Sunday 5 August 2012

Looking back: 1997 - an underrated classic

A F1 season in which grids and races were tight and we'd enter weekends with no idea who would be on top; it could have literally been anyone from more than half of the grid. It was also a season with a close championship battle. And one in which tyres would often fall apart quickly and would have to be nursed through a race stint.

No, it's not now. It's fifteen years ago: the year of 1997.

When classic seasons in F1 history are discussed I often think that 1997 is curiously rarely-mentioned. It was an underrated classic. While much of F1 in the 1990s was characterised by only a small number of likely winners at any given moment, and often one team dominating, 1997 represented something of a renaissance. Perhaps part of the season's not getting the credit it deserves owes something to its being poorly served by statistics. For all of its competitiveness, it can only claim to six different winners (from four teams) in 17 races. But with cards falling the other way it could easily have boasted anything up to double those numbers.

Jacques Villeneuve,
some years later
Credit: Rick Dikeman / CC
In this year Williams Renault was the dominant force, but the Schumacher-Ferrari double act, joined this year for the first time by Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne, was getting into its stride and more than capable of making a thorough pest of itself. Then there was McLaren who, with Mercedes engines, was finally emerging from its post-Senna/post-Honda trough and was an increasingly consistent front runner as the year went on. Benetton and Jordan were both credible contenders for wins on occasion.

And further was the variable brought in by the Bridgestone tyres. For the first time since 1991 Goodyear had opposition in supplying F1 teams, and it could be argued that for the first time since 1984 (when Michelin left the sport) Goodyear had a serious threat to its pedestal position. If anything the Bridgestone was the superior tyre, certainly the more durable. And in this its debut season it could only count midfield runners at best among its customers: Prost (née Ligier, just bought by Alain), Stewart (also in its debut season) and the like; but the Bridgestones could, on occasion, bring these guys right to the sharp end. Heck, even Arrows nearly won a race on them. And Goodyear in response sometimes got its sums wrong, the resultant gumball rubber meant that 'blistering' and subsequent pace variation returned to the F1 parlance with a vengeance.

A few stats that do the 1997 year's competitiveness justice is that in eight of the 17 rounds the top 10 qualified within a second of each other, and in Austria no fewer than 14 cars made it within this mark. And the year's qualifying sessions were as nature intended: four sets of tyres each to use within an hour's session on low fuel. No 'saving tyres for the race' entered into it.

And if we take all those drivers who qualified on pole during the year, their lowest qualifying slots of the season read thus: Heinz-Harald Frentzen 8th, Jacques Villeneuve 9th, Michael Schumacher 9th, Jean Alesi 15th, Mika Hakkinen 17th, Gerhard Berger 18th. And in none of those cases did they have a technical problem, or face an ill-timed rain shower, or anything else like that. In each case they simply were not quick enough.

Michael Schumacher was an
unexpected championship contender
Credit: Cord Rodefield / CC
But the drivers' title battle became a game for two players: Jacques Villeneuve in the Williams versus Michael Schumacher in the Ferrari. And in many ways it was the perfect clash of personalities: the downbeat, unspun, outspoken Canadian taken to wearing baggy overalls up against the upright, industrious, almost computer-like Schumi. Some likened it to the famous James Hunt versus Niki Lauda rivalry of the 1970s. And it may seem odd to contemporary ears, some five drivers' titles later for the Schumacher/Ferrari partnership, that Schumi was the neutral's favourite for much of the year. He was very much seen as the plucky underdog taking on the guy in the superior car, at this point Ferrari had gone 18 years without a driver's title and 14 years without a title of any description, and to top it all off it was the company's 50th anniversary. Schumi was also helped by an extraordinary interview Villeneuve gave mid-season, which included some comments on Olivier Panis's recent leg break injury and the other drivers' reaction to it, that struck many as insensitive.

It was a season of incredible ebb and flow between the two, with neither being on top for long, and as soon as it seemed one had a decisive advantage there would be an astonishing switch of fortunes. But, strangely even with the year's competitiveness, rarely were the two in direct battle with each other on track during a race that season. Indeed, never in 1997 did Villeneuve and Schumacher share a podium.

Not that anyone expected it to be that way at the season outset. Most had grown well-used to single-team domination, usually by Williams, and following on from the Grove team's clean sweep in 1996 few expected 1997 to be much different. Further, Jacques Villeneuve was most onlookers' clear championship favourite. He impressed most in his debut F1 season the previous year (entering as Indycar champion) by winning four times and taking the title battle down to the final race, all the while becoming stronger as the year progressed. He was highly-rated in this period, much more than the diminished driver towards the end of his career was to become. And the guy who'd beaten him to the 1996 title, his team mate Damon Hill, had been shown the door by Williams for 1997 somewhat surprisingly (and even more surprisingly surfaced at the middling Arrows team). Some said that the decision by Sir Frank to get rid had been made as long ago as 1995, when Hill was enduring a particularly deep performance trough. The guy selected to replace him was young German Heinz-Harald Frentzen, someone with a big reputation, and many at this point were repeating (what turned out to be a myth) that Frentzen was quicker than Schumacher when they were sportscar team mates at Mercedes, almost by rote. If 1997 taught us anything it was that Frentzen's reputation outstripped his abilities somewhat, and he was never in title contention.

And as the year kicked off in Melbourne it indeed looked like 1997 would be a Williams, and in particular a Villeneuve, benefit. Around the Albert Park track he looked spectacular and his best qualifying time was some 1.7 seconds under anyone else's quickest, which just so happened to be provided by his team mate. The quickest non-Williams was not within two seconds of Jacques's best. But, within a few metres of the Melbourne race start we received our first indication that 1997 was going to be a season very different from those we had grown used to.

Villeneuve didn't get the best of starts, but then Eddie Irvine, Schumacher's Ferrari team mate, for reasons best known to himself sought to outbrake the entire field it seemed down the inside of turn one. He only succeeded in wiping Villeneuve, Johnny Herbert and himself out of the race. Thus scratch the guy who'd been expected to win at ease. Frentzen took up the lead and for most of the way looked perfectly capable of stepping in to win in Villeneuve's absence, even though he was on a two-stop strategy and most behind intended to stop just once; on strategy Williams' hand was forced by marginal brakes. But Frentzen's second stop was botched which left him in third place behind David Coulthard's McLaren - now thrust into the lead - and Schumacher's Ferrari. Schumi got out of the way with a late 'splash and dash' fuel stop (it was a design flaw on that year's Ferrari that its fuel tank was on the small side, making it close to running dry when on a one-stopper), but then Frentzen's marginal brake discs bit him, a front disc exploded late on and pitched Frentzen out. This all left Coulthard to canter to the win unchallenged, thus ending McLaren's win drought which had extended all the way back to Ayrton Senna's final race triumph in 1993. Schumi salvaged second.

The Prost JS45, a consistent challenger
in Oliver Panis's hands
Credit: MPW57 / CC
Normal service appeared to be resumed in the next two rounds, in Brazil and Argentina. Villeneuve won both, though rode his luck a little on either occasion. At Brazil he slid off at the first turn, which necessitated a nose change, but was rescued by a red flag that had nothing to do with him and allowed him to take his pole position on the re-start. And at Argentina he held off many quicker cars; Olivier Panis's Prost probably would have won had it lasted, one of the Jordans might have won had one of them, driven by Ralf Schuamcher (Michael's younger sibling making his F1 debut season) not contrived to drive into the other, driven by Giancarlo Fisichella. And Eddie Irvine was right on Villeneuve's gearbox in the late laps. Still, the points for Jacques were all the same and Villeneuve now led the championship by ten points, and it wasn't obvious where a challenge to him was going to come from. Coulthard hadn't scored since his Melbourne win, Schumacher had only scored two points since that opening race, and Frentzen hadn't got off the scoring mark at all.

But then the challenge emerged, and it came from Maranello. Schumacher finished second at Imola (behind Frentzen) on a day that Villeneuve's gearbox halted him, and then Schumi won brilliantly by routing the field on a day that the rain came down at Monaco (with Rubens Barrichello's Stewart a scarcely believable second). In that race both Williams, unfathomably, started on slick tyres and with full dry chassis settings. And both ended up in the barriers. All of a sudden, Schumi was leading the drivers' table.

Next up was the Spanish round, in Barcelona, and it was witness to probably Villeneuve's best drive of the season. As mentioned, 1997 was a year of a tyre war, Bridgestone's product seemed superior to Goodyear's, and in Barcelona Goodyear seriously got its sums wrong in trying to react. Without careful handling the Goodyear tyres on offer in Spain would blister rapidly, and on race day possibly only Villeneuve of those running those tyres understood what was required of them. He treated the first few laps of every stint as a sort of 'go slow', putting an initial gentle heat cycle through the rubber, and as a consequence got life out of them for much longer than most of the other Goodyear runners who dived in out of the pitlane for new tyres like they thought it was the object of the exercise. Villeneuve won with a fine drive of considerable restraint. In second place was the Bridgestone-booted Panis who'd climbed from 12th on the grid as the Goodyear runners faltered. Indeed, he again may have won, but lost a lot of time behind Mika Salo's Tyrrell early on and then lost more time late on when Irvine didn't want to be lapped. There was much muttering that this was Ferrari employing team tactics to help Schumi (who was not far behind Panis in fourth) but if that was its intention then it backfired as it only served to deny Panis an opportunity to take points from Villeneuve.

So, Jacques led the championship once more. And if anyone thought that he and Williams were now going to reassert themselves they were rapidly dissuaded of the notion. There was yet another decisive pro-Schumi swing. In Canada, the next race, Villeneuve started the 'wall of champions' fable by clouting it on lap two, putting him out, and Schumi won for the second time that year. Though he did have a large slice of good luck as Coulthard lost the win by making a precautionary late stop for new tyres, only to fall victim to a clutch problem that didn't let him re-join, just as a red flag for an accident for Panis ended the race early. Sadly, Panis broke both legs in the smash, which put him out for most of the remainder of the year and thus deprived us all of a consistent leading challenger (indeed, Panis was third in the drivers' table at this point).

Schumacher therefore led Villeneuve in the table by seven points, and after the next round in Magny-Cours in France this lead astonishingly was extended to 14. Schumi won from pole, Villeneuve qualified and finished fourth, and rarely figured.

At this point there was a lot of head scratching in the F1 firmament. Just what was going on? How could Villeneuve and Williams be missing out so badly? Particularly to Schumacher and Ferrari who nobody, least of all themslves, reckoned would be equipped for a championship battle this year? Well, a lot of it was that the Williams team and its drivers were making mistakes, not finishing as many races as it should, and the Schumi, Brawn et al collective was perfectly capable of taking advantage as well as of making up some of the performance gap to the Adrian Newey-penned Williams car. Indeed, Brawn concurs that the team's mid-season form owed more to the failings of others than to them per se: 'The mid-season purple patch did take us a little by surprise and, looking back, I think that was because it was that Williams were getting something wrong...There was definitely progress made by default of others rather than our own major steps forward.'

The McLaren MP4-12 was the pace-setter
in much of the second half of the year
Credit: Petr Kadlec / CC
It could have got even worse for Williams at Silverstone, before a big helping of good fortune helped swing things back towards them a little. Villeneuve took the pole and led from the off there, with Schumi on his tail and the rest, stuck behind Coulthard's hobbled McLaren, being left behind. But then Jacques had a disastrous 33.1 second stop which left him in seventh place and Schumi apparently cantering to another win. However Schumacher then succumbed to his first, and only, mechanical retirement of the year when a wheel bearing failed. Villeneuve slowly made his way back up the order, letting things come to him as those ahead on one-stop strategies peeled into the pits. However, once all the stops were done there was still one car between him and victory: Mika Hakkinen's McLaren, who'd looked rapid all weekend. We were set for a titanic crescendo in the late laps as Villeneuve, needing victory, shadowed Hakkinen who had his long-overdue debut win close to his grasp. Some opined the Jean Alesi in third place was the most likely victor as neither Villeneuve nor Hakkinen would likely give way when Jacques's inevitable move came. But it resolved itself when with just seven laps left Hakkinen's Mercedes engine unstitched itself. This though was just the start of McLaren being a contender for the win just about everywhere in the second part of the season, especially in Hakkinen's hands. Fortunately for those around them the car often didn't have the reliability to match its pace. But for the moment all Jacques cared about was that he'd taken a chunk out of his deficit to Schumacher, now down to four points.

Next up was Hockenheim, then a curious track made up essentially of long straights separated by chicanes. And this weekend the championship front-runners stepped aside somewhat, as Gerhard Berger in the Benetton and Fischella's Jordan set the pace. The race was resolved in Berger's favour, a popular win for the veteran who was just back from an enforced lay off with a sinus problem and it was also only three weeks since the death of his father. Schumacher claimed second after Fisichella was stopped by a cruel late puncture. But Villeneuve again didn't finish, and indeed he didn't figure much on the quick track and eventually was scared off the road when Jarno Trulli (Panis's Prost replacement) threatened to pass. Schumi's lead was thus back up to ten.

Damon Hill so nearly won in Hungary
Credit: All Glory To The Hypnotoad / CC
Things soon looked even better for Schumi, as at the following round in Hungary Ferrari appeared armed with a new 'B-spec' lightweight chassis, and Schumi stuck it on the pole. But the race amounted to another 'Goodyear special' as its tyres deteriorated swiftly without careful nursing. Schumi was quickly caught out by this and one Damon Hill, always quick around the Hungaroring, with Bridgestone tyres booted to his Arrows quickly moved into a decisive lead. Indeed, a win which probably would have been F1's biggest shock ever looked certain as with three laps left he was upwards of 30 seconds clear of Villenueve in second. But then it seemed reality sharply cut in. A washer worth only a few pence got loose in the Arrows and caused a hydraulic leak. This effected everything on the car - throttle, gear changes etc etc - and left Hill to struggle on as best he could, but at a much reduced pace. Villeneuve was able to pass on the final lap, and Hill somehow got to the finish in second. Schumacher while all this was going on battled with blistering tyres to claim fourth, and we were given the frankly surreal sight late on of him having to fend off the much-quicker, as Bridgestone-shod, Shinji Nakano.

There then followed a concerted period in which Williams had the upper hand on the Scuderia. The 'lightweight' Ferrari never seemed quite as effective as the previous spec (though the team maintained that the spec-change was mere coincidence) and often found itself with a few cars, in the tight field, between it and the front-running Villeneuve. Jacques took pole in Spa and looked unstoppable, but on race day Spa's famously volatile weather saved Schumi. It rained hard for a short period just before the start, and Schumi, having started on intermediates when nearly everyone else went for full wets, routed the field early on when the track was perfidious and established a lead of close to a minute that never looked like being usurped. Villeneuve, again getting it wrong in the wet, trailed in fifth, behind Fisichella, Frentzen and Herbert.

Next was Ferrari's home round at Monza. The long straights didn't suit the Ferrari whose engine was a little behind on the grunt stakes, and when Schumi started in ninth compared with Villeneuve's fourth it looked like Jacques could count on pulling back some of the 11 point deficit to Schumi. He did, but only by one: Villeneuve finished fifth and Schumi sixth. It was an extraordinary race which was certainly close but at no point did anyone look remotely likely to make a pass (the problems of 'dirty air' in F1 were really beginning to make themselves felt). The onlooking Nigel Roebuck commented that it was like watching 'a high speed metronome'. Position therefore was dictated by the start and how much fuel you had on board, and come the end of lap one the result was pretty much pre-ordained aside from any unreliability. Coulthard won eventually, from Alesi and Frentzen.

But in the nick of time Villeneuve's season clicked into gear. He won the next two rounds and even better for him Schumacher scored just a single point in the same period. Firstly in Austria Jacques faced down 1997's latest amazing interloper performance, this time from Jarno Trulli in the Prost, who took the lead early on and took command of the race like he was born to do it. Villeneuve eventually usurped him (and Trulli dropped out before the end with a cruel engine failure), and Schumi could only manage sixth after incurring a penalty for passing Frentzen under yellows. Then in the curiously-titled Luxembourg Grand Prix at the Nurburgring in Germany Villeneuve won again, though helped by a massive slab of luck when the McLarens who had disappeared out ahead with Hakkinen first both stopped within a lap of each other with engine failures. Schumi, meanwhile, didn't last beyond lap two having been clouted by his flying brother Ralf at the first corner.

So, with two rounds left Villeneuve led Schumi by nine points, and with Ferrari beleaguered most assumed that the destination of the drivers' title was set. But we should have known better; a couple more twists awaited.

Everyone pitched up at Suzuka in Japan and found quickly that Ferrari hadn't given up on the title, as the team appeared with a revised machine, which seemed to stretch the wording of chassis flexing rules (some things never change). In any case, the red cars were bang on the pace and, moreover, Villeneuve then blasted a hole in his own foot in practice. In Imola and Monza earlier in the year Villeneuve had neglected to slow for yellow flags in practice sessions, and thus was on a suspended one-race ban (his final warning in other words). And in Suzuka he somehow contrived to do exactly the same again, thus the outcome was inevitable and Villeneuve it seemed couldn't count on any points from the Japanese round. Williams appealed the decision, primarily it seemed so Villeneuve could race pending appeal and thus influence the race however he could.

So it came to pass in the race that Villeneuve, having led from pole from Schumi in second, sought to back up the field hoping that with cars around Schumi anything could happen. But his plans were foiled, first by Eddie Irvine, a Suzuka specialist, who managed to sail past Villeneuve and disappear into the distance. Then Schumacher got ahead of Villeneuve at the first stops, and Irvine was given the 'phone call', letting Schumi past then slowing to 'back up' Villeneuve disastrously. Schumi won, Villeneuve only got fifth and he had to discount the points for it as Williams as expected withdrew his race ban appeal after the chequered flag.

Thus Schumi and Jacques went to the final round only a point apart, and with Schumi ahead. The showdown was at the curious location of Jerez in Spain (that Alonso-mania had yet to happen ensured a sparse crowd); Renault was about to pull out of the sport and thus requested a European round for its send-off and Jerez was a late replacement after Estoril in Portugal was deemed unsuitable on safety grounds. And in qualifying the tight, unbelievable 1997 season reached its crescendo. Villeneuve, Schumacher and Frentzen set exactly the same best qualifying time at the front, and thus their starting slots (in that order) were dictated by the order in which they set their mark.

Therefore Villeneuve and Schumi were perfectly poised, starting on the front row and the winner taking it all. And when Schumi got the much better start and quickly led by a few seconds many thought that would be that. Villeneuve however got back on Schumi's tail helped by Frentzen staying out longer before his first pit stop and backing Schumi into Villeneuve. But then the gap stretched out again when Norberto Fontana's Sauber took a while to get out of Villeneuve's way when being lapped (Sauber used Ferrari engines and Fontana later was to claim that Ferrari team principal Jean Todt had ordered him to impede Villeneuve). Thus, Schumi remained ahead after the final stops and it seemed little could stop him.

But then Villeneuve scampered quickly onto Schumacher's tail once again. And almost immediately he targeted his car for the inside of Schumacher at the Dry Sack hairpin, outbraking him from what seemed a mile back. It looked like he had him clean, but then Schumi it appeared simply aimed his car at Villeneuve on the way through, seemingly in a moment of panic. But the biter got bitten, and Schumi found himself beached in a gravel trap with Villeneuve, his car damaged, able to continue.

It wasn't clear why Villeneuve had got so close in the first place. Brawn said Schumi was simply taking it easy on new tyres so not to suffer blistering towards the end, and hadn't expected Villeneuve's attack to come so soon. Schumi's team mate Eddie Irvine typically was more blunt: 'Michael really screwed up because he got overconfident. He did his final pit stop, he thought "I'm there". So he backed off, partly also because he was scared of blistering his tyres, but he let Jacques get too close. If there is one driver you don't want to allow to get too close it's Jacques...That move also for me deserved the world championship. There is not another driver on the grid who would have come from that far back to make that move. Because one thing Jacques did have was big balls.' It emerged years later too that Schumi wouldn't have made it to the end anyway due to a terminal water leak, so may have been minded not to let Villeneuve finish either.

Whatever the case, Villeneuve now only needed to finish sixth to be world champion, and he struggled on with hobbled machinery to come third in the end, with Mika Hakkinen taking his first ever win in what looked an arranged outcome between Williams and McLaren.

As one journalist noted, the story was just like that of a spaghetti western - the guy who we all thought was the baddie had it fact shown himself at the last to be the good guy after all (and vice versa). And the move was doubly-bad for Schumacher as it shed new light on the clash with Damon Hill at Adelaide that had settled the title in his favour three years earlier. Many had given him the benefit of the doubt then but in light of the Jerez evidence did not any longer.

But the closing of the 1997 season meant the end of an era in many ways. For one, Williams, the sport's standard bearers for many a year, was never quite the same again. Adrian Newey had left the team before the season start to join McLaren after a spell of 'gardening leave', and its engine supplier Renault pulled out of the sport at the season end. Particularly due to the first part, Williams was never again the sport's dominant force: some wins followed, but no titles, nor even much of a threat of them, and indeed there was no wins at all for the team in the next three seasons. And for Villeneuve there was no more victories: he stayed at Williams for another year before making the disastrous career move of joining BAR, where his fortunes entered a downward spiral. Don't let anyone tell you that F1 is predictable.

And for 1998 things returned to as we'd got used to. Much of 1997's close order could be explained by relative rule stability, going back to the raft of technical changes which followed Ayrton Senna's death in 1994. In that situation teams behind can over time learn the lessons of what is making the front runners quick, and adapt accordingly, and of course the front runners' learning curves are shallower. But in 1998 there awaited fundamental changes forcing everyone back to base camp, with the introduction of a narrower track and grooved tyres (for reasons I've never fully understood). This succeeded only in splitting the field apart once more.

Thus 1997 stands rather alone in this era, something of an oasis in a desert if you will. It was a close, unpredictable and exciting season, and refreshing especially because such a high proportion of the field were credible competitors for strong results and even for wins. And it's credible competitors that make a sport healthy. The 1997 year was indeed a classic.


  1. Wonderful. It's difficult to find a solid, unbiased recount of this fantastic season. As a Canadian, I always find myself disappointed that this year is constantly overlooked as one of the greats. I greatly appreciate it!

    1. Thanks very much Geoffrey for the kind words. Glad you liked the article :) Yes, it seems 1997 is rather overlooked. Hopefully it'll be rediscovered more widely one of these days!

  2. First of all Graham let me thank you for all those great memories. I really miss that Formula One I knew in the 90s. Incredible how things have changed. My favourite F1 drivers ever are from those days: Alesi, Villeneuve, Panis, Hill, Wurz and Coulthard. Not to mention the teams for which I always felt admiration and sympathy for: Tyrrell, Arrows, Benetton, Minardi, Stewart and Prost (former Ligier).

    No KERS, no DRS, no Q1, Q2 or Q3, no penalties for engine or gearbox changes. Anyway :(

    Now that Graham mentioned that incident between Hill and Schumacher at Adelaide, there was a fact that always called my attention; why Williams team didn't say to Damon that Michael had had an incident and his car was severely damaged in order to be careful with him.

    Once again Graham, thank you, great article.

    1. Thanks very much for your nice words Mario. Very much appreciated.

      Interesting question on the Schumacher/Hill clash in Adelaide '94. I'd have thought the main reason there wasn't a radio message to Hill is because it all happened so quickly! If you watch it, it can't be more than 2-3 seconds between Schumi hitting the wall and the clash with Hill happening, so not even the most quick-witted person could have thought to get on the radio to Hill, to tell Hill that he didn't have to pass right away, and for Hill to comprehend the message, in that time. Also part of it may be that I remember Martin Brundle saying that when he was racing in F1 (he retired from F1 in 1996) the radio wasn't used nearly as much as it is today, mainly because they didn't work as well as now and there was a risk radio messages would be misunderstood.

  3. 1997 was one of my favourite seasons. I feel we are at a similar stage now and again the close & unpredictable racing will be undone by the 2014 rule changes.

    1. Let's hope not Chris, but you're right that is a risk initially from the big rule changes that await in 2014, one team may get it right immediately and be miles ahead of the rest.

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  5. Absolutely cracking read Graham! 1997 was the beginning of my F1 love affair, but as a six year old, it's hard for me to draw many clear memories from it. My favourite though, was arriving home late from church to find that Jarno Trulli was leading in Austria, which as a 6 year old I could never get my head round.

    This season was the reason I became a Villeneuve fan/sympathiser for life, after all as you said, the narrative became that of good vanquishing bad which left quite a memorable impression on a young me.

    I look at the whole 1997 to 2001 era with many fond memories, for me personally it's the golden age of Formula One, perhaps because it's simply *my* generation from my childhood, or because of it's relative competitiveness compared to the Ferrari dominance era that followed, or hell maybe its old yellow FOM graphics! Not to mention what Mario touched on with the many privateer teams each with their charismatic owners.


    1. Thanks very much Geoff, very nice of you to say so.

      I've heard lot of people say to me on Twitter and elsewhere that 1997 was the season that got them hooked on F1. It makes sense since it was such an absorbing year. Indeed, I've got a similar story myself: while I first got hooked on F1 in 1986 (I was six - showing my age!) I grew up a massive Ayrton Senna fan, and after Imola '94 I was still an F1 fan but not as close a fan as I had been. It was the 1997 season that turned me back into an obsessive F1 fan!

  6. I think that in some way we can compare 1997 to 2007 and 08 but never with 98, 98 started with domination like 1997 but there were racing cars overtook each other for many different reasons in some ways i cant compare 97 with 2012 but 98 with 2012 it makes more sense, but from your "piece" i can understand what you see in 1997, the same thing as my self i'm just a year younger.

  7. Great post, good research!
    1997 was never underestimated by me. Nice and recognizable cars, a thrilling title battle, a very competitive field, tire issues (the first real tire war) and a lot of engine blow-ups: I think it was Formula 1 at its best.