The 1997 Canadian GP: Michael Schumacher’s 24th Career Win
The 1997 F1 Season
Ferrari got their first win at Monaco, where Michael Schumacher took the chequered flag. After that, Michael could only manage a fourth place in Spain, but was eager to get to Canada, the season’s next race. Michael knew that the Ferrari package was well-suited for the open Canadian circuit and he had a good chance to get to the top of the podium over there. But all was not that simple.
The Williams team had grown in strength and there was a visible gap between them and the Ferrari team. It was unlike the close contest between the Williams and Benetton team in 1995, and Michael would be well aware of that. Besides, the Canadian GP could turn out to be a strong race for the Williams and Jacques would have the crowd support at his home circuit.
The fortunes were stacked in favour of the Williams, and only an excellent performance from the Ferrari team could sway the needle towards them. Could Michael win the Canadian GP?
Let’s find out.
Did You Know?
Ferrari’s last two wins in the Canadian GP were in the 1985 and 1995 F1 season. In 1985, Michele Alboreto won the Canadian GP for Ferrari.
In 1995, Jean Alesi won the Canadian GP for Ferrari after all of the front runners retired. That was Ferrari’s only win in the 1995 season and Jean Alesi’s only career victory.
The 1997 Canadian GP Qualifying
Michael seemed to have got it right about the Canadian circuit. The Ferrari indeed appeared strong during practice, and they had to maintain the momentum on qualifying day. The Williams team was no pushover, and they would present a tough fight. But no one guessed that the battle would end up being so close.
Michael and Villeneuve were trading poles until Michael put up a lap which appeared to remain unchallenged. However, Villeneuve had other plans. Villeneuve drove his Williams absolutely on the limits and snatched the pole from Michael by fifty-one-thousandth of a second. Take a look at Villeneuve’s blazing lap.
Note: Video is not in English. You can mute and watch the provisional pole lap.
That’s as close as it gets, or so most thought. There were only ten-odd minutes left for the close of the qualifying session, and one wondered if Schumacher could do any better. Also, Villeneuve came out in the dying seconds of the session to get a better time, closely followed by Schumacher.
Villeneuve did not improve his time and was still on provisional pole, but Michael was on a hot lap and looked good to displace Villeneuve. Take a look.
Just when everyone thought that it was too close, Michael took the pole by thirteen thousandths of a second. From the looks of it, had Villeneuve kept his last lap clean, Michael would have had a tough time surpassing Villeneuve's time. But it was Michael's day, and he put the Ferrari on pole.
Now, to the race day.
The 1997 Canadian GP – Race Day
Jacques Villeneuve was the title leader as the teams prepared for the Canadian GP. A win for Schumacher and a second-place for Villeneuve would put Schumacher ahead in the championship by one point. So, Villeneuve had all to go for at the start of the race from P2.
The race was under sunny conditions, and there was no possibility of damp weather. As such, the teams and drivers working well to preserve their tires on the flat out circuit should see it through. The start was the exciting part where the crowd expected their homeboy to shoot past Michael Schumacher. However, that was not to be. Villeneuve had a pretty ordinary start, and Michael Schumacher kept his lead.
Here’s a summary of the 1997 Canadian GP:
A race which was expected to be a close contest between Michael and Jacques saw the battle ending pretty early. In the second lap, Villeneuve misjudged the last chicane to the start-finish line and hit the champions wall. With that Jacques retired and Schumacher was on his own at the front. Take a closer look at Jacques hitting the wall of champions.
Though Villeneuve was out, the Canadian GP was far from over. There were retirements all around, and the safety car was deployed once at the beginning. After the safety car and the pitstops, David Coulthard got to the front. The McLarens’ strategy appeared to have one lesser stop than the Ferrari’s, and if that was the case, David could be in place to win the race.
All appeared set, and the best that Michael could have achieved was second place. Michael went in for his final pitstop and came out behind David. David was called in for his pitstop, which McLaren later admitted, was unnecessary. The pitstop itself was not the cause for the trouble but the car refusing to engage in gear after the pitstop. That put David way down, and he ended in seventh place outside the points-earning position. A sure disappointment for David from a possibility of winning the race to finish outside the points.
There were no such disappointments for Michael though, who took his second win of the season. Ferrari finished first, followed by Jean Alesi in the Benetton and Giancarlo Fisichella in the Jordan. The William team’s best finish was a fourth-place for Frentzen.
Did You Know?
The only Canadian to win a Canadian GP was Gilles Villeneuve driving a Ferrari in the 1978 F1 season. That record still stands.
In the 1997 season, Gilles’ son, Jacques Villeneuve, was hoping to emulate his father’s performance at the Canadian GP. Ironically, his main title rival was driving a Ferrari and was the charismatic, Michael Schumacher.
So, fans could witness either a Ferrari win or a Canadian driver’s victory at the 1997 Canadian GP. Both together was not possible.
Back to the Pits
Michael’s win in the Canadian GP put him seven points ahead of Jacques Villeneuve. Ferrari was moving in the right direction with the car improving with every race. Not only the performance but also the reliability of the cars was improving. If Ferrari could keep the momentum going, a championship win wasn’t far-off. Could Ferrari and Michael Schumacher do it?
Only time will tell!
Questions & Answers
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