With Formula 1’s powers-that-be announcing today that the sport will embrace a return to wider cars and wider tyres in 2017 as part of the shake-up to improve the show, here’s a reminder of the last time wide-chassis cars with much fatter tyres were seen in anger. From the start of 1998, remember, we had to get used to narrow-track cars with skinny, grooved tyres.
The return to wider cars has been welcomed, but for now let’s rewind almost 20 years to the final round of the 1997 season, the European Grand Prix at Jerez in southern Spain.
Qualifying had provided a shock three-way tie for pole, with Williams’ Jacques Villeneuve, Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher and Villeneuve’s team-mate Heinz-Harald Frentzen all stopping the clock at 1m21.072s.
Further drama came at three-quarter distance in the race when Villeneuve and Schumacher, both vying for the drivers’ title, collided in controversial fashion. Schumacher, instantly maligned for what appeared to be a deliberate assault on his championship rival who had been trying to retake the lead of the race, was eliminated on the spot, with French-Canadian Villeneuve continuing in the lead. He held on out front until the last lap, before wisely diving out of the way of the pursuing McLaren-Mercedes cars of Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard. He had the title in the bag once Schumacher had retired (they came to Jerez separated by a point), providing he finished the race in fifth place (to score two points) or better, so he wasn’t taking any chances.
And so Mika Hakkinen took his maiden win in Formula 1 at the 96th time of asking. It had been a bumpy ride since the Finn joined F1 with Lotus in 1991, but with the monkey off his back at the end of ’97, he’d go on to secure back-to-back titles in ’98 and ’99 and add his name to the list of Grand Prix greats.
And remember, you can see Mika Hakinen driving at Goodwood at the 74th Members’ Meeting in March!