Atlas F1

1997 Formula One Review

Max Galvin, England

The 1997 season is over and it is time for the usual analysis of each of the teams and drivers.

TWR Arrows-Yamaha Bridgestone (8th - 9 points)
For the team that claimed end of season wins were possible, Arrows were one of the most disappointing outfits of 1997. Damon Hill's fine second place finish in Hungary was the highlight of a season punctuated by poor reliability from both the chassis and the engine. In total, of 34 starts, Arrows failed to finish 20 times and collected a measly 9 points. The arrival of John Barnard in the mid-season did little to raise their game and although the engine power increased, the Bridgestone rubber was the major factor in their performance. If you look at 1996, 1997 was a good season, but looked at alongside their predictions it was a disaster.

Damon Hill (12th - 7 points)
A less than successful season for the outgoing World Champion. Despite claims from both himself and the team that they were confident about their chances, at many times this season Damon looked both demoralised and unmotivated. The first race of the season ended before the lights went out and 7 retirements followed. Flashes of brilliance were followed by periods of apathy where Hill was outclassed by his journeyman team mate, Pedro Diniz. As the saying goes, "When he was good, he was very very good, and when he was bad, he was horrid".

Pedro Diniz (16th - 2 points)
Pedro arrived at Arrows after driving for Tom Walkinshaw at Ligier in 1996. At the beginning it was made clear that Pedro was adequate, but was mainly in the car because of the size of his wallet, but as the season wore on, this changed. With the poor motivation shown by Damon Hill, occasionally Pedro shone and proved worthy of his place in F1. Sadly when he was off the pace, it showed and he suffered 12 retirements over the course of the season. That Pedro was slower than Damon is not in question, but it will be interested to see how he compares against Mika "I'm faster than Schumacher" Salo next season.

 

Rothmans Williams-Renault Goodyear (1st - 123 points)
Williams were lucky to get away with the title this year following a number of mistakes that were well below what you expect from a team of their calibre. Still, the chassis-engine package was the best even if the Goodyear rubber was not on a par with the Bridgestone tyres. Once again, the biggest problem seemed to be in trusting their drivers. In 1996 it took a long time for them to allow Jacques Villeneuve to set the car up as he chose and in 1997, Heinz-Harald Frentzen suffered the same. Still, a team that wins 8 races in a season does not do so by good fortune alone and Williams still deserve their place at the top of F1.

Jacques Villeneuve (1st - 81 points)
Regardless of your opinion of "that accident" it is hard to deny that Jacques Villeneuve is one of the two drivers worthy of being called 1997 World Champion. Unfortunately the statistics show a lack of application. Of the 17 races, Jacques won 7 and retired from 6, meaning that in the 4 other races that he finished he only took 11 points, not what you would expect from a drive who is allegedly one of the best "fighters" in F1. However, 10 pole positions, 7 wins and 3 fastest laps show that he is one of the fastest drivers of the moment and will be a potent force in 1998.

Heinz-Harald Frentzen (2nd - 42 points)
Heinz-Harald arrived at Williams with the tag of "Schumacher beater" and failed to live up to the hopes of the team. There is no doubting his speed, but he invariably qualifies behind his team mate and takes the first third of the race to get up to speed. Unfortunately, by this time it is usually too late for him to get back to the front and win. A solid season, but needs to get his act together earlier in the weekend to mature into a team leader.

 

Marlboro Scuderia Ferrari Goodyear (2nd - 102 points)
It is hard to rate Ferrari because you never know what is down to their #1 driver and what is down to the team. Going on the performance of Eddie Irvine who is certainly a very fast driver, I would have to favour Schumacher's speed over the engineering ability of the team. This said, the end of the bizarre working relationship between John Barnard in England and the rest of the team in Italy and the arrival of Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne from Benetton should help them in 1998. Still, the team made many wrong turns in 1997 and was only saved by Michael Schumacher's brilliance.

Michael Schumacher (No result - 78 points)
A bizarre "punishment" handed down by the FIA and Michael Schumacher has, as a result, been removed from the results of the Championship. Without pondering on the accident, the Ferrari driver has had another classic year, with 5 wins in a car that was certainly not a match for the Williams-Renault combination. Sadly, his inability to admit to mistakes even when they are obvious ("the crash" being a major example) has lost him a lot of credibility in both the eyes of the press and the public. Currently there is nobody to match the German for pace or intelligence in an F1 car, as this season has shown.

Eddie Irvine (7th - 24 points)
After a dismal 1996, Eddie had high hopes for 1997 after being promised almost equal testing time to Schumacher. However, the jury is still out on Irvine is still out after a series of up and down performances. That he is quick is not in doubt (as the Japanese GP shows) but he seems to be unable to extract the best from a car and himself on anything other than those tracks that suit the chassis. Eddie is a great team player and did everything asked of him by Ferrari but his laid back attitude often shows up in his racing and as a result he languishes in the company of people he should be ahead of. All in all, 1997 wasn't a bad season, but Eddie himself has already said that it was not all it should have been and I find no reason to disagree.

 

Mild Seven Benetton-Renault Goodyear (3rd - 67 points)
After a dismal 1996, Benetton started 1997 with superb testing times and were expecting to be a title contender again when the season started. Sadly this optimism was unfounded and the team failed to get on terms with the two teams ahead of them and towards the end of the season was eclipsed by McLaren. The Renault was certainly not the problem so either the chassis or the drivers were. The arrival of Alex Wurz for the Canadian GP seemed to indicate that the latter was the case as he was right up with Jean Alesi from the start and after settling in was actually faster. That Flavio Briatore was reaching the end of his reign as team principle cannot have helped either. 1997 was the end of the Briatore era and despite results that other teams would give their right arms to have, Benetton should not have been satisfied.

Gerhard Berger (5th - 27 points)
From the very start of 1997, rumours circulated about the retirement of the popular Austrian driver, and a 3-race absence did little to stop them. A pole position and win at the German Grand Prix was the highlight of the season and perversely, the Austrian GP, the low point. Whether Berger was unable to get the car to work properly or the car just didn't suit the tracks is a mystery, but whilst 5th in the standings isn't bad, he would surely have expected more than 27 points.

Jean Alesi (3rd - 36 points)
Jean Alesi ended his first race having run out of fuel despite almost the whole team hanging off the pit wall to tell him to stop. Probably one of the more consistent drivers of 1997, Alesi retired only 3 times and completed more race laps than anyone else (944) yet only scored 36 points. This fact underlines the belief that the car performed radically different from one weekend to the next. Usually faster than Gerhard during qualifying, Alesi has a problem maintaining focus in race conditions and this lets him down. Another solid season, but not what it could have been.

Alexander Wurz (14th - 4 points)
Wurz subbed for Gerhard Berger for three Grands Prix in 1997 and impressed at all of them. Despite having no F1 race experience he was on the pace from the word go and made the efforts of Berger and Alesi look a little lacklustre. A fine 3rd place in his final race (British GP) made him one of the hottest properties in F1 and a remarkably mature decision to decline the Sauber race seat mark him out as one to watch. A great start to his career and I can only wonder what he would have achieved with a full Benetton race seat in 1997.

 

West McLaren-Mercedes Goodyear (4th - 63 points)
McLaren may look back on 1997 as the season when they started to win again, but I will look back on it as yet another season where they failed to live up to their promise. Sure, they scored 3 wins and had both drivers finish in the top 5, but the reliability of the cars (16 retirements from 34 races) was very poor and the cars usually dropped out when at the sharp end of the fighting. The arrival of Adrian Newey cannot completely account for the increased form, but they certainly owe their late season charge to his aerodynamic wizardry. Ilmor are the people I believe are the main reason for the improvement and also the main reason for retirement, with their engines being powerful but extremely prone to explosion. A good year and one which heralds the return of McLaren to the front ranks of F1.

Mika Hakkinen (5th - 27 points)
Both one of the most impressive and most disappointing drivers of 1997. Extremely quick over a single lap and remarkably fast in races, Mika, has suffered from the worst luck I can recall for a long time. He has taken poles, led laps and turned fastest race laps, but his maiden win was gifted to him by a slowing Williams driver. Of his speed and resilience there can be no doubt, but is Mika feted to be one of those drivers who will go down in history as "one of the best World Champions we never had"?

David Coulthard (3rd - 36 points)
David Coulthard has finished the season in 3rd place, 9 points ahead of his team mate, but most people would agree that he has been less impressive than Mika. The Scot started 1997 with a victory and this helped him to win the intra team war for the first few races, but after losing the Canadian GP because of a mechanical failure he seemed to lose something. Whether this was because Mika came on form is hard to tell, but from this point on David's form dropped. A second win at Imola showed a return to form but his Finnish colleague generally overshadowed him. There is more to come from Coulthard and if he can sustain the form he has shown sporadically throughout the year (including those demon starts) he will do well in 1998.

 

Benson & Hedges Jordan-Peugeot Goodyear (5th - 33 points)
Jordan were poised to join the big boys this year and but for an unlucky puncture and a small mistake by Giancarlo Fisichella at Hockenheim they would have scored their maiden win. After signing his new young chargers Eddie Jordan said that it was the best way to go and that the team would be able to steer them right if they got into any difficulty. While this sounded good on paper, in reality when the car failed to work well, the team languished in the company of teams they should have been beating easily, and the likely cause is that the team weren't able to fall back on their drivers for help. However, when the car worked, it flew and was easily a match for any of the others. Despite increased funding, the results didn't come, but the team has said that next year will be the one for themů the thing is, they always do.

Ralf Schumacher (12th - 13 points)
The arrival of the younger brother of Michael Schumacher was heralded by the press as the most significant debut since that of Jacques Villeneuve in 1996 and in testing it looked to be warranted. It didn't take long for the lack of self-control that had been evident in F3 and F Nippon to resurface. In both Argentina and Luxembourg he punted Giancarlo Fisichella off, in Canada he ran off on his own, and in Italy he caused Johnny Herbert to have a high-speed accident. As the season wore on and he was beaten by his team mate more often, his race performance deteriorated and his qualifying started to slip. At the start of the season he looked capable of scoring a victory, but at the end looked like a man in need of a break. 13 points are well below what was expected and he will be looking to improve in 1998.

Giancarlo Fisichella (9th - 20 points)
Giancarlo started the 1997 season with the tag of "second fastest Jordan driver" and initially this seemed to be the case. Whether his late signing and relative lack of testing was the cause of this, but regardless, for the first few races, Schumi Jr. seemed to have the better of him. Suddenly he came back on form and started to routinely beat his team mate under race conditions and towards the end of the season even started to outqualify him. At Hockenheim he appeared to be on his way to a race win until he made a mistake under pressure from eventual winner Gerhard Berger. That he will win is not in doubt, but he needs to learn to perform well when the car is not on top form.

 

Prost Gauloises-Mugen Honda Bridgestone (6th - 21 points)
When Alain Prost took over the team at the start of 1997, there was little he could do to affect the equipment or the drivers that his team would use, but what he was able to do was help the team understand what it takes to win in contemporary F1. From the outset, it looked like the team would definitely take a race win in 1997 and for until Canada were usually on the pace. At Canada however, the loss of their #1 driver threw the team and forced them to use 2 inexperienced drivers to develop their car and it showed. For most of the mid season, Prost struggled to get to grips with the teams at the front of the grid and it was only in Austria that they managed to reverse the rot and lead a race again. Looking at the form they have displayed, from time to time, 21 points is a poor haul for the entire season, but you have to wonder what would have happened if Panis and Trulli had been paired from the start of the season.

Olivier Panis (10th - 16 points)
Oliver Panis has always shown promise but has never had the equipment to excel in all his seasons in F1. The arrival of Bridgestone, paired with the already good Mugen engine and the neat Prost (nee Ligier) chassis, 1997 seemed his chance to make the step up to the big time. Sadly his season was destroyed when he buried the nose of the Prost chassis in a tyre barrier and broke both of his legs. Nobody knows what he might have achieved had the accident not happened, but it is certain that he would have visited the podium many more times.

Shinji Nakano (17th - 2 points)
At the end of 1996, Shinji Nakano signed for Ligier and, it was said, he was probably the best Japanese F1 driver so far. Unfortunately for Alain Prost, he wasn't and throughout the season, everything was tried to get him out of the team. While this may not be entirely fair on him, his lack of performance was astounding and it is down to him that Olivier Panis comes out ahead in the qualifying differentials. His Mugen and Japan Tobacco links may yet see him at either Jordan for testing or Minardi for a race seat, but I sincerely hope that we have seen the last of Nakano as he is just the sort of rent-a-driver F1 is trying to get away from.

Jarno Trulli (16th - 3 points)
Jarno joined Prost Grand Prix to replace the injured Olivier Panis and impressed everyone with his maturity and ability. Expecting him to be as good as Panis in terms of testing was unfair but the team feel he acquitted himself admirably. At Minardi he dominated Ukyo Katayama and may well be one of the reasons the Japanese driver has left F1. Leading the Austrian Grand Prix was his finest hour and I am sure if he had been in the car for the rest of the season, he would have been capable of repeating the feat. For me Trulli is the most impressive new driver of 1997 and the man to watch at Prost in '98.

 

Red Bull Sauber-Petronas Goodyear (7th - 15 points)
A good chassis, a good engine and huge funding should have seen Sauber move up with Jordan onto the next level, but their choice of second driver held them back. No less than 3 drivers have sat in the #2 Sauber and not one of them has been able to get on terms with Johnny Herbert. Where other teams have not been able to keep their tyres in good condition during a race, Sauber have had no such worries and as such Herbert has been in the points without requiring a high rate of attrition. Over the mid-season, development stopped and it was Suzuka before any significant changes arrived. This, as much as anything held the team back from achieving the results they deserved, but only just.

Johnny Herbert (11th - 14 points)
Herbert has emerged from the shadows of two dominant German team mates and has re-formed Sauber around him in 1997. Utter domination of all of the other drivers Sauber arrayed against him has raised his self-confidence and that of the team in him. Not in the fastest car, Herbert succeeded by conserving his tyres and managed to get ahead of those drivers who expected to be ahead of him. Not a great season, but a good one for "The Imp".

Nicola Larini (20th - 1 point)
Nicola Larini joined Sauber along with the Ferrari engines and was expected to be close to Herbert, but never really got on terms with him. Larini said that Peter Sauber had no interest in him and that the team ignored him. Unfortunately, his public criticism didn't sit well with Sauber nor Ferrari and he was fired, poor results cited as the reason. Sadly, this is the end of the F1 road for Larini, but it is a sad way for such a talented driver to leave the sport.

Gianni Morbidelli (21st - 0 points)
Gianni Morbidelli replaced Larini as Ferrari test driver and was subsequently moved to Sauber to replace him there. Although Gianni was certainly closer to Herbert in race conditions and qualifying, he injured his arm before his full potential was achieved and in the end could manage little better. Morbidelli is proven to be very quick, but barring injuries he will probably not be seen in F1 again, yet another driver who has talent, but not the money or support to keep his drive.

Norberto Fontana (21st - 0 points)
Norberto Fontana arrived in F1 when Gianni Morbidelli injured his arm in testing, brought in from Formula Nippon by the team for whom he has been test driver since 1995. Much was expected from him, but from the very first race, things went wrong. His initial outing was a farce, the young Argentinean stopping frequently complaining that he was too tired to continue before the team sent him back out. Things improved from here on, but not by much and although he performed well at Jerez there seems little chance he will get into F1 in 1998.

 

Tyrrell-Ford Goodyear (10th - 2 points)
In 1997 Tyrrell campaigned with arguably the best "young driver" pairing in F1 today and had high hopes that their gamble of being the only small team on Goodyear rubber would pay off. Unfortunately it didn't and only Minardi were slow enough for them to beat with any regularity. The Ford v8 customer unit that the team used was low on power and neither drivers nor a good chassis were able to make up for this. A gamble on fuel consumption at Monaco resulted in their only points, but a wet Monte Carlo was the only place this was ever likely to work. A poor season, even by Tyrrell's meagre standards.

Jos Verstappen (21st - 0 points)
Jos Verstappen has a reputation for being somewhat erratic, but in 1997 he only retired twice because of spinning. Always quick and always right on the limit, Jos was pushed hard by Mika Salo and invariably came out worse than the Finn at the end of each race weekend. Despite this, his confidence never slipped and he always gave it his best. 0 points is no testament to his skill, rather a testament to how far behind the team was. I have no doubts that given a competitive drive he could succeed but at Tyrrell he will only ever bring up the rear.

Mika Salo (17th - 2 points)
Mika Salo may have dominated Ukyo Katayama in 1997, but he stood no chance of doing the same in 1996. The same problems that dogged his team mate dogged Mika and at the end of the day they usually battled each other rather than anyone else. In Monaco he gambled on fuel consumption and completed the race without stopping for fuel or tyres. This was his, and the teams, finest hour in 1997 and this was the only time luck went his way.

 

Mild Seven Minardi-Hart Bridgestone (11th - 0 points)
Nothing can be said about Minardi that hasn't been said before. They are happy to race in F1 just for the sake of being in F1 and this year is proof of this. All 3 Minardi drivers have acquitted themselves well and have done what they could, but the Hart engine was just too low on power to even trouble Tyrrell as a rule. Next year sees the arrival of the Ford v10 engines so we will finally get to see how good Minardi are at building chassis.

Ukyo Katayama (21st - 0 points)
Ukyo Katayama has finally called an end to his time in F1 and much of this will be down to the 1997 season. In the early part of the season new boy Jarno Trulli soundly thrashed Ukyo and only when Trulli left and was replaced by Tarso Marques did things improve for him. By his own admission he had reached the point where he had become so unmotivated that it was obviously time to leave F1 and concentrate on his mountaineering. A sad way for the career of, for me, the best Japanese driver so far to end.

Tarso Marques (21st - 0 points)
Tarso Marques joined Minardi after the departure of Jarno Trulli for Prost and did his best to get up to speed. Generally he was overshadowed by Ukyo Katayama, but this isn't really a bad thing as Ukyo is acknowledged as being very fast when on his form. It seems likely that Tarso will get another season in F1 courtesy of Minardi and it is then that he will have to perform.

 

HSBC Stewart-Ford Bridgestone (9th - 6 points)
The meagre 6-point haul doesn't really reflect the performance of F1's newest team. Stewart have, on occasions, shown that they are capable of running at the front, but only when team, engine manufacturer and tyre company work in harmony. A great run in Monaco netted them 2nd place and the only points of the season, but they should have scored more. Ford will also have been disappointed with the total having left Sauber partly because of poor results.

Rubens Barrichello (14th - 6 points)
Rubens Barrichello has had a good year, rebuilding his confidence after being beaten soundly by Irvine in 1995 and suffering poor results in 1996. Although he only scored 6 points and retired an astounding 14 times, Rubens never lost motivation and gave his all, which is something that cannot be underestimated. A great race driver and a superb qualifier, his equipment let him down spectacularly and if it happens in 1998 expect him to be high on the shopping list of many team bosses.

Jan Magnussen (21st - 0 points)
Jan Magnussen arrived in F1 with the tag "The New Senna" hanging around his neck and failed to live up to it in every way. Having raced in the DTM, ITC and CART over the past couple of years, he had difficulty getting back into F1 and spent the majority of the season around a second slower than Rubens. At Austria, however, when his seat for 1998 looked lost, it all clicked and since then he has been nipping at the heels of his team mate. Like Rubens, Jan suffered very poor reliability (12 retirements) but remained motivated and never criticised the team or it's partners. Whilst 1997 has been a learning year, you have not seen the best from this young man by a long shot.

 

Final Standings after the Grand Prix of Europe
round 17

 Drivers Championship table 
1. Jacques Villeneuve (Williams) 4)81
2. H.H. Frentzen (Williams)42
3. Jean Alesi (Benetton) 36
= David Coulthard (McLaren) 36
5. Mika Hakkinen (McLaren) 27
= Gerhard Berger (Benetton) 2)27
7. Eddie Irvine (Ferrari)24
8. Giancarlo Fisichella (Jordan)20
9. Olivier Panis (Prost) 1) 16
10. Johnny Herbert (Sauber) 15
11. Ralf Schumacher (Jordan)13
12. Damon Hill (Arrows)7
13. Rubens Barrichello (Sewart) 6
14. Alexander Wurz (Benetton) 2) 4
15. Jarno Trulli (Prost) 3
16. Mika Salo (Tyrrell) 2
= Shinji Nakano (Prost) 2
= Pedro Diniz (Arrows) 2
19. Nicola Larini (Sauber) 3) 1

 Constructors Championship table 
1. Williams-Renault 4)123
2. Ferrari 5)102
3. Benetton-Renault67
4. McLaren-Mercedes 63
5. Jordan-Peugeot 33
6. Prost-Mugen21
7. Sauber-Petronas 16
8. Arrows-Yamaha9
9. Stewart-Ford 6
10. Tyrrell-Ford 2

 Notes 
 1) Panis replaced by Trulli, because Panis crashed badly during the Canadian Grand Prix. He broke both his legs. Panis returns at the Luxembourg Grand Prix
 2) Berger replaced by Wurz during the Canadian,French and British GP because of a sinus operation
 3) Larini replaced by Morbidelli, because of an argument with the team, but after Morbidelli's testing crash Morbidelli is replaced by Fontana during the French, British and German Grand Prix and after the crash during the Grand prix of Japan he is again replaced by Fontana during the last race at Jerez
 4) This year's World Champion
 5) Ferrari driver Michael Schumacher is stripped of his 1997 points because of his collision with Villeneuve during the last race, but Ferrari is not punished


Max Galvin
Send comments to: galvin@atlasf1.com