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

That day, Michael Schumacher ended up within the gravel after a slipshod 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 below 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 an alternative, he confronted an exterior problem from Ferrari, within the second 12 months of the Schumacher period. The Maranello workforce was nonetheless looking for the primary drivers’ title since 1979, but it surely was regaining momentum below 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 apply, 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 consequence when Villeneuve, Schumacher, and Frentzen all set an identical 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 remembers. “However the entire season was, and that is why it is one of many championships that will get remembered. You could not write it. In the event you wrote it then folks 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 perhaps 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

Photograph by: Motorsport Photographs

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

“Then it was only a loopy race, qualifying lap after qualifying lap. I virtually crashed a number of instances, getting nearer to Michael, shedding a bit bit, catching the [Ferrari-powered] Saubers who have been informed by Ferrari to sluggish 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 obtained 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 dust. I took a threat. Then I noticed that I used to be one metre nearer to him than each different lap, so I simply went for it. Immediately 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 an expert foul, it was not efficient. Schumacher slid off the street and into the gravel, and in contrast to Hill in Adelaide, Villeneuve was capable of proceed, though he was anxious 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. In actual fact 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.”

Ultimately, 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, your complete Williams workforce sported brilliant yellow wigs in honour of the coiffure that Villeneuve most popular at the moment.

“It was cool after I obtained on the rostrum and all the blokes had the yellow wigs. It made the second extra particular than simply profitable. After which there have been all the blokes in Montreal that had gone platinum blond, there have been a whole lot of them. That confirmed to me what it meant to different folks, what I delivered to them as nicely.

“So it wasn’t only a championship for me, it was additionally for lots of people and followers. And if you see that you just contact folks like this, you truly deliver them some type of happiness. Then I realised the which 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.

“Every thing occurred tremendous quick, from beginning F3 in Italy, going to Japan, going to Atlantic, profitable Indy, profitable 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)

Photograph 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 one more 12 months, it was obvious that some sort of punishment would possibly observe 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.

A couple of 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 saved the opposite. It nonetheless sits on a shelf in my workplace.

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

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

We jumped in a few taxis, gave the handle of the social gathering, and started driving – and driving and driving. We appeared to be midway to Barcelona earlier than we drove round what gave the impression to be an industrial property and at last discovered the nightclub.

The social gathering 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 way in which of native color. Inevitably folks 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 method 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 making an attempt to speak their method in – solely to seek 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 social gathering, however that stopped after we ran into one other convoy of automobiles at a roundabout on the outskirts of the town.

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

Photograph by: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch / Motorsport Photographs

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 move to their rooms, empty their mini bars, and produce the spoils downstairs.

Quickly a giant marble desk within the center reception was lined in dozens of little bottles of vodka, whisky and gin, and our impromptu social gathering started to get underway. Issues quickly turned a bit 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 will need to 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 good.”

Then it turned a correct social gathering. Irvine fetched an acoustic guitar from his room and tried to play a number of 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 making an attempt 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 purpose for it. There was no speak concerning the accident, it was simply having a great time and being barmen, serving drinks to everybody. It was enjoyable, he performed alongside, he was a great actor! And I am positive that part of him had enjoyable as nicely, as a result of he did take pleasure in having a great night time out.

“Personally in the mean time I believed it was cool, as a result of that is the sort of factor I’d have executed. ‘OK, you have crushed me.’ That is the way in which it was with Damon the 12 months earlier than. At that second I did not see what was coming proper after.”

Progressively everybody pale away and went to mattress. The final 4 folks left standing have been Villeneuve, myself and two household pals 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 through satellite tv for pc.

“The filming was powerful! However with the power of profitable the championship, you possibly can skip an evening. I used to be 26, so it was effective. Immediately it would not work, I might be in mattress at midnight…”

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

Jacques Villeneuve, Williams FW19

Jacques Villeneuve, Williams FW19

Photograph by: Sutton Photographs

This was within the days earlier than iPhones and the like. Just one digital camera 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 great mild.

“He used it to take photos, to wash issues up,” stated Villeneuve. “The story was, ‘It exhibits I did not do something unhealthy throughout that race, as a result of look, we’re pals.’ That is what obtained 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 earth championship, a punishment that in reality meant virtually nothing,

For Villeneuve, who not too long ago celebrated his title anniversary with a run in a 2021 Alpine courtesy of Renault, the recollections of that weekend are vivid.

“No, actually, that is the weirdest factor, reminiscence doesn’t age, there isn’t any timing in reminiscence. In the event you keep in mind it, it may very well be yesterday, there isn’t any 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 the moment. 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 worry all the time was that he would not respect seeing it once more – and would possibly nicely 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. Satirically 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 actually, we regularly say nothing adjustments in F1, however every thing adjustments, a lot has developed.

“However I have 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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