The Monaco Grand Prix: Round 5 of 17 in the 1997 Formula One World Championship. Heading into the race, Williams driver Jacques Villeneuve led the Driver’s Championship by 20 points ahead of Ferrari driver Michael Schumacher in second place with 14 points and ahead of Williams driver Heinz-Harald Frentzen in third place with 10 points.
Qualifying saw Heinz-Harald Frenzten claiming Pole Position for the Monaco Grand Prix ahead of Michael Schumacher in second place and his team mate Jacques Villeneuve in third place and Jordan-Peugeot driver Giancarlo Fisichela in fourth place.
David Coulthard qualified in fifth place ahead of Ralf Schumacher in sixth place, Johnny Herbert in seventh place, Mika Hakkinen in eighth place, Jean Alesi in ninth place and Rubens Barrichello who rounded off the top ten finishers.
On race day on Sunday, the warm-up session was dry, with Williams taking first and second places. But about 30 minutes to go before the start, rain began to fall; Williams decided to run both cars with dry tyres, thinking the weather would improve, while Michael Schumacher set the car for intermediate weather conditions.
During the warm up lap, the weather worsened, and at the start, Schumacher was quickest. He led by 22 seconds on Lap 5. Behind him the Jordans, which both had the car set for rain took second and third spots; until they were both passed by Rubens Barrichello in his Stewart-Ford (who benefitted from the Bridgestone tyres which were better than Goodyear’s under the conditions).
The start of the race was catastrophic for the Arrows team as their driver Pedro Diniz who had opted to start the race on slick tyres, slid straight into the wall on the opening lap, while Diniz’ team-mate reigning Champion Damon Hill was involved in a collision with Mika Hakkinen’s McLaren on the second lap, therefore eliminating both cars on the spot.
Both Willams drivers went out of the race after they had to pit to change their tyres. Frentzen hit a barrier at the chicane on Lap 39, while Villeneuve hit a wall and had to retire on Lap 17.
Schumacher continued to build his lead until he had about 30 seconds advantage over Barrichello; then he backed off and began to maintain the gap. He made an error on Lap 53 at the Sainte Devote corner, in which he went down the escape road and lost 10 seconds, but did not lose his lead.
The race was stopped on Lap 62 instead of the 78 scheduled because of the time limit of 2 hours, and Schumacher won with a 53-second margin over Barrichello in second place. Eddie Irvine finished third after overtaking Olivier Panis who exacted some measure of revenge for Panis’ overtaking manoeuvre that had seen him get past Irvine a year earlier.
After losing third place to Irvine, Panis backed off in the closing stages and settled for fourth place. Mika Salo finished fifth despite denting his front wing on debris left from his incident involving Hakkinen accident early on, and also despite not making a single pit stop during the race. Jordan’s Giancarlo Fisichella finished in sixth place; who at one point was running as high as second place in the race.
The 1997 Monaco Grand Prix will always be remembered for the gap that Schumacher won the race comfortably, with a gap of 53 seconds from Barrichello who scored the first podium slot for the Stewart team in only their 5th Grand Prix. This was a fantastic achievement for Schumacher who achieved the first win for a Ferrari driver since the 1981 GP and also for Barrichello who showed that the Steward-Ford team exceeded the low expectations that many pundits had for them in their first season competing in the sport.
It is also worth mentioning that this race saw Salo scoring points and being the only driver to without making a pit stop for tyres, Frentzen score his first Pole Position in F1, Tyrell taking their final points in the sport, the last race of Nicola Larini and also the last race that both Stewarts finished a race together in the 1997 season.
And as the 1997 World Championship continued at the Circuit de Barcelona circuit in Spain, Michael Schumacher still lead the Driver’s Championship with 24 points ahead of Jacques Villeneuve with 20 points and Eddie Irvine moving into third place with 14 points in third place.