the front of the field, he had yet to show signs that he was beginning to slow, setting a new fastest lap of the race with a 1:28.816. Martin Brundle commenting "I think he is on a two stopper, but he's coming past the pits now and seeing P1 for the first time in a grand prix. He's responded beautifully to that and is pumping in 1:29.0 and now 1:28.8, which is very consistent, very fast. A new lap record, Eddie has really responded to his new found responsibility of heading a grand prix for the great Ferrari team".
Irvine continued to pound out the fast laps, setting a new fastest lap on lap 43 with a 1:28.617 before opting to come into the pits for his second stop. Murray Walker commenting "its clear now why he is sprinting, he is trying to increase the gap over Villeneuve who will take the lead". Martin Brundle further adding "Villeneuve is really going to need to start pushing hard. Maybe he is in no shape to push as hard as he needs to push today. Because his pace is not strong. Irvine really has began to understand what is in front of him this afternoon, and the possibilities. His biggest handful if Villeneuve can't respond is going to be Ralf Schumacher to win this race".
Irvine continued to demonstrate excellent pace, his in-lap was on course to be faster than his current lap record, before the Ferrari driver dived into the pits. His pit-stop was somewhat slow which subsequently allowed the Williams of Villeneuve to comfortably gain a nine second lead over Irvine. Irvine was left in a somewhat compromising position as Schumacher's Jordan was left only 3.4 seconds adrift of the Ferrari. The same lap saw Verstappen pull his Tyrrell off the circuit with engine failure from tenth position.
Now back in the lead of the race, Villeneuve began to put in some fast laps, breaking the lap record over three consecutive laps before settling with a 1:28.181. Meanwhile behind him, Irvine was given some clear air, Schumacher's charge had been compromised, he had taken a significantly long time to lap the two backmarkers of Salo's Tyrrell and Trulli's Minardi. Brundle noting "he took too long, he had to be cautious through those backmarkers but he had to be positive and he had to stamp his authority on them. But it is new territory for Ralf, up here running in the top three for the first time in his career, and in his first season of grand prix racing, well caution is better than tripping over them".
Among the backmarkers there was further trouble. Larini had suffered a calamitous pit-stop which further demoted him down the field. Nakano would suffer an engine failure, whilst Diniz would suffer the same fate, the Arrows driver's engine blowing and sending the car into a spin. Brundle joking"if they keep dropping out like this, the clown in the pace car is going to win this race".
On lap 55, the Williams mechanics began to prepare Villeneuve for his second pit-stop. Villeneuve had been pushing hard to extend his 21 second lead over Irvine in second place. He had further bettered the lap record down to a 1:28.028. Brundle commenting "Let's not forget the enormous war of words, both Villeneuve and Irvine have had together since they had that crash together at the first corner of the first grand prix. They have been at each other through the press. The press are pumping it up. I think it's going to turn into a wheel to wheel scrap on the race track. Why Villeneuve was cruising in the mid-part of this race, I don't know because he now realises he's got a lot of work to do."
Realising that Villeneuve did not have a large enough lead over Irvine's second position to retain the lead, the Williams engineers aborted his pit-stop, allowing Villeneuve the opportunity to further consolidate his race lead. Brundle noting "The Williams team have got a lot of pressure on them to get this absolutely right. This stop is going to be crucial and Ralf Schumacher is still there in the hunt".
As Villeneuve entered the pits, James Allen commenting on the Williams team explained "I can't describe the atmosphere here down at the Williams garage, the tension is unbelievable. Jock Clear, Villeneuve's race engineer is stroking his neck, he's bouncing up and down. Patrick Head is bouncing up and down. There's immense tension here as Villeneuve comes in".
The Williams team performed a meticulous stop, and despite the concern among the Williams garage, Villeneuve returned to the track with a significant lead over Irvine's Ferrari. With Villeneuve retaining the lead, Brundle exclaimed "I don't see any way that Irvine is going to close that gap. Anyway, we've got three cars in the same pit-straight. And now we will see who really has the spirit and the character to really charge this one down. Can the second and third placed guys really charge and attack, push to the absolute limit for their first grand prix win or will Villeneuve cruise home."
Irvine would refuse to concede defeat and continued to close the gap down on Villeneuve's lead. Brundle commenting "Seven tenths of a second Irvine took out of Villeneuve that lap. Jacques does love to give us a bit of excitement, he did this a little bit in the Brazilian Grand Prix. Towards the end we thought that Berger was catching him, but is this genuine, Eddie really is on a charge".
Murray Walker would further add "Martin, it's not just Irvine that is catching him, it's Schumacher as well. Schumacher is now only five seconds behind the Williams. Now I don't know what is going on in the cockpit, I don't know how Jacques Villeneuve feels, but I saw him just before the race began and he looked like a ghost. He really did. He had been having a very hard time physically for three days, he'd been dehydrated, this race has been running for some one hour and thirty six minutes and the temperature in that cockpit would be very high indeed.
Whilst the top three ferociously battled for the lead, the Benetton of Berger in sixth place had quietly broken the lap record on lap 62 with a 1:27.991. A baffled Brundle would note "please don't ask me how Gerhard can break the lap record after the performance he has put in this weekend. I can't explain it". Commenting on the lead battle, Brundle would note "Irvine has responded to the challenge beautifully. Villeneuve's tyres should be in better shape, he's three stopped. Eddie's two stopped. Of course they are now on the same fuel load. Both are fuelled up to run to the end of the race. There's no difference there. Its just Villeneuve's tyres should be fresher, it doesn't seem to be having that effect on the race track at the moment because Eddie has taken yet another six tenths out of Villeneuve. And the lead is now less than a second, Eddie's on a charge."
Ralf Schumacher was slowly falling out of the lead race, the Jordan driver settling for third position. There was a further battle developing for the minor placings, both Häkkinen and Berger had begun to close on the fourth place of Herbert's Sauber. Among the tail runners, Magnussen and Larini were scrapping for last place. Larini losing control of his Sauber and spinning into retirement when the Stewart driver dived up his inside. Magnussen would not last much longer, the Stewart driver blowing his engine in the final stages.
However attention was drawn to the battle for the race lead in the final stages of the race. Brundle commenting "I think Villeneuve must have the philosophy of 'you must only need to win the race by a nose'. Because he has just began to pull out a tenth of a second a lap. Eddie's in that dirty air and Villeneuve's just holding his own. I wouldn't want to play poker with that guy that's for sure. I don't know whether he plays games, but he did the same in Brazil."
However Irvine continued to hound the Williams, with three laps to go, Irvine was right in the slipstream of Villeneuve's car heading down the main straight. Luckily for Villeneuve, he was able to shake the Ferrari off his tail and keep the lead at the exit of the corner. Now reconsidering his position, Brundle would comment "I think Villeneuve is exhausted in that car, he is really struggling to turn into those tough corners out the back, turn 7,8,9. And Villeneuve is really struggling. And just as he had broken Eddie's spirit, he handed it back again".
However Villeneuve would offer no further opportunity for Irvine to pass, the Williams driver would take the victory ahead of Irvine's Ferrari. Ralf Schumacher took third position, notably, none of the mechanics were there to greet Schumacher on the pit-wall. His spirited drive and had been somewhat ruined for taking out his teammate earlier in the race. Herbert finished in fourth position with Häkkinen and Berger finishing right on his tail.
Dickie Stanford, the Williams team manager joined Jacques Villeneuve, Eddie Irvine and Ralf Schumacher on the podium.
"I was expecting problems into the first corner. But I was hoping it wouldn't involve me, but I think as a chain reaction of Michael and Rubens, one of the Jordan's had to move and unfortunately I was in that place and I lost my front wheel." noted David Coulthard to Louise Goodman. He would further add "my goal at the start of the season was to finish every race in the points, obviously that failed in Brazil when I finished tenth and then its a double failure here when I haven't even made it past the first lap. So very disappointing but onwards to Argentina".
"I got an overheating problem, and then I lost air pressure which meant something happened to the engine and we had to stop. Well it was all very exciting because the start was exciting from one point of view and then we were having a good race, I knew he was going to get me sooner or later. I went into the first corner and defended it a bit and he just came across my front, squeezed me a lot. I spun and he spun, that put us back a bit but it was exciting. Damon Hill talking to Louise Goodman.
"I had a fairly good start, I was running well at the end of the straight. I was running wide in the corner, very wide actually, I wasn't close to anyone. Suddenly I felt a touch and when I saw the things again, I was in front of Schumacher and I couldn't do much. I lost my nose. But I was having a pretty good race, the tyres were surviving well and I overtook a lot of people. But unfortunately I had a problem with the engine at the end". Rubens Barrichello talking to Louise Goodman.
The full results for the 1997 Argentine Grand Prix are outlined below:
- T Indicates a driver used their test/spare car.
- * Magnussen was still classified despite retiring as he had completed 90% of the race distance.
- 600th FIA Formula One World Championship Grand Prix to be staged.
- Twentieth Argentine Grand Prix to be held.
- 400th Grand Prix to feature Tyrrell as a constructor.
- Arrows made their 200th Grand Prix appearance as a constructor.
- 100th Grand Prix for Jordan as a constructor.
- 50th Grand Prix start for Eddie Irvine.
- Jacques Villeneuve recorded the 100th pole position for Williams as a constructor.
- Sixth career victory for Villeneuve.
- Williams scored their 97th win as a constructor.
- Maiden podium finish for Ralf Schumacher.
- Schumacher set a new record for youngest podium finisher at 21 years 287 days old.
- Twentieth fastest lap recorded by Gerhard Berger.
Jacques Villeneuve established a ten point lead atop the Championship after his second win of the season, leaving Argentina with twenty points to his name. David Coulthard therefore slipped to second, level with Gerhard Berger, although the Scot was ahead of the Austrian courtesy of his win in Australia. Mika Häkkinen and Michael Schumacher completed the top five, with eleven scorers after the opening three rounds.
Williams-Renault moved to the top of the Constructors Championship after Villeneuve's second win of the campaign, establishing a one point lead over McLaren-Mercedes. A five point gap then followed before Ferrari appeared in third, with Benetton-Renault ending the day down in fourth. Prost-Mugen-Honda, Jordan-Peugeot and Sauber-Petronas were the only other scorers.
Only point scoring drivers and constructors are shown.
Images and Videos:
- ↑ 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 1.17 'Argentine GP, 1997', grandprix.com, (Inside F1 Inc., 2014), https://www.grandprix.com/gpe/rr600.html, (Accessed 18/08/2019)
- ↑ 'Brazil 1997: Entrants', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2015), https://www.statsf1.com/en/1997/bresil/engages.aspx, (Accessed 18/08/2019)
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 'Argentina 1997: Qualifications', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2014), https://www.statsf1.com/en/1997/argentine/qualification.aspx, (Accessed 18/08/2019)
- ↑ 'Gran Premio Marlboro de Argentina 1997 - QUALIFYING', formula1.com, (Formula One World Championship Ltd., 2019), https://www.formula1.com/en/results.html/1997/races/656/argentina/qualifying-0.html, (Accessed 18/08/2019)
- ↑ 5.0 5.1 'Argentina 1997: Result', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2016), https://www.statsf1.com/en/1997/argentine/classement.aspx, (Accessed 17/08/2019)
- ↑ 6.00 6.01 6.02 6.03 6.04 6.05 6.06 6.07 6.08 6.09 6.10 6.11 6.12 '3. Argentina 1997', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2014), https://www.statsf1.com/en/1997/argentine.aspx, (Accessed 18/08/2019)
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