Spanish Grand Prix 1997 – Race
All Williams eyes were on the skies immediately before the race – there was talk of rain. Not at the start though, about half-an-hour into the race. What had the Williams weatherman suggested? Perhaps the Williams duo would start on wets while the rest of the field started on slick – just in case. Whatever the advice Williams were not saying and were not straying from the rest of the field, they all started on slicks. As it happened the promised rain never came and this time the hard fought for pole position was not wasted. Until the dying moments of qualifying pole had looked beyond Villeneuve – a flying lap from his team-mate Frentzen had set the bench-mark. But Villeneuve knocked Frentzen off the top spot and, despite trying to oust him, Frentzen aborted his flying lap knowing he had been beaten.
The first start was aborted when Ralf Schumacher stalled on the grid. At the second start Frentzen bogged down and went backwards. For a while Villeneuve looked like he might do the same, losing the top spot to first Coulthard and then a flying Michael Schumacher up from seventh on the grid. Villeneuve hung on though and was never to loose the top spot, except when in the pits.
Schumacher getting into second place was a blessing to Villeneuve – a long train of cars consisting of Coulthard, Alesi, Hakkinen and a distant Frentzen, followed behind trying to get by. By lap 20 the gap was a shade under 21 seconds. Frentzen had stopped for fresh rubber on lap 16, rejoining 9th and Villeneuve was in a few laps later – different strategies for the Williams duo – Villeneuve would stop only twice while Frentzen stopped four times, his car apparently eating tyres.
Twenty laps later with the positions much unchanged and Villeneuve’s gap to Alesi static at 16 seconds, Frentzen suffered the ultimate insult when he was lapped by the fling Canadian, Villeneuve having only stopped once to Frentzen’s three times. Villeneuve made his final stop on lap 45 and rejoined first.
The only excitement of the race was provided by Oliver Panis, who showed what the Bridgestone tyres are capable of, by staring to take a couple of seconds a lap out of Villeneuve’s times. But even this chase was to be denied us as Panis got blocked in traffic, primarily by Eddie Irvine, who received a stop and go penalty for the transgression.
Villeneuve finished the race some 8.5 seconds ahead of Panis but, more significantly, over one minute four seconds ahead of Heinz-Harald Frentzen in eighth. While Villeneuve moved back to the top of the drivers championship more significantly Williams remained in seconds place in the constructors championship to Ferrari – Frank Williams and Patrick Head will not be pleased about this situation. A rather stony-faced Patrick Head said of Frentzen’s car: “(it) was obviously unbalanced and very badly set-up and that’s all there is to it!”. That was the public picture – in private you can be sure he thought and said something different.