The night time Schumacher tried to make associates with Villeneuve, 25 years on

That day, Michael Schumacher ended up within the gravel after a careless blocking transfer on Villeneuve backfired, leaving the Canadian free and clear to safe the title. Three years after his conflict with Damon Hill in Adelaide, Schumacher was once more beneath hearth from all sides.

What’s much less well-known is what occurred later that night, and the way Michael tried to clean the waters with the brand new world champion.

The 1997 season had been all about Villeneuve and Schumacher. Having misplaced out to Williams teammate Hill the earlier 12 months, Villeneuve had utterly destroyed his new companion, Heinz-Harald Frentzen.

As a substitute, he confronted an exterior problem from Ferrari, within the second 12 months of the Schumacher period. The Maranello crew was nonetheless trying to find the primary drivers’ title since 1979, but it surely was regaining momentum beneath Ross Brawn’s technical management.

The title battle took an additional twist on the penultimate spherical in Suzuka, the place Villeneuve confronted a penalty for a yellow flag offence in observe, and finally got here away with no factors. That meant Schumacher was forward as we went to the final race, the European GP in Jerez.

Qualifying produced a rare final result when Villeneuve, Schumacher, and Frentzen all set equivalent laptimes of 1m21.072s, a weird phenomenon not seen earlier than or since. Villeneuve did it first, so he was on pole.

“It was a Hollywood situation,” Villeneuve recollects. “However the entire season was, and that is why it is one of many championships that will get remembered. You could not write it. If you happen to wrote it then individuals will say why do they write one thing like this? After all, it can’t occur.

“However sure it did. Apparently, the FIA had one other digit, but it surely does not depend for the grid. I am undecided what that final digit was, however I used to be happier to not know, as a result of possibly it may have been another person!”

The race itself unfolded completely for the championship, with Schumacher main, and – as soon as he had handed Frentzen after making a nasty begin – Villeneuve searching him down in second.

Jacques Villeneuve, Williams FW19 following Michael Schumacher, Ferrari F310B

Jacques Villeneuve, Williams FW19 following Michael Schumacher, Ferrari F310B

Picture by: Motorsport Pictures

“We had imagined 1,000,000 plans, and clearly none of them occurred!,” says Villeneuve. “I bought into Flip 1 with Heinz-Harald, we did not know what to do or who must be in entrance, and it did not work out properly.

“Then it was only a loopy race, qualifying lap after qualifying lap. I virtually crashed just a few instances, getting nearer to Michael, shedding just a little bit, catching the [Ferrari-powered] Saubers who have been informed by Ferrari to gradual me down – so Norberto Fontana spent a lap slowing me down.”

Villeneuve knew that he needed to cross Schumacher to ensure himself the title, and he select his timing with care.

“I may see all race that I used to be braking quite a bit later than Michael, so I may try a kamikaze transfer. If I bought a metre nearer on the finish of the again straight, I may go for it. I knew I may shock him, and the one option to overtake him was to shock him. I did my pitstop after him, placed on new tyres, and I knew I had two laps on new rubber to do it, and that was it.

“On that lap I got here out of the high-speed nook earlier than the again straight, I stayed on it, and even went into the filth. I took a danger. Then I noticed that I used to be one metre nearer to him than each different lap, so I simply went for it. Out of the blue he realised I used to be there, so he turned away, after which he turned in once more. He did it badly, as a result of he did not hit my wheels, he hit my sidepod…”

As knowledgeable foul, it was not efficient. Schumacher slid off the highway and into the gravel, and in contrast to Hill in Adelaide, Villeneuve was in a position to proceed, though he was fearful for some time.

“The automobile jumped within the air, I nonetheless managed to remain on the observe fortunately, however then I slowed down as a result of I believed one thing was damaged. Actually the battery mounts have been damaged, and it was solely hanging on by {the electrical} cables. I used to be simply kissing the brakes, hitting them slowly, simply to drive the automobile softly. It is a good factor I did, as a result of in any other case I’d not have completed.”

In the long run, he dropped again to 3rd, as McLaren drivers Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard went previous in a fastidiously choreographed transfer, however that was what he wanted to ensure himself the title.

As he stood on the underside step of the rostrum, all the Williams crew sported shiny yellow wigs in honour of the coiffure that Villeneuve most well-liked at the moment.

“It was cool once I bought on the rostrum and all the blokes had the yellow wigs. It made the second extra particular than simply successful. After which there have been all the blokes in Montreal that had gone platinum blond, there have been lots of of them. That confirmed to me what it meant to different individuals, what I delivered to them as properly.

“So it wasn’t only a championship for me, it was additionally for lots of people and followers. And once you see that you just contact individuals like this, you truly convey them some type of happiness. Then I realised the that means of it. I did not till then. I realised after receiving a name from the Prime Minister of Canada, that is when it sunk in that this was particular.

“The whole lot occurred tremendous quick, from beginning F3 in Italy, going to Japan, going to Atlantic, successful Indy, successful F1. The ball was rolling and the height was reached tremendous quick.”

Michael Schumacher (Ferrari F310B), Jacques Villeneuve (Williams FW19 Renault)

Michael Schumacher (Ferrari F310B), Jacques Villeneuve (Williams FW19 Renault)

Picture by: LAT Photographic

That afternoon temper within the Ferrari camp was downbeat, to say the least. Not solely had Schumacher misplaced the title and the post-1979 wait been prolonged for an additional 12 months, it was obvious that some form of punishment would possibly comply with if FIA President Max Mosley pursued the matter.

Then there was the unlucky matter of the 1000’s of “Michael Schumacher 1997 world champion” hats that had been produced by his overconfident supervisor, Willi Weber.

Just a few samples have been within the Ferrari motorhome, and my roommate Eddie Irvine managed to liberate a pair for me. I gave one to Villeneuve’s engineer Jock Clear, who promptly put it on as he strolled across the paddock, and stored the opposite. It nonetheless sits on a shelf in my workplace.

Jerez was additionally an enormous story as a result of this was the final race for Renault as a works engine provider, in the interim at the very least, and the French producer had organized an enormous occasion for Sunday night time – which now was a de facto victory celebration. In distinction, that night’s Marlboro occasion would change into one thing of a wake for the Ferrari people.

Together with many of the drivers, Villeneuve was staying within the Montecastillo Resort on the circuit. That night he dined together with his entourage, together with supervisor Craig Pollock, buddy and racer Patrick Lemarie, physio Erwin Gollner, and a few others. I joined them as they completed, and we determined it was time to go for the Renault operate.

We jumped in a few taxis, gave the deal with of the occasion, and commenced driving – and driving and driving. We appeared to be midway to Barcelona earlier than we drove round what seemed to be an industrial property and eventually discovered the nightclub.

The occasion was open to all members of the F1 paddock, however Renault had forgotten to ask anyone else, so there wasn’t a lot in the best way of native color. Inevitably individuals came to visit to our desk to congratulate Villeneuve, after which simply as issues have been beginning to heat up, the lights got here on, and it was introduced that the bar was closed – and it was barely previous midnight.

As we made our means out we handed a queue of what appeared like 200 mechanics from up and down the pitlane who had lastly completed their day’s work, have been up for an evening out, and have been nonetheless attempting to speak their means in – solely to search out it that was already sport over.

The Villeneuve posse climbed into a few taxis, and we headed again to Jerez. It was now a query of discovering someplace with a little bit of Sunday night time motion in what’s a sleepy city, even on a race weekend. There was in all probability some speak of crashing the Marlboro occasion, however that stopped after we ran into one other convoy of automobiles at a roundabout on the outskirts of town.

It was Schumacher, Irvine and the remainder of the Ferrari people. Their very own occasion had completed, they usually have been additionally searching for someplace to go. We in contrast notes, and there was one reply – again to the lodge and we’ll occasion there.

Jacques Villeneuve, Williams, celebrates becoming World Champion with McLaren Mercedes drivers David Coulthard and Mika Hakkinen

Jacques Villeneuve, Williams, celebrates changing into World Champion with McLaren Mercedes drivers David Coulthard and Mika Hakkinen

Picture by: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch / Motorsport Pictures

On arrival, we discovered that the bar was closed, and no quantity of persuasion from the World Champion or the runner-up may persuade the lodge supervisor to open it. Plan B quickly emerged, which was for everybody to go to their rooms, empty their mini bars, and produce the spoils downstairs.

Quickly an enormous marble desk within the center reception was lined in dozens of little bottles of vodka, whisky and gin, and our impromptu occasion started to get underway. Issues quickly turned just a little unruly, so the supervisor modified his thoughts and opened up the bar – and since he did not have anybody to run it, Villeneuve and Schumacher took over. I gave Schumacher a yellow JV wig that I had fastidiously stashed away, and he put it on.

“There was 20 of us and we have been making a lot noise that somebody lastly gave us the keys of the bar and stated it was OK, simply go for it,” says Villeneuve. “Somebody should have paid for it! So that they opened for the bar for us, however there wasn’t any barman, it was simply us, operating it. It was sensible.”

Then it turned a correct occasion. Irvine fetched an acoustic guitar from his room and tried to play just a few tunes – the intro of Pink Floyd’s Want You Had been Right here was about his restrict – whereas Schumacher’s physio turned some bins the wrong way up to supply bongo accompaniment.

Behind the bar the be-wigged Schumacher was all smiles and attempting to make small speak with a barely reluctant Villeneuve. It was a rare factor to see, given the depth of their battle on observe, and the controversy that was nonetheless brewing.

“It was unusual, however there was a cause for it. There was no speak in regards to the accident, it was simply having a superb time and being barmen, serving drinks to everybody. It was enjoyable, he performed alongside, he was a superb actor! And I am certain that part of him had enjoyable as properly, as a result of he did get pleasure from having a superb night time out.

“Personally for the time being I believed it was cool, as a result of that is the form of factor I’d have executed. ‘OK, you’ve got overwhelmed me.’ That is the best way it was with Damon the 12 months earlier than. At that second I did not see what was coming proper after.”

Steadily everybody light away and went to mattress. The final 4 individuals left standing have been Villeneuve, myself and two household associates of the Schumachers. We ended up having breakfast within the lodge restaurant, till Villeneuve was known as away on Rothmans obligation at 8am or so. Having had no sleep he now needed to conduct a sequence of worldwide TV interviews by way of satellite tv for pc.

“The filming was powerful! However with the vitality of successful the championship, you’ll be able to skip an evening. I used to be 26, so it was high-quality. Immediately it would not work, I would be in mattress at midnight…”

Just a few days later, because the political fallout over Schumacher’s transfer started to ramp up, photos of the lodge occasion appeared in a German tabloid. They confirmed Schumacher and Villeneuve apparently in a pally temper past the bar, as if nothing untoward had occurred just a few hours earlier.

Jacques Villeneuve, Williams FW19

Jacques Villeneuve, Williams FW19

Picture by: Sutton Pictures

This was within the days earlier than iPhones and the like. Just one digicam was within the room that night time, and it belonged to somebody very near Schumacher. Villeneuve’s conclusion was that the photographs had been leaked to color Schumacher in a superb mild.

“He used it to take photos, to wash issues up,” stated Villeneuve. “The story was, ‘It reveals I did not do something unhealthy throughout that race, as a result of look, we’re associates.’ That is what bought me upset, and I did not see it coming.”

If it was only a easy PR transfer, it had a restricted affect – after an FIA listening to Schumacher misplaced his second place on the planet championship, a punishment that in reality meant virtually nothing,

For Villeneuve, who just lately celebrated his title anniversary with a run in a 2021 Alpine courtesy of Renault, the recollections of that weekend are vivid.

“No, truthfully, that is the weirdest factor, reminiscence doesn’t age, there is no timing in reminiscence. If you happen to keep in mind it, it may very well be yesterday, there is no lapse. It may have been two or three days in the past. I do know it wasn’t yesterday, as a result of I haven’t got a hangover at this time. However that is about it…”

I nonetheless have my “1997 world champion” cap. For years I toyed with the thought of asking Schumacher to signal it, however my concern at all times was that he would not respect seeing it once more – and would possibly properly determine to not give it again to me.

In the meantime, Jock Clear additionally nonetheless has the one I’ve him, a prized memento of that season. Mockingly he went on to work with Schumacher at Mercedes, and later moved to Maranello, the place he nonetheless works.

“I keep in mind it prefer it was yesterday,” says the Ferrari senior efficiency engineer. “And truthfully, we frequently say nothing adjustments in F1, however every thing adjustments, a lot has developed.

“However I take a look at what is going on on right here and we’re simply doing the identical issues, and we’re nonetheless having fun with it, However 25 years in the past? That is loopy…”

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