The 1997 Brazilian Grand Prix was a Formula One motor race held at Autódromo José Carlos Pace near Interlagos, Brazil on 30 March 1997. It was the second race of the 1997 Formula One season. The 71-lap race was won by Williams driver Jacques Villeneuve after he started from pole position. Gerhard Berger finished second for the Benetton team and Prost driver Olivier Panis was third.
The full entry list for the 1997 Brazilian Grand Prix is outlined below:
- The Lola team arrived in Brazil, but withdrew from F1 on the Wednesday prior to the race due to "financial and technical problems."
Friday Morning Practice Edit
Jean Alesi had a major accident at the beginning of the S do Senna when he lost control of his Benetton and slammed deep into the barriers.
Saturday Practice Edit
At the conclusion of the warm-up, Jacques Villeneuve remarked in regards to his Williams Renault, "the car is strong and with older tyres we were running pretty strong this morning so I'm quite confident for the race.
After an exciting qualifying session, Martin Brundle had called the grid in Brazil "a bit topsy turvy". The unusual grid line up saw a unique position where the championship leader languished in the mid field. The leading Williams cars had one car on pole and one car in eighth position. The grid also having a total of five different constructor's in the top eight grid positions.
Having wrapped up another pole position, Jacques Villeneuve later discussed the session with ITV's Louise Goodman. Villeneuve stated "it feels great, its not the same big gap we had in Melbourne. Of course this is not a track where you can make such a difference as in Melbourne set-up wise, car-wise and driving wise. This is why the grid is so close and you can see so much competition". Villeneuve was expecting a strong start to the race in Brazil, "now that Eddie is a bit further back I think everyone is a little bit more relaxed at the front". Villeneuve expected to be the race favourite on sunnday, however he remained wary of his nearest competition, Michael Schumacher and Gerhard Berger.
Despite their pace, Williams would be slightly concerned with their reliability following a radiator failure on Villeneuve's race car. "Its nothing big but its enough to stop you in a race" acknowledged Villeneuve in regards to his problem. Villeneuve was thereafter forced to complete the session in the spare car set up for teammate Heinz-Harald Frentzen. A shock absorber problem being partly attributed to the reason of his slower performance. After a disappointing qualifying, Frentzen now had the pressure to put in a good race result to please his Williams bosses.
Damon Hill did impressively to move into ninth position, in which he had "achieved Arrows objective" according to ITV commentator, Murray Walker. James Allen noted that Hill must gain some "satisfaction" in the knowledge he would be joining his replacement in the Williams team, Heinz-Harald Frentzen in position on the fourth row of the grid. "Everyone has worked very hard, we are moving slowly up the grid, if we get up into the race today we will learn a lot for the next race" stated Arrows boss Tom Walkinshaw. Arrows were hoping for more reliability on their car after an extensive testing program following Melbourne.
After his horrendous qualifying, a very frustrated David Coulthard would note, "very disappointing. I failed to achieve a balance and this is the result." The championship leader was left in a bewildered twelfth spot after taking victory in the previous race at Australia. Whilst Coulthard's first and third sector times were competitive, he continually struggled to find a balance in the middle sector and constantly lost time here during his runs.
Jordan had been running a very low-downforce set-up which was partially attributed as blame for numerous amount of spins by their young charger Ralf Schumacher. Murray Walker describing him to be "very, very hard on brakes."
Mika Häkkinen suffered problems early in the warm-up forcing him to take control of the spare car set up for teammate Coulthard. In this car, Häkkinen set the second fastest time of the session, behind only Jacques Villeneuve. A demoralising blow to teammate Coulthard who had struggled with set-up issues all weekend. Tony Jardine of ITV noted that "psychologically in David's head, the car is wrong. He can't shake that off at the moment".
Damon Hill put in an impressive performance to run sixth fastest for Arrows.
After a miserable day on Saturday, Herbert made a substantial improvement stating "The car worked very well on Friday, it was still very good on the Saturday morning. Then we tried to do some lower fuel runs and then we started to have a lot of problems. Its very difficult to control the car on the bumps here because it is a very bumpy circuit. We put the fuel back in the car this morning and we are competitive again."
Pedro Diniz had a poor session, he only managed the twenty first time at his home grand prix.
Ahead of the race in Interlagos, ITV journalist, Simon Taylor began investigating rumours that a grand prix team to be designed around Jacques Villeneuve would enter the sport in 1999. Rumours were afoot that Reynard, the chassis manufacturer that took Villeneuve to his IndyCar title in 1995 with an engine badged by Chrysler were planning an entry into the Formula One world championship. Also allegedly involved was Julian Jakobi, the former manager of Ayrton Senna. Craig Pollock refused to comment on these rumours.
Meanwhile Frank Williams and Patrick Head were determined that these rumours surrounding their young charger wouldn't hurt the harmony and stability in their own team. Villeneuve for the time being remained under the control of Formula One's reigning champions.
At Benetton Flavio Briatore exclaimed that he was going to hold out "a gun" to Jean Alesi if he ignores team instructions to enter the pits once again. Briatore noting that if Alesi ignores the command once he would shoot rubber bullets, and if he fails to listen a second time he would fire real bullets.
Throughout practice, the Bridgestone runners appeared to cope well with tyre degradation and were believed to be capable of running a one stop strategy. Martin Brundle noting "we saw in qualifying the Goodyears had to be very careful with their tyres leading into their qualifying lap. The Goodyear's appear to be going away quite quickly. Whereas the Bridgestone runners had to attack the outlap to keep the heat in their tyres. The Bridgestone's seem a little more durable here and I know there is quite a lot of excitement in the Prost and Arrows camp that they may have an advantage as the race goes on."
The race strategy was one of intense speculation among the team's in the early Sunday morning. According to Martin Brundle, most drivers would attempt a two stop race, however David Coulthard was cryptic and cheekily suggested to James Allen that it would be between "one and three". However whilst most drivers were expected to perform two stops, there was rumour that Bridgestone runners Olivier Panis and Damon Hill were planning a one stop. Hill conceded that it was "possible" but reminded James Allen that "fuel has a very damaging effect". To run a single stop, a much higher fuel load would be required for the race start. Interestingly Murray Walker would note "we know that Michael Schumacher is on hard tyres. But we also know Jacques Villenenuve is on hard tyres." The hard tyres of course being the slower compound.
Commenting on the Interlagos circuit, Tony Jardine noted its unusual characteristic of an anti-clockwise circuit "its undulating, uphill, down-dale, bouncing over the bumps, you have got to do all your work in the gym. Because the neck is not used to going in the opposite direction its really going to take it out on the head muscles. The head is going to start getting loose, especially the young drivers, they'll be in trouble". In the evening after qualifying, the ITV television crew encountered Finnish driver Mika Häkkinen to be training late into the night inside their São Paulo hotel gym. Tony Jardine described him to have been "running round and round in circles" and being "supremely fit".
Interlagos presents few overtaking opportunities, however as was mentioned by Simon Taylor, "if you are brave and have a big heart" you may dare to put a move down into the S do Senna. The two corners of the S do Senna complex present one of the few true overtaking points at the Interlagos circuit. The final part of the circuit saw the steep climb to the finish line beginning at Juncao. As was reminded by Murray Walker "Alain Prost went off in the Williams in 1993, Ayrton Senna went off in his last race at Brazil, when he was being pressured by Michael Schumacher in 1994".
Michael Schumacher whose Ferrari F310B struggled in its handling being described as a "brute of a car" by Jim Rosenthal. Tony Jardine further adding "everyone wants Ferrari to succeed, but the budget they are pouring in doesn't match". Nonetheless their lead driver, Michael Schumacher was described to be "a genius behind the wheel" by Murray Walker. However, the technical superiority of the Williams-Renault meant Jacques Villeneuve remained the favourite for the race. In regards to Villeneuve, Brundle made reminder of potentially crucial weakness in the Canadiann "he had a poor start in the last race of last year when Damon took the world championship. He had a poor start in Melbourne for this year's opening grand prix. And here he is on pole with Schumacher beside him." Villeneuve, himself was no stranger to this and simply said "the start is as important as the hour and a half of racing."
"Hearts are beating fast in São Paulo, mine is anyway. Because there is a mighty crowd here, not perhaps as big as in the days of the great Ayrton Senna, but very big nonetheless." - Murray Walker
Leading the pack away on the formation lap, Villeneuve led the pack away at a very slow rate. A possible attempt to gain maximum heat in his slow to warm Goodyear tyres. Villeneuve calmly led the cars through the track, allowing his rivals to bunch up behind. Martin Brundle described it as being "very, very frustrating for a driver in the middle of the pack to be shuffling through the gears, on and off the brake. I much prefer the car to flow. I don't know quite why Villeneuve is taking it so slowly, but he dictates the pace, he's the pole sitter and its his choice how fast it runs all round".
Schumacher made the best start and in the approach to the S do Senna forced his Ferrari down the inside of Villeneuve's Williams. Villeneuve refused to give way and he subsequently outbraked himself and ran wide into the grass.. Murray Walker excitedly shouted "Its happened again! Just as in Australia!". There was further trouble at the first corner when Fisichella collided with the rear of Hill's car. Fisichella's sideswipe had forced the left side of his car to lose touch with the ground. Hill, however failed to flip and instead rejoined the track through the grass. The S do Senna saw Villeneuve, Hill, Frentzen, Herbert and Katayama all take evasive action through the grass at the first corner.
Schumacher led the race ahead of Berger, Panis, Häkkinen, Alesi, Schumacher, Coulthard, Herbert, Villeneuve and Frentzen. Both of the Williams cars had been left stranded in the midfield after a disastrous first lap. However fortune was to smile on the Williams team when the race was stopped midway through the first lap. Rubens Barrichello who had been described by Murray Walker as having "hadn't captured the affections of his countrymen like Senna did" had stalled his car on the grid. With his Stewart stranded in the middle of the start/finish straight, the race was stopped. This therefore meant the drivers would return to their original grid positions ahead of the restart. Villeneuve would be able to resume his position as the pole sitter.
Hill had been hit quite hard by the charging young Fisichella, his car demonstrating visible signs of damage as he limped back to the pits with his front wing askew. Hill sat in his car as the Arrows mechanics began performing extensive repairs to his damaged race car. Also entering the pits to retrieve their own spare cars were Fisichella, Frentzen and Herbert. Now seated back in the pole position slot, the Williams mechanics replaced the front wing of Jacques Villeneuve.
Hill was in a fight against time to get his Arrows repaired for the restart, James Allen noting "They are changing elements of the rear suspension, a coupling had actually snapped. They have already changed the nose, but Damon can't go back to the other car because his original race car had a fuel leak, so it was the spare car he was in anyway. As Fisichella flashes past me and out of the pit lane with a new set of rubber on, so he is obviously back in the race. But a race against time for Arrows, the boys are on top of it, working hard the left rear corner as you can see. Everything is pretty calm, Tom Walkinshaw orchestrating things like a ringmaster. Arrows looking like they might get things done. A very relieved Tom Walkinshaw a few feet away from me, They've got some tape to fix some of the rear bodywork that was damaged and a new rear suspension and nose. The car obviously has a set up that will work by all the Arrows mechanics led by Les Jones. Tom Walkinshaw with a role of tape in his hand, it may only be a small part of his business empire but he doesn't mind getting his hands dirty". The Arrows mechanics had impressively performed a full reconstruction of his car in less than ten minutes. However Martin Brundle was skeptical of how he would perform in the subsequent race "I would be amazed if the set up of the car is exactly as he would want because they've thrown wishbones on. They would normally spend an hour fine setting that car. He's not going to have that opportunity so I'm sure his car is going to be a bit of a handful".
The only car to suffer more damage than Hill at the start was the Stewart of Magnussen. Unseen by the cameras, the two cars of Magnussen and Irvine collided. Shortly after his retirement, Jan Magnussen glumly revealed "Eddie Irvine was in the middle of the circuit going very slowly. I tried to go around the outside of him but he must have been looking in the other mirror, or somewhere else. He drove over my front wheel". Louise Goodman then noted to him, "So you are going to have sit and watch this one on the sidelines". Magnussen lost the opportunity to take part in the restart, the Stewart spare car going to Rubens Barrichello instead. "That's life", replied Magnussen.
Eddie Irvine remained cool and collected after his first lap accident. Whilst the Ferrari mechanics worked frantically to prepare the spare car for their second driver, Irvine casually chatted with his bosses Jean Todt and Ross Brawn. His sister, Sonia, holding aloft his sun umbrella.
In regards to Villeneuve's slow pace on the warm-up lap, Martin Brundle noted "I think they should have been going faster frankly". Brundle believing low tyre temperatures may have caused the chaos at the S do Senna. Heading into the restart, there was concern for the quality of the race starts made by pole sitter Jacques Villeneuve. Murray Walker noted "he has now made two bad starts in succession. He was saying yesterday he had been working very hard on starting at Paul Ricard, in order to avoid what happened in Australia, a bad start. But it did happen here. So he has had two in succession. He is a doughty chap, very lade back chap, Jacques Villeneuve, but I can't imagine he would be in the best frame of mind knowing he has got two bad starts behind him." In response, Brundle stated "He is used to rolling starts in IndyCar, though of course he had a season of grand prix racing last year".
At the second start, Villeneuve suffered yet another slow start, whilst second placed Schumacher pulled away with what is described by Murray Walker as "another searing start from Michael Schumacher". At the exit of the S do Senna, Villeneuve, followed Schumacher out of the opening corners. Brundle would comment "He [Schumacher] just seemed to take off, he just found traction. Got the power down and his car catapulted forward. I really don't know what happened, whether Villeneuve had a mis-shift, but there seemed to be a big difference in acceleration." Like Barrichello did in the first start, Katayama had stalled his car for the second start. However unlike Barrichello, the marshalls wheeled his stricken Minardi away and a race restart would not be required.
Schumacher and Villeneuve immediately began to pull clear of their rivals, however Schumacher's lead would last only a singe lap. At the exit of Arquibancadas approaching the S do Senna, Villeneuve rushed past Schumacher. As described by Martin Brundle "He got in the toe of Schumacher there, but it was such a speedy pass, I've got to think they are on different fuel strategies. He will fly away now because Schumacher does not have the speed to answer that. I really don't understand why Schumacher didn't defend his line. Its almost as though he expected him to fly past like that. Normally you'd come up alongside and at least defend a little. Schuey just gave up on that one."
Villeneuve led ahead of Schumacher, Häkkinen, Berger, Alesi, Panis, Hill, Coulthard, Fisichella, Schumacher, Herbert, Frentzen, Barrichello, Irvine, Diniz, Trulli, Larini, Nakano, Verstappen and Salo. On lap three, Villeneuve set the fastest lap of the race with a 1:19.000. Walker noting "he has almost doubled his lead in over one lap". Brundle would concur, stating "thats right, two and a half seconds under the lap record. Way clear of the rest of the field. But behind him we could be looking at a good scrap between Schumacher, Häkkinen, Berger, Alesi, then you have got Panis and Hill, the two Bridgestone runners who have got more durable tyres on this race track."
Villeneuve began to open up a significant lead over his rivals, Murray Walker now noting "his calm demeanor, his race track mastery, his experience and the fact that he is in the best car underlining his superiority. I wonder if he has been hiding a little bit in the free practices and qualifying. He is going superbly well, almost four seconds ahead of Schumacher on lap six." Martin Brundle would add "Interestingly he is only three tenths faster Schumacher, and only one tenth faster than Berger. Frentzen has already taken two places, he is up into eleventh place. Its going to be an interesting afternoon." Frentzen was engaging an intense battle with Herbert's Sauber.
On lap six, Villeneuve had set a new fastest lap with a 1:18.840. Walker commenting "nearly three seconds faster than last year's fastest lap by Damon Hill. Its only four tenths of a second off Schumacher's lap record of 1994". Schumacher meanwhile was still running slowly, the Benetton of Berger attacking him constantly. Schumacher was forced to defend hard to maintain second place after Berger pulled a vigorous move on Schumacher down the inside.Brundle continued to observe that Schumacher was still "so slow down the straights. I wonder how much fuel he has on board or even if he has got a problem. Because they are just climbing all over him down the pit straight. It's uphill of course, so weight is a big, big penalty."
Having earlier overtaken Häkkinen, Berger was now impressing by continuing to apply the pressure to Schumacher. Walker noting "This is wonderful to see. Because Gerhard Berger is the oldest and most experienced man in the race. 37 years old, this is his 198th grand prix and he was very sad indeed in Australia when the ride height was wrong. Well, they have overcome that now. They found the answer in testing, they proved it in qualifying with Berger third on the grid. He is relishing this car, he is swarming all over the back of Michael Schumacher, who is driving with slightly more skill. However he isn't going to be able to compensate the lack of handling forever, Berger I think, is going to get past him".'
Schumacher remained relentless in his defence, on lap eight Berger attacked Schumacher at the S do Senna, once again to no avail. Brundle commented "Berger had the line through the corner, he really should have taken him. But Schuey wouldn't give up. He got on gas hard, he got on the gas early. He just wouldn't give that corner away as he did with Villeneuve earlier in the race". Whilst Schumacher and Berger continued to squabble over second position, the cars of Häkkinen and Alesi had begun to catch the battle for second. Villeneuve therefore managed to extend his lead to eight seconds, as well as setting a new fastest lap on lap nine with a 1:18.649. After ten laps, Villeneuve led ahead of Schumacher, Berger, Häkkinen, Alesi, Panis, Hill, Coulthard, Fisichella, Schumacher, Frentzen, Herbert, Barrichello, Diniz, Irvine, Larini, Nakano, Trulli, Verstappen and Salo.
After a number of failed attempts to pass, Berger eased his attack on Schumacher and continued to hold third position. Brundle noting "Gerhard pulled up behind him, immediately had a stab at him. Didn't get away with it, Schuey was too smart for him. Now Gerhard is in the dirty air, his tyres are going to overheat a little bit. Schumacher knows where he is coming from, he knows what his strength and weaknesses are". However after lying dormant for a number of laps, Berger attacked Schumacher down the inside at the S do Senna. This time, Berger had completed the maneuver. Brundle had also observed from the rear wing angle of the two cars that Schumacher was being forced to run more downforce, the Ferrari still not handling in an effective manner.
Observing the battles further down the field, Brundle commented "I'm watching with great interest Panis and Hill, sixth and seventh. Damon is holding his own, pulling away slightly from Coulthard and the two Jordan's behind him. Panis has a very fast car around here. He could be on a one stopper this afternoon".
Villeneuve maintained a nine second lead over Berger, however the Benetton driver, now cleared of Schumacher was now matching the race pace of the leading Williams. Schumacher, however was continually dropping back into the clutches of Häkkinen and Alesi.
On lap fifteen, Diniz parked his Arrows in the grass. He had been battling down in fourteenth position, Murray Walker described him to have "not had a very good warm-up". Now he was out of his home grand prix. A lap later, the Brazilians lost their lead countryman when Barrichello pulled his Stewart into the pits to retire. Walker noting "Stewart-Ford have yet to finish a race. They failed to do so in Australia, they failed to do so in Brazil. But Jackie Stewart, Paul Stewart and everybody else in the team knows the mountain to climb to do well in Formula One is a very high and a very steep one".
Approaching twenty laps passed, Häkkinen had began to close in on the rear of Schumacher, setting a new personal best in the process. Brundle noted "Häkkinen has looked good all weekend. He has been smooth, he has been committed. He appears to have got the car underneath him. He looks pretty unflustered too."
Herbert had worn his Goodyear tyres down whilst battling with Frentzen for eleventh place. He subsequently became the first driver to make a pit-stop in the race. Coulthard, having been stuck behind Hill's Arrows throughout the race was another driver to make an early pit-stop. He rejoined the race in fourteenth position. A lap later, Berger pitted from second and rejoined the track in fifth after a speedy pit-stop. Berger would immediately be on the pace, lapping the fastest of all the runners on the circuit following his pit-stop. On lap 24 he would set the fastest lap of the race with a 1:18.633.
It was evident that the Goodyear runners were now encountering tyre degradation, Hakkinen continuing to hunt down Schumacher could be seen having a big lock up into turn eight as his tyres steadily began to wear out. Brundle noting "You run about 58% of your brake bias on the front of these cars and that's why you always see the front wheel locked-up and it will always be the inside wheel as you blend the car into the corner. He is getting ready for a tyre change. He needs some new tyres on that car." Hakkinen would then go into the pits for his first stop, his tyres being worn well past their best. Brundle would then admit that "these stops all seem one or two laps earlier than I expected", indicating that tyre degradation was indeed having a big effect on the cars at Interlagos. The more durable Bridgestone tyre compound had allowed the one-stoppers to climb the field with Panis now in third and Hill up to sixth.
A lap after Berger had pitted, his Benetton teammate, Alesi, would enter the pit-lane. Lap 24 saw Irvine pit in from eleventh place. Villeneuve continued to dominate with a 22 second lead over Schumacher in second place, Murray Walker exerting his belief that Villeneuve was on a "one-stop strategy". Brundle however remained skeptical, noting "I would be amazed Murray if Villeneuve was on a one stop strategy, if he can keep that kind of pace up it would be staggering. I still think he will have to come into the pits around lap 25 or lap 26." Indeed at the end of lap 26, Villeneuve would make his pit-stop to which Walker noted "apologies for my incorrect forecast". Villeneuve would require a 30 second lead if he were to exit the pits and still retain his lead ahead of Schumacher. However his 23.8 second lead would not be enough to maintain his lead after he exited the pits. However the same lap, the Ferrari tacticians had also called Schumacher into the pits to respond to Villeneuve.
Villeneuve therefore maintained his lead, exiting the pits just ahead of Panis's Prost. The pit-stop phase however had seen Schumacher make a gain on Villeneuve by two seconds. Brundle commenting "Schumacher has been two seconds a lap faster all weekend in practicing his in-lap. They come flying into the pits all weekend, you notice the little chicane in the pit-lane, you have to navigate that as fast as possible and Schumacher has always been awesome on this in-lap. Focuses right to his pit garage and thats a very critical two seconds later on the race".
Further down the field, Hakkinen put a daring move on Alesi's Benetton down into the S do Senna to take sixth position. He would then quickly close up on the rear of Frentzen's Williams who was the final leading Goodyear car to not have made a pit-stop. Frentzen had been stuck behind Hill's Arrows throughout the race, and a frustrated Hakkinen would angrily gesticulate in his car as he closed in on the two slower cars ahead of him. With Hakkinen now closed up behind him, Frentzen finally elected to make his pit-stop.
Villeneuve meanwhile would begin to take command of the race once again, he rapidly pulled away from the rest of the field setting a new fastest lap time with a 1:18.397 on lap 28. Schumacher was now back into the points in sixth position having passed the Benetton of Alesi and following Frentzen's pit-stop.
Panis and Hill continued to perform well on the Bridgestone tyres, running in third and fourth positions. It seemed to be going well for them, however Brundle reminded the audience that "the only concern for Bridgestone is that there has been no opportunity all weekend to check if the tyres would go 35-37 laps. You don't have that availability of track time, but on lap 29 Panis just put in his fastest lap of the race. So it looks like the Bridgestones are staying and it looks almost certain now that Panis and Hill are on one-stop strategies. But Berger, Hakkinen and co will have to pass Panis twice this afternoon when they make their other stops if they are going to beat them to the podium".
Berger appeared to be Panis's most significant threat, however Brundle noted that "Berger may have to come into the pits before he gets on the back of him". Further down the field, Brundle would comment "its a poor performance today from the Jordan's. Schumacher back there in twelfth, Fisichella in tenth. They've not really put to good use the very powerful engine they have at the moment. The afternoon is not over but they don't really have the pace".
At half distance, as expected Panis, finally entered the pits for his first pit-stop. After a relatively slow stop and being fitted with a set of used tyres he rejoined the track in . Hill was now the final Bridgestone runner to have yet to make a stop. He had lost a place to Häkkinen's McLaren, however continued to defend hard against the charging Schumacher and Alesi who remained right on his tail.
Irvine in the second Ferrari had been having a very poor weekend for his team. He had reentered the pits after his seatbelts had came undone whilst on the circuit. An angered Irvine could be seen grimacing through the open visor of his helmet as his mechanics readjusted his seatbelts. It had been a terrible afternoon for Irvine, having already fallen a lap behind the leader. As was bluntly put by Martin Brundle, "his afternoon is effectively over".
Meanwhile, the leading Ferrari of Schumacher continued to pressure his old rival Hill for fifth position. The Arrows driver's tyres had become severely worn and at the S do Senna, Schumacher forced his way past to take fifth place. Hill subsequently ran wide which allowed the Benetton of Alesi to also sneak past at the exit of the corner.
After dropping two places, Hill was finally brought into the pits. The Arrows team principal Tom Walkinshaw being described as "not a happy man" after putting a points finish in jeopardy after taking the risk of keeping Hill out on track for as long as possible. Hill nonetheless pitted in for tyres, luckily not being held up by the Prost of Nakano who had also pitted after his left rear wheel had dislocated from his car at the Arquibancadas. However following his stop, Hill had dropped down to eleventh position and was now in a position to be lapped by Villeneuve's Williams.
Meanwhile Häkkinen who was running in second position had made an unusually early second pit-stop. Shortly afterwards the second McLaren of Coulthard was also brought into the pits for his second stop. The early pit-stops by McLaren being described as a "strange strategy and I don't see them recovering against the Benetton's and even Frentzen, or the two Bridgestone runners". Ralf Schumacher in the Jordan who was battling with Coulthard also came into the pits for an early second stop. He exited the pits in thirteenth behind Hill and Coulthard.
At this point on lap 42 Villeneuve led the field ahead of Berger, Schumacher, Alesi, Panis and Frentzen. Villeneuve had been having a largely untroubled afternoon, however he slowed his pace right down when he encountered the backmarkers of the battling Hill and Coulthard. Whilst tailing these two cars for a number of laps, Villeneuve had begun to lap two seconds a lap slower than Berger's Benetton in second position. Instead of attacking the backmarkers, Villeneuve made the decision to pit for new tyres. In response to this, Schumacher in third place also made the decision to pit for tyres.
Alesi's Benetton also made the decision to pit for tyres a lap after Villeneuve and Schumacher had pitted. Berger, now leading the race was now the sole leader to not have come in for his second stop. Brundle of ITV commenting "I think the team's are following eachother's lead here to a large extent, they chose to do 17-20 laps in the middle stint. They've got to go now for a full 26 laps on their next set of tyres if they want to get to the end of the race. Why they chose such a short middle stint, I don't know".
Two lap after teammate Alesi, Berger made his decision to come into the pits. Frentzen became the last of the leading Goodyear runners to come in for his second pit-stop. Villeneuve continued to take it easy in the lead, appearing content to sit behind Larini's Sauber for almost a full lap before overtaking into the S do Senna.
The order now read Villeneuve ahead of Berger, Panis, Häkkinen, Schumacher, Alesi, Frentzen, Herbert, Fisichella, Hill, Coulthard and Larini, Trulli, Salo, Nakano, Irvine, Verstappen and Katayama. Schumacher's Jordan became the fourth retirement of the race when he pulled off the circuit at the entry of the pit lane on lap 52. Jordan designer Gary Anderson confirming an electrical fault as being the reason for his retirement to the media.
Villeneuve continued to cruise in the lead of the race, Martin Brundle had speculated he might have a "downshift or braking problem" as he could be seen to "not be attacking the corners". Brundle further described him as being "too casual and too relaxed when pushing the corners". Villeneuve's casual approach had allowed Berger to close within six seconds of his lead. However as Berger approached, Villeneuve subsequently improved his pace. Brundle believing him to have been "protecting the car".
Berger meanwhile continued to push, Larini conceding position to Berger much faster than what he did to Villeneuve, Murray Walker commenting on his "good manners". Villeneuve continued to encounter traffic as he lapped the cars of Verstappen, Irvine and Katayama. Berger continued to attack, further dropping the gap to Villeneuve down to five seconds. Brundle describing Villeneuve to have "put his brake balance a long way to the rear I am sure, he's got some hot brakes on that car. All four brakes look the same temperature, he is protecting the front brakes on that car". The Williams driver evidently concerned of a brake failure, Murray Walker reminding the audience " remember what happened to Heinz-Harald Frentzen in Australia. Out of the race when he could have won it, his brake disc exploded and took him off the track. We know that because of the softer tyre compounds in 1997 as a result of the tyre war between Goodyear and Bridgestone. A lot of extra load is being thrown on the brakes particulary".
Whilst Villeneuve continued to manage his brakes, Berger continued to attack, putting a forceful move on Hill's Arrows in his bid to get through the backmarkers. However Berger would lose further time attempting to make his way past the backmarkers of Verstappen and Katayama. However in being stuck behind the Tyrrell and the Minardi, Berger further compromised his chances for a race win. With five laps to go, Villeneuve continued to manage the lead of the race.
By the time Berger had cleared the backmarkers, Villeneuve had increased the gap to six seconds. Villeneuve had closed on the rear of Coulthard's McLaren, however Coulthard sportingly waved the Williams into the lead. Villeneuve then began to close on Hill's Arrows, however he was spared having to pass the car when an oil fire broke out on the back of Hill's car. With three laps to go, Hill trailed into the pits. The Arrows mechanics being forced to use the fire extinguishers to douse the flames at the back of his car.
Berger continued to push hard, however Villeneuve took the race victory 4.8 seconds ahead of the Benetton. Panis took the third position, scoring the first podium for the Prost team as well as the Bridgestone tyre manufacturer. Brundle describing Panis as having "the strategy of the day. A solid strategy by Panis, he's obviously listening to the Professor, Mr Prost, his boss. By far the best and most mature performance Olivier Panis has ever given in a Formula One car". Rounding out the final points placings where Häkkinen, Schumacher and Alesi. Winner of the season opening round, David Coulthard, could only manage tenth. Being described by Brundle as having an "awful weekend, not one he would want to remember. He won't be doing as many PR trips and visits as he did after Melbourne that's for sure".
Villeneuve was now the joint-leader of the world championship alongside Coulthard. He also opened up Williams's account in the Constructor's championship, his teammate, Heinz-Harald Frentzen had yet to open up his account in the championship standings after finishing the race in ninth position. Murray Walker noting " in the psychological warfare between Villeneuve and Frentzen, Villeneuve is very much on top".
The two leading cars of Villeneuve and Berger parked their cars at the beginning of the start-finish line. Villeneuve exited the car to shake hands with Berger, whilst at the same time his car comically began to role back down the hill in slow motion. Luckily a nearby marshall was able to rectify this. On his way to the podium, Villeneuve shared a few words with his fellow championship leader, David Coulthard before climbing into the pit-lane. Martin Brundle commenting on the bizarreness of the incident in saying "I'm not quite sure what they are doing on the track, usually they have to go into a parc ferme, if it was just the first three cars on the track then somebody would say its a new idea. I think somebody missed the pit-lane...".
Villeneuve briefly went to celebrate with his mechanics, before almost immediately being led away by Pasquale Lattuneddu, demanding that both he and Gerhard Berger get weighed before the podium ceremony as quickly as possible.
Standings after raceEdit
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