The 1997 Monaco GP: Michael Schumacher’s 23rd Career Win
The 1997 F1 Season
In the first four races of the season, Ferrari appeared to be a better package than the 1996 season. Both Schumacher and Eddie Irvine had one retirement, and two podium finishes each. Not a bad result though the team was far away from a win yet.
The Monaco GP was next on the list, and it was one of the most challenging circuits where overtaking was next to impossible. Qualifying mattered the most at Monaco because even a P2 does not guarantee a win unless the car can get ahead at the start. Of course, there are many other parameters which come in to play, but qualifying ahead is one of the most important ones.
The Ferrari was expected not to find it easy at Monaco and it would boil down to the dynamics of the day. The circuit was well-suited for the Williams team which continued to be as strong as the 1996 season. For the 1997 season, though, Damon Hill was not part of the Williams team, and Jacques Villeneuve had the numero uno car. Frentzen joined Hill at Williams. All the chatter about Damon not being forceful enough against Michael Schumacher got to the team, and Hill was expelled despite being the world champ. A sad development!
The developments at the Williams camp notwithstanding, Michael would be vying for a win irrespective of Monaco being a well-suited circuit or otherwise. Could Schumacher win?
Let’s find out.
Did You Know?
Michael had a huge task at Monaco in 1997 as Ferrari had not won at Monaco since 1981. Back then, Gilles Villeneuve drove the Ferrari to a win against the stronger Ford engine powered constructors.
Jacques Villeneuve, Michael’s main title rival, is Gilles Villeneuve’s son.
The 1997 Monaco GP Qualifying
Track pundits and strategists would reiterate it time and again that pole at Monaco mattered more than anywhere else in the world. In that respect, Michael and the Ferrari team had to give their best to make it to the pole. The team responded well, and despite having a superior Williams on track, Schumacher took provisional pole from Villeneuve by three-tenths of a second. The pole looked solid, and there was hardly any chance of Villeneuve doing another run as his car shut-off on track.
Just when Ferrari were planning the pole-position party, Frentzen had other ideas. Frentzen, the least expected one, took away the pole from Michael Schumacher by nineteen-thousandth of a second. Take a look at Frentzen’s pole run.
Not only was the run impressive but he did it with one yellow flag for the other stricken Williams car, and a slow car on the track. I suspect a clear run would have led to a lot better time. That P1 brought Frentzen’s first career pole, and it was indeed a glorious one!
So, that’s how the grid looked—Frentzen on pole from Michael Schumacher at P2 and the other Williams of Villeneuve at P3. Michael did an excellent job too, as the other Ferrari of Eddie Irvine qualified one-and-a-half-second down on P15.
Now, it all boiled down to the race day.
Did You Know?
In the 1981 season where Ferrari last won at the Monaco circuit, Ford engines powered thirteen constructors out of the seventeen.
That was an overwhelming majority of cars powered by one engine manufacturer. Ferrari was a minority back then!
The 1997 Monaco GP – Race Day
All that Ferrari hoped for at the start came true as Michael pulled away to the lead. Both the Williams cars had a bad start as Frentzen moved into third place while Villeneuve into fifth. Two Jordans sandwiched themselves between Michael in first place and Villeneuve in fifth place.
Take a look at the start and the race summary:
Despite leading the race, the track witnessed something only Schumacher knew how to conquer – rain. The wet track added to Schumacher’s dominance. He had already earned the nickname of Rainmaster after his fantastic run in the 1996 Spanish GP, and he was expected to reign in Monaco too.
Schumacher did not disappoint his fans. He found a gear in the Ferrari which nobody knew the car had and raced ahead of the pack. There was no question of any car catching up as the leading title rivals Williams saw both their cars retiring. Now, it was just Michael and the other competing cars. Much like the Spanish GP of the previous year, Michael was in a league of his own.
The best part for the Ferrari team was the realization that even Eddie Irvine would be making it to the podium. The race was supposed to be a 78 laps affair, but because of the rain and the subsequent reduced speed, only 62 laps were possible in the allotted time.
Michael Schumacher won it easy from Barrichello in second while Eddie Irvine in the other Ferrari finished third. It was a great day for Ferrari as Michael moved into the lead in the drivers’ championship while Ferrari moved to the top of the constructors’ table.
Once again, as the rain levelled the field, the best driver won the race! Michael, the Rainman, did it again!
Did You Know?
In the 1997 Monaco GP, Michael Schumacher had a 74 seconds lead over Barrichello’s second-placed car.
However, Michael spun off at a corner but kept his engine running. He then rejoined and continued in the first place. That’s how the lead was just 53 seconds by the time the race ended.
Still a significant win margin in terms of time!
What Happened in the 1996 Spanish GP?
Incidentally, there were a lot of commonalities between the 1996 Spanish GP and the 1997 Monaco GP. Both the races were the first wins for the Ferrari team in the respective years. Michael won both the races and both were rain-soaked.
So, want to take a look at that race?
Well, here it is:
Back to the Pits
With the spectacular performance at Monaco, Michael did more than just win his first race of the season. He took the team and himself to the top. The season was far from over, and the Williams team would fight back. After all, they still had the best car around.
It would be fun to see the Rainman fight hammer and tongs against the Williams!
Questions & Answers
© 2020 S K