The entire history of Formula 1 is peppered with several hair-raising incidents that rose from the fierce rivalries between fellow racers. While the fans already know about the all-consuming competition between contemporaries like Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, Hamilton and Max Verstappen, there are some rivalries from the 1990s that deserve special mention when we talk about the top controversial moments in F1. One such example is that of the fight between German talent Michael Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve at the European GP in 1997, which ultimately wrote the fate of that year’s Championship.
During the 1990s, a European Grand Prix used to be held at Jerez, and some might even know that nowadays the circuit is famous for holding MotoGP races. At that time, Michael Schumacher was recruited by Ferrari, and Jacques Villeneuve was the lead Williams-Renault racer. Throughout the entire season, the Championship lead was being juggled between Villeneuve and Schumacher as the two were engaged in a neck-to-neck competition with each other. And it all boiled down to the very last race of the year–the European GP–which turned into the Championship-decider for the season.
In the end, major drama ensued during the European Grand Prix race weekend, and Michael Schumacher was eventually disqualified from the season’s rankings. Jacques Villeneuve grabbed the first spot and became the F1 World Champion while his teammate Heinz-Harald Frentzen got the runners-up trophy. So, what went down at Jerez in 1997? Let’s find out.
Jacques Villeneuve and Michael Championship fight resulted in the German racer being disqualified
It all started at the very start of the season when the Williams of Jacques Villeneuve was favored for the Championship victory by all F1 pundits as it had a competitive edge over Schumacher’s Ferrari. But I’m the course of the season, Villeneuve made some mistakes and Schumacher took good advantage of all the flaws of his rival Canadian, and the two were at par in the Championship standings going into the European Grand Prix. As the two readied themselves for the winner-takes-it-all final showdown in Jerez, the tension between them reached an all-time-high level.
Things started becoming awry during the Qualifying Session when the top three racers recorded the exact same timings down to a thousandth of a second. As Villeneuve was the first to set his lap time, he claimed pole position, followed by Michael Schumacher, and then Heinz-Harald Frentzen. As the race started, Schumacher took the lead from Villeneuve but on lap 48, the Canadian launched his attack to retake the top position. As the Williams racer attempts to go down the inside of Schumacher into the Dry Sack hairpin, the German turned in to block his opponent. The Ferrari hit the Williams’ left sidepod and went into the gravel. Schumacher had to retire from the race in the end.
While Michael Schumacher DNFed, Jacques Villeneuve was still in the race since the damage to his Williams was not substantial. Even though the Canadian lost out on the first spot, he managed to get the third position and a podium win. Following the race, Schumacher’s actions were scrutinized and he was excluded from the entire world championship for the season, and Jacques Villeneuve went on to claim the 1997 title.