Monthly Archives: November 2014

Classic #jonesonF1: 1997 European Grand Prix

The most iconic picture of the 1997 European Grand Prix in Jerez

The most iconic picture of the 1997 European Grand Prix in Jerez

The 1997 European Grand Prix: Round 17 of 17 in the 1997 Formula One World Championship. Heading into the race, Ferrari driver Michael Schumacher led the Drivers’ Championship with 78 points, ahead of Williams driver Jacques Villeneuve one point behind in second place with 77 points and Heinz-Harald Frentzen in third on 41 points.

The European Grand Prix was originally scheduled as the Grand Prix of Portugal at the Estoril circuit but it was moved to Jerez when Estoril’s management had financial difficulties.

Jacques Villeneuve during qualifying for the 1997 European Grand Prix

Jacques Villeneuve during qualifying for the 1997 European Grand Prix

At the end of the qualifying session on Saturday, the three fastest drivers had all set the same lap time, the first time this had happened in the history of the World Championship. Jacques Villeneuve was first to set a time of 1:21.072, fourteen minutes into the one hour session. 

Michael Schumacher during qualifying for the 1997 European Grand Prix

Michael Schumacher during qualifying for the 1997 European Grand Prix

A further fourteen minutes later, Michael Schumacher posted an identical time. With nine minutes of the session remaining, Heinz-Harald Frenzten crossed the line, again with a time of 1:21.072. Under the regulations, in the event of drivers setting equal times in qualifying, the order in which the times were set is considered, with the first driver to set the time given precedence. 

Villeneuve was awarded pole position on the starting grid for the race, with Schumacher second and Frentzen third. Fourth place on the grid went to the reigning World Champion, Damon Hill in his Arrows, with a time of 1:21.130 and was 0.058 seconds behind the time of the leading three. Hill had been on course to get pole position but had to slow towards the end of the lap because of yellow flags due to an incident involving Ukyo Katayama’s Minardi. 

Michael Schumacher leads the field on the first lap of the 1997 European Grand Prix

Michael Schumacher leads the field on the first lap of the 1997 European Grand Prix

The race took place in the afternoon from 14:00 local time, in dry and sunny weather. Villeneuve started the race in pole position, with Schumacher in second. Just a few moments before the start of the race, a blue liquid came out of Villeneuve’s Williams. However, this did not influence his car during the race. Schumacher’s getaway at the start was better than Villeneuve’s and he had taken the lead by the time they reached the first corner.

Michael Schumacher leading the 1997 European Grand Prix

Michael Schumacher leading the 1997 European Grand Prix

Schumacher would lead 40 of the first 47 laps of the race. Frentzen also got a better start than Villeneuve and overtook him. Under the orders of the Williams team, on lap eight Frentzen let teammate Villeneuve past. Schumacher made his first pit-stop on Lap 22 and Villeneuve made his first stop the following lap. Both retained their positions.

David Coulthard ahead of Mika Hakkinen in the 1997 European Grand Prix after their first pit stops.

David Coulthard ahead of Mika Hakkinen in the 1997 European Grand Prix after their first pit stops.

During the first round of pit stops the McLarens swapped places with David Coulthard leading Mika Hakkinen and Frentzen dropped to fifth position behind both of them. The order of the leaders after the second round of pit stops on Lap 43 and Lap 44 remained the same but with Villeneuve closer to Schumacher.

Jacques Villeneuve trying to pass Michael Schumacher on Lap 48 of the 1997 European Grand Prix

Jacques Villeneuve trying to pass Michael Schumacher on Lap 48 of the 1997 European Grand Prix

Villeneuve went into Lap 48 less than a second behind Schumacher. Partway through the lap he attempted to overtake Schumacher at the Dry Sack corner. Braking later than Schumacher, Villeneuve held the inside line and was ahead on the track when Schumacher turned in on him resulting in a collision.

ITV’s then pit lane reporter James Allen  has noted that onboard footage shows Schumacher twitching his steering wheel left before turning right into Villeneuve. Martin Brundle who was in the commentary box alongside Murray Walker,  immediately saw that Schumacher’s move had been deliberate, saying, “That didn’t work Michael, you hit the wrong part of him, my friend”.

The right-front wheel of Schumacher’s Ferrari hit the left radiator pod of Villeneuve’s Williams – unlike the 1994 collision with Hill where Schumacher inflicted damage on Hill’s suspension – and caused Schumacher to retire. Villeneuve described the incident after the race “The car felt very strange. The hit was very hard. It was not a small thing.”  He continued but the damage to his car meant he was slower than the cars behind him.

Mika Hakkinen wins his first Grand Prix of his career at the 1997 European Grand Prix ahead of his team mate David Coulthard and 1997 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve

Mika Hakkinen wins his first Grand Prix of his career at the 1997 European Grand Prix ahead of his team mate David Coulthard and 1997 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve

At the time of the incident there were 22 laps of the race remaining. The slower pace of Villeneuve’s car meant that on the last lap, he had been caught by both McLarens, Häkkinen having regained second place from Coulthard under team orders. Häkkinen’s victory at Jerez was the first of his career.

Gerhard Berger finishing fourth in his final Grand Prix of his career at the 1997 European Grand Prix

Gerhard Berger finishing fourth in his final Grand Prix of his career at the 1997 European Grand Prix

Gerhard Berger in fourth place (in what turned out to be his final Grand Prix) was also catching Villeneuve but he did not pass before crossing the finish line. The final margin between Villeneuve and Berger was 0.116 seconds.

Jacques Villeneuve celebrates becoming the 1997 Formula One Driver World Champion

Jacques Villeneuve celebrates becoming the 1997 Formula One Driver World Champion

Third place meant Villeneuve finished ahead of Schumacher in the Drivers’ Championship by 3 points, and was World Champion of 1997. After the race Villeneuve stated “I did not fight then. It was better to let them through and win the World Championship. It is a good exchange.”

The 1997 European Grand Prix will be remembered as Hakkinen’s first win in Formula One after his 96th attempt. This race is also very special for me personally as this is the Grand Prix that sparked my passion and love for all things Formula One when I was seven years old and I am more in love with the sport now than I have ever been.

This race will also be remembered with the incident between Michael Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve that is still about and debated by many fans and pundits today. After the race, the blame for the incident was later attributed to Schumacher by the sport’s governing body, the FIA and he was stripped of his second place finish in the championship. Schumacher’s tactics were widely criticised by the media, including publications based in his home country of Germany, and in Ferrari’s home country of Italy.

Following the race, both Williams and McLaren were accused of colluding to decide the finishing order. Villeneuve stated that “It was better to let them through and win the World Championship.” The FIA determined there was no evidence to support the claims, and dismissed the accusations.

As of 2014, these are Williams’s last Drivers’ and Constructors’ World Championships in Formula One. And I should also point out that Hakkinen’s first win in the sport at Jerez in 1997 may have been masked with other incidents that happened in the race, but this would be the start of Hakkinen entering the prime of his career in Formula One and going on to winning the 1998 and 1998 Drivers’ Championships

And as the 1997 World Championship concluded, Villeneuve was crowned world champion of 1997 by 81 points ahead of Schumacher three points behind with 78 points and Heinz-Harald Frentzen in third with 42 points.

[Please Note Schumacher was disqualifed from his second place in the championship]

Marko: I’m “confident” Verstappen and Sainz Jr will deliver

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In an interview with the media today, Red Bull advisor Dr Helmut Marko is “confident” despite fielding an all-rookie line-up at Toro Rosso in 2015 that Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz are up to the challenge.

Having raised eyebrows with the signing of teenager Verstappen, Toro Rosso then took the unusual step of teaming the Dutchman up with another rookie in Sainz Jr.

The Spaniard, who won the Formula Renault 3.5 Championship earlier this year, is part of the Red Bull fold and beat out other drivers, including the more experienced Jean-Eric Vergne, for the second race-seat.

In an interview with the media today, Marko believes that signing Sainz Jr for Toro Rosso next season is the correct decision and feel he is the best driver for the seat especially after his performance in Formula Renault 3.5. Marko stated the following:-

‘Carlos has been with the Red Bull Junior Team for a long time. He’s had some ups and downs, but he convinced us by winning this year’s World Series title – and especially doing so with a record of seven wins.

‘Nobody in the history of the series has matched Carlos in that regard. He’s matured a lot in the last two years. Of course, we were waiting to see how the Championships were going. And then the test in Abu Dhabi in the Formula One car [for Red Bull Racing] was the thing that really confirmed to us he was the right man for the seat.

‘He had a very successful test this week. He did 100 laps, the speed was good and the technical feedback was good. He’s done everything we expected, so I’d say he was the natural choice.’

As Marko points out, Sainz Jr has been a part of the Red Bull young drivers programme for a long time and has up and downs during his career which you would expect from any racing driver wanting to get to the pinnacle of motorsport. I have watched Sainz Jr a few times this season in the series and is a very talented driver, deserved to win the series and what he has achieved this season has been fantastic for him and his career.

However, with winning the Formula Renault 3.5 series this season, it is clear that the maturity of Sainz Jr by winning this has impressed Marko and Toro Rosso alongside his test for Red Bull in Abu Dhabi this week that has secured him the drive with the team for next season and seeing his dream coming true by doing what was expected of him and to the standard he needed to too.

Further on in his interview today, Marko has downplayed concerns about the duo’s combined lack of experience as both will make their F1 debuts in 2015, Verstappen, though, has at least taken part in several Friday FP1 sessions.

‘We have a lot of trust in the drivers, but we also have a lot of trust in Toro Rosso, led by Franz Tost. He handles the situation and the education of young drivers very well. All of the preparation he did with Max was very good.

‘Of course, it gives us nice, bright future driver-wise – and also it means our budgets are not as affected as those of other teams!”

‘I’m looking forward to seeing these two young guys having their first season! We’re confident they’ll do very well. From the tests, the approach, the personalities, everything looks really promising.’

From what Marko has said today, it is clear that Red Bull and Toro Rosso have placed their trust in Sainz Jr and Verstappen’s natural talent for next season and they believe that Toro Rosso will be the perfect environment for them to mature and grow as people and as drivers while also delivering their potential in the sport in the process.

Marko believes that the preparation Verstappen has received since he was announced as a driver for next season has been great and you could argue expects the team to do the same for Sainz Jr in order to give their driver line up the best possible start to their career in Australia next March.

As Marko says himself, Toro Rosso has a proven track record of taking young talent and promoting them through the ranks of the Red Bull Programme, given them a chance to show what they can do in a Formula One car and have been successful in their approach with drivers such as Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat. But that also comes with a warning for both drivers in my opinion. If you cannot deliver the standard required by the programme in the timeframe they expect you too, then you will be shown the door just like ex drivers Sebastian Buemi and recently Jean-Eric Vergne. To me, that would be a shame for both drivers if that was the case and did not fulfil the potential that both of them have to achieve success in the sport.

But in conclusion, it would seem that Toro Rosso and Marko are happy to have signed Verstappen and Sainz Jr for next season and believe that they will deliver what is expected of them. They appear to be happy with the attitude and personalities for example of both drivers and they believe that will stand them in good stead.

However, it is important that both drivers do deliver on the track when they get the opportunity to do so. Of course as rookies, they will make mistakes but it is how quickly they can learn from them and improve their driving and performances as a result of that.

But it would seem that at the moment, the future is looking bright for Toro Rosso with two young and talented drivers that have enjoyed success in the junior formulae this season that has saw them make the jump to the pinnacle of motorsport.  The spotlight will be firmly upon them, but all they can do is achieve the best results that they possibly can in their first year in the sport and show why they was signed to the team in the first place.

And I really hope for their sakes that they get the adequate time to adjust to the sport and also deliver on the track when they need to otherwise their career in the sport could be over before it started and I hope that is not the case for Verstappen or Sainz Jr.

O’Connell: Caterham could be sold “within the next month”

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In an interview with Press Association Sport today, Finbarr O’Connell who is dealing with selling the Caterham F1 team has revealed that the team could be sold “within the next month”.

O’Connell took control of the floundering F1 team when it went into administration earlier this season and, turning to crowdfunding, was able to get Caterham back onto the grid for the season-ending Abu Dhabi GP.

With the team remaining a viable option for a buyer, the Irishman has revealed a possible buyer is lurking in the wings. In his interview with Press Association Sport today, O’Connell believes that there is somebody who really is interested in buying Caterham and could take over within a month. O’Connell stated the following:-

‘I am honestly talking to somebody who would like to take this over within the next month. This is somebody who feels the same as me, that if we don’t do something quickly then the team will drift away.

‘This is a credible person with credible backers, somebody linked to Formula One, and I am delighted about that. Talking to people with no Formula One involvement at all adds that huge risk factor, but this is somebody who knows it and who wants to do it.

‘They’d like to take it over with the same people and with the same infrastructure, as the same team, and that would be the dream result for me. It would be absolutely fantastic.’

From what O’Connell has stated in his interview today, it is clear that he believes that the owner who is really interested in buying the Caterham team within a month is on the same wavelength of himself and also for the team too. It would appear that the potential investor has everything that the team needs and also has Formula One experience which could prove very handy if the deal is secured and goes through legal clearance.

Alongside this, the fact that the potential investor is happy to take on board the team in the first place and then willing to accept the current personnel and infrastructure within the team is also great news to hear but as with anything in Formula One, nothing is secured until the finance and contract is signed and delivered but it would appear that Caterham are at least trying to take steps to secure their future before it is too late.

Further on in his interview today, O’Connell reckons Caterham’s will to return to the grid at the Yas Marina circuit has played a massive role in garnering the buyer’s attention. O’Connell added the following:-

‘The weekend advanced the talks with the buyer as they saw we are not just the concept of a team. They could see the people here are committed, together, that we’re an operational team, and that was really attractive.’

It would seem that Caterham racing in Abu Dhabi may have helped the talks between O’Connell and the potential investor. Even though it was a fantastic achievement for Caterham to even be back at Abu Dhabi and showed their commitment to securing their future, you could argue that O’Connell took the decision with the crowdfunding project to not lose their entry to the 2015 season.

As if Caterham did lose their entry to the 2015 season and a potential buyer came along, then they would not be investing in a functional Formula One team, but in the resources that are capable of allowing a team to be functional in the sport. And that to me if I was an investor wouldn’t attract me as much as the fact there is an entry to go racing in Formula One in 2015.

But overall, it would seem that O’Connell believes that if the potential buyer he is currently talking to is happy with the terms and conditions of signing a deal to keep Caterham into Formula One, then the future for the team could be looking brighter. However, nothing is safe in Formula One and until the potential investor has proved that he can take on the team and has the investment needed to carry the team forward and is happy with the legalities of the sale, all you can say is that the future is still uncertain for Caterham, but there is a prospect of hope there for them and I hope that it works out for them.

Vettel makes Ferrari debut in the F2012 at Fiorano

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Later this week, it was announced that Sebastian Vettel has completed his first laps as a Ferrari driver behind the wheel of a F2012 at the Fiorano circuit.

With his Red Bull contract still in effect for a few days in the wake of the 2014 season, the German was not able to take part in the post-season test.

Despite not running over the two days at the Yas Marina circuit, he spent a bit of time in the Ferrari garage getting to know his new colleagues. However just days later, the four-time World Champion has had his first taste of a Ferrari F1 car.

He spent Saturday running at the team’s private track behind the wheel of a two-year old F2012.

Vettel, who wore a while helmet that had the words “My first day at Ferrari” written on it, also had the pleasure of driving a Ferrari 458 Speciale.

He will have to wait until February, though, for his first official test with the Scuderia although a day of promotional filming could be on the cards before Jerez.

Overall, all you can say is that with Vettel honouring the terms of his Red Bull contract that prevented him from testing with the Ferrari team in the Abu Dhabi test this week, he has been able to start getting to know the team and then later on this week test for Ferrari for the first time.

Even though no information has been given to the press from the Ferrari regarding Vettel’s performance in Fiorano, I don’t think that this matters really. I think all that matters is Vettel has now gained some running in an old Ferrari and is starting to get to know his new team in preparation for the 2015 season.

And I have to admit that Vettel and Ferrari is approaching this in the correct manner, they are realistic with their aims for the new season but their focus should be right now getting to know each other as best as they can to get their working relationship off on the right foot (so to speak) and Vettel making his testing debut at Fiorano this week is the first step for them.

 

Sainz Jr signs with Toro Rosso for 2015

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Yesterday afternoon it was announced that Toro Rosso have taken the unusual step of having an all-rookie line-up, signing Carlos Sainz Jr as Max Verstappen’s 2015 team-mate.

In what is set to be by far the most inexperienced line-up on the grid, 20-year-old Sainz Jr will partner the teenager at Red Bull’s junior team. Sainz Jr, who tested with Red Bull at the Yas Marina circuit this week, will enter Formula 1 on the back of his World Series by Renault 3.5 Championship success.

In an interview with the media yesterday, Sainz Jr was delighted to have been given the chance to drive for the Toro Rosso team next season and thanks Red Bull for everything they have done for him. Sainz Jr stated the following:-

‘I am really happy to have landed the drive with Scuderia Toro Rosso. Ever since I have been part of Red Bull’s Young Driver Programme, this has been my aim and I want to thank Red Bull for putting their faith in me.

‘I have had a very successful season in World Series by Renault this year and now I am looking forward to taking the step up to Formula 1. I tested for a day with Toro Rosso last year and I liked the atmosphere in the team.

‘In the next few months I will be working hard on my preparation, ready to get in the cockpit in Jerez for the first test of next year. It will be nice to make my ‘official’ debut as a Formula 1 driver in my home country!’

It is clear for all to see that Sainz Jr is happy to have received the opportunity to drive for Toro Rosso next season which has been his dream for many years and to publically thank Red Bull for everything they have done for him to get to this point in his career is great to see.

As we all know, Sainz Jr has had a very good season this year especially being crowned Formula Renault 3.5 champion after an impressive showing and also being able to test for Toro Rosso and Red Bull and showing what he can do in a Formula One car and that has paid off him for him as a result.

As Sainz Jr says himself, his main objective is to work on preparing himself as best as he can for his first season in Formula One by working with the team very closely and getting ready to make his testing debut in Jerez test in the new year.

Toro Rosso Team Principal Franz Tost has welcomed the Spaniard’s signing, believing that while his line-up may be young, they have what it takes. In his interview with the media, Tost believes that signing Sainz Jr next season is the right thing to do and is pleased with how he has progressed during his career. Tost stated the following:-

‘With Carlos Sainz joining Max Verstappen in our driver line-up next year, we continue the Toro Rosso tradition of providing youngsters from the Red Bull Junior Driver Programme with their first steps in Formula 1.

‘I have watched Carlos progress through the junior categories, always improving as he moved higher up the ladder, culminating in a well-deserved win in this year’s World Series.

‘However, I also remember the day’s testing he did with us at Silverstone in 2013 in the STR8. He really surprised me and his engineers that day, with his mature approach and his speed.’

As Tost says himself, the Toro Rosso line up for next season will continue providing young drivers from the Red Bull programme the chance to show what they can do in Formula One. It is clear that Tost believes that the progression that Sainz Jr has made through the junior categories, especially this season in Formula Renault 3.5 and winning the series as well as his tests with the team have impressed them enough to sign him up for next season.

Even though I feel that the line up of Verstappen and Sainz Jr has the potential to move the team forward and could deliver the results that are expected of them, it could also be a line up that could deliver too. I am not saying that Verstappen or Sainz Jr are not talented enough to be there by any means because they are equally talented in their own rights.

But as we have seen over the past few seasons with the Red Bull Programme, if you cannot deliver when you get the chance, you are shown the door and I really hope that doesn’t happen to either driver and they are provided with the adequate time to seek and reach their potential within the sport.

But overall, the news of Sainz Jr signing to Toro Rosso was expected really. There is no question that he is talented enough to be there and has the potential to succeed in Formula One. Sainz Jr this season has took advantage of the opportunities he has been given and has delivered the goods.

He has now the opportunity to achieve his dream which is to drive in Formula One with the Toro Rosso team and the spotlight will be upon him to deliver and fulfil his potential on the track and repay the faith that Toro Rosso and Red Bull have entrusted in him. And if Sainz Jr is given the time to progress and develop, there is every chance that he will deliver once more and I really hope that is the case for him for as long as he is in Formula One, I really do.

Susie Wolff promoted to Williams Test Driver

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It was announced later this week that Williams development driver Susie Wolff will step up to a test driver role at Williams and also contesting two Friday practice sessions in 2015.

With Williams’ 2014 test driver, Felipe Nasr signing with Sauber for next year’s Championship, Wolff has earned a promotion within the team.

The former development driver will not only be entrusted with conducting extensive simulator testing of the FW37 but will also take part in two Friday sessions in the Mercedes-powered car.

In a statement to the media later this week, Wolff stated the following about her promotion as test driver to the Williams team:-

‘This is another step in the right direction for me. I am delighted Williams are recognising my progression, hard work and that it is performance that counts.

‘Williams is at a very exciting stage in its history and we are moving into 2015 with fantastic momentum, I’m proud to be part of the team.

‘I’ll be using my position to work closely with Felipe and Valtteri to make sure that the FW37 builds on the strong performance shown by the FW36.’

It is great as a female Formula One fan seeing Wolff gaining a promotion within the Williams team as a result of her hard work and determination. It is another step in the right direction for her and her career in Formula One and with the knowledge and experience he has already gained this season with the team, this will only help her as she tackles her new role within the Williams team next season.

Overall with the direction that Williams have been going in for the past season, the team are making even more steps in the right direction to secure their future and also get back to the front of the grid once more. It is clear that Williams believe that Wolff deserves this promotion and also to acquire and use her experience within the team already to better effect next season and I believe that she will do very well as a result.

Even though there is still a long way for Wolff to go to achieve her dream of racing in Formula One, her promotion to a test driver is another step in the right direction for her. And she should be proud of what she has achieved with the Williams team and rightly so.

This will only encourage and inspire Wolff to use this opportunity to get to the next step with the Williams team which is to race for them. And I look forward to watching her progress with Williams next season and showing what she can do in a Formula One car.

Hulkenberg will drive Le Mans for Porsche next season

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It was announced earlier this week that Force India driver Nico Hulkenberg will contest next year’s Le Mans 24 Hours having signed a deal with Porsche.

Aside from racing for Force India in Formula 1, the German will take to the track in the world’s most famous endurance race.

Hulkenberg, who will drive Porsche’s third 919 Hybrid entry, will also contest the Spa round of the World Endurance Championship in preparation for his Le Mans outing.

In a statement to the press earlier this week, Hulkenberg stated the following about driving for Porsche next season:-

‘Porsche and Le Mans – this combination probably attracts every race driver. I’ve been a Porsche fan for a long time and have been watching their return to the LMP1 class closely.

‘The desire grew to drive that car at Le Mans. I am very pleased the 2015 Formula 1 calendar allows for it and I’m grateful to my Force India Formula 1 team’s generosity to let me go for it. Now it’s up to me to work hard to satisfy both commitments.’

Overall, it is clear that Hulkenberg is happy and delighted to be racing for Porsche in Le Mans next season after looking closely at their progress closely. It is great that Force India have allowed Hulkenberg to take the opportunity alongside racing for the team next season and that racing for Porsche does not hinder his commitments in Formula One.

Even though many have been shocked by the news that Hulkenberg is driving for Le Mans alongside Formula One this season, I do believe that Hulkenberg will do very well and will equally share his attentions to both Le Mans and Formula One. And I really am looking forward to seeing what Hulkenberg can do in both series next season and I will be watching his progress closely.