|1997 Australian Grand Prix|
|Race 1 of 17 in the 1997 Formula One World Championship|
|Date||9 March 1997|
|Official name||LXII Qantas Australian Grand Prix|
|Location||Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit, Albert Park, Melbourne|
|Course||Temporary Street Circuit|
|Course length||5.302 km (3.295 mi)|
|Distance||58 laps, 307.516 km (191.110 mi)|
|Weather||Partly Cloudy, Dry|
|Time||1:30.585 on lap 36|
The 1997 Australian Grand Prix was a Formula One motor race held on 9 March 1997 at the Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit in Albert Park, Melbourne. It was the first race of the 1997 FIA Formula One World Championship. It was the second Grand Prix to be hosted in Melbourne. The 58-lap race was won by McLaren driver David Coulthard after starting from fourth position. Michael Schumacher finished second for the Ferrari and Coulthard's teammate Mika Häkkinen was third.
Two new teams came into Formula One in 1997: Stewart and Lola. Footwork reverted to their old name of Arrows and acquired Yamaha engines, while Ligier were bought by Alain Prost and changed their name to Prost Grand Prix. Tyrrell acquired Ford engines.
The change that dominated the drivers line up was Damon Hill's surprise sacking from Williams having just won the World Championship. He joined Tom Walkinshaw and the newly purchased Arrows team. In the week up to the race, there were rumours, which proved to be unfounded, of Hill having left Arrows due to the poor performance of the car. Pedro Diniz brought significant sponsorship backing, and was hired as Hill's teammate. Williams retained Jacques Villeneuve and replaced Hill with Heinz-Harald Frentzen.
Ferrari retained Michael Schumacher and Eddie Irvine, Benetton kept Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger and McLaren retained Mika Häkkinen and David Coulthard. The Jordan team had two new drivers in Giancarlo Fisichella, previously at Minardi, and Ralf Schumacher, brother of Michael. The new Prost Grand Prix team kept Olivier Panis and signed Japanese rookie driver Shinji Nakano. Sauber kept Johnny Herbert and the loss of Frentzen saw Peter Sauber sign Ferrari test driver Nicola Larini. Tyrrell retained Mika Salo for a third year and added Jos Verstappen to the team from Arrows. Minardi with V8 Hart engines signed Ukyo Katayama and Italian driver Jarno Trulli. Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Olivier Panis were both making their 50th race entry, and Johnny Herbert was making his 100th race entry.
The new Stewart Grand Prix team had signed Rubens Barrichello and Danish driver Jan Magnussen. Lola recruited ex-Footwork Arrows driver Ricardo Rosset and former Benetton test driver Vincenzo Sospiri.
Bridgestone also made their first official appearance in Formula 1, breaking Goodyear's reign as a sole tyre supplier which began in 1992. They provided tyres for Minardi, Arrows, Prost, Stewart and Lola. Previously, the company had produced Formula One tyres at the 1976 and 1977 Japanese Grand Prix for Japanese entrants such as Kazuyoshi Hoshino's Heros Racing and Kojima.
The British television coverage switched to ITV for the 1997 season and beyond, after 18 years of regular coverage for the BBC. Former driver Martin Brundle joined Murray Walker in the commentary box.
In the build-up to the weekend, Michael Schumacher said that the circuit "wasn't particularly special", resulting in some criticism from locals. There were also protests in the lead-up to the race, with protestors pouring diesel on to the track the week before the race. A strike also meant that there was no tram shuttle service running, with spectators forced to catch buses to the track. Jeff Kennett, the Premier of Victoria, labelling them "bloody minded" and that they will have to "incur the wrath of the community".
Canadian Jacques Villeneuve took his fourth career pole position with a lap of 1:29.369, while Heinz-Harald Frentzen could only manage a 1:31.121 to fill the remaining spot on the front row. Only six drivers managed to qualify within 3 seconds of the pole position time. The session was red flagged with just over two minutes remaining after a collision between Gerhard Berger and Nicola Larini on the straight between turns 10 and 11. This resulted in many of the cars effectively having to complete a one-lap sprint to post a lap time before the end of the session. Damon Hill struggled during the session, only just qualifying inside of the 107% limit due to an oil leak which hampered the lap times. Both of the Lola cars failed to make the qualifying limit and were over ten seconds slower than Villeneuve in their first and only F1 qualifying session, as the team had to withdraw from the next race due to a lack of funds. Pedro Diniz was also outside of the 107% time, but he was permitted to race as he had set a time in practice within the 107% time.
On the parade lap, Damon Hill's throttle jammed, leaving him stranded on the track and causing him to retire from the race. At the first corner, Eddie Irvine misjudged his braking, hitting both Villeneuve and Herbert - all three retired from the race. Williams adopted a two-stop strategy, while most other teams were going for one-stop races. Jos Verstappen spun off on lap two while attempting to overtake Ukyo Katayama. Frentzen quickly built up a lead: 2.7secs on the first lap, 3.7s on the second, 5.3s on the third and 7.2s on the fourth. Both of the Jordan cars soon retired from the race, Ralf Schumacher suffering a gearbox problem and Fisichella spinning off the track while passing Barrichello. By lap 12, however, Frentzen eased off, and for the next six laps the gap between first and second stayed at 17-18s. Frentzen pitted on lap 18 and rejoined third.
Jean Alesi retired from the race after running out of fuel, to the fury of his Benetton team, who had been trying to call him into the pits for 5 laps. In the laps that followed he was able to close up on Coulthard and Schumacher. Frentzen lost time in traffic, struggling with his brakes. Coulthard and Schumacher pitted in mid-race and so Frentzen moved ahead again and ran very quickly for a few laps before he began to fade again. On lap 40 he came in for his second stop. The gap to Coulthard was only 23secs, and with the time in the pitlane being around 22-24secs it was unclear whether he could emerge ahead. In the end, his pit stop was delayed for several seconds by a right rear tire problem, allowing Coulthard and Schumacher to move ahead. At the front David Coulthard continued to keep away from these incidents to lead the race, followed by Michael Schumacher and Frentzen. Frentzen closed up on Coulthard and Schumacher who were by then running together but Schumacher had to make an unscheduled fuel stop towards the end of the race, promoting Frentzen to second. Large quantities of dust had been coming from Frentzen's brakes for some time and with three laps to go a brake disc failed, sending him into the gravel trap at the end of the start/finish straight. Coulthard went on to take his second career win. It was McLaren's first win since Ayrton Senna won the 1993 Australian Grand Prix. It was also their first win with Mercedes as an engine supplier, and Mercedes' first victory as an engine manufacturer since the 1955 Italian Grand Prix.
|107% time: 1:35.625|
|7||15||Shinji Nakano||Prost-Mugen-Honda||56||+2 Laps||16|
|9||21||Jarno Trulli||Minardi-Hart||55||+3 Laps||17|
|10||2||Pedro Diniz||Arrows-Yamaha||54||+4 Laps||22|
|Ret||7||Jean Alesi||Benetton-Renault||34||Out of Fuel||8|
|Ret||12||Giancarlo Fisichella||Jordan-Peugeot||14||Spun Off||14|
|Ret||18||Jos Verstappen||Tyrrell-Ford||2||Spun Off||21|
Race Details: "1997 Australian Grand Prix". Chicane F1. Retrieved 2007.