Rubens Barrichello, Stewart, Monaco, 1997

Schumacher’s wet weather mastery puts him on top

1997 Monaco Grand Prix flashbackPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

Michael Schumacher moved into the championship lead 20 years ago today with a commanding victory in a sodden Monaco Grand Prix.

But the car in second place was just as significant. New team Stewart scored a shock breakthrough result which set them on a course to becoming one of F1’s most successful teams of the past decade.

No love for F1’s newcomers

For the Monaco Grand Prix weekend Formula One’s newest team was based not in the harbourside paddock with their rivals, but a car park 15 minutes’ walk away. It was the latest in a series of unsubtle signals from F1 that their new team was not entirely welcome.

As a new team Stewart was not entitled to any of Formula One Management’s revenues – a situation they were taking legal advice over. A third-row start for Rubens Barrichello in Argentina hinted at their potential but they were yet to deliver anything in the way of hard results.

Team owner Jackie Stewart had a deep affection for Monaco where he had won three times before and had cultivated a close relationship with the ruling royal family. Eager for his new team to do justice to his Monaco achievements, Stewart scrapped a planned post-Imola test in order to spend more time ensuring the preparation of the cars for the race was not compromised and tackle reliability problems.

1997 Monaco Grand Prix qualifying

Michael Schumacher, Ferrari 310B, Monte-Carlo, 1997
Schumacher narrowly missed out on pole position
In dry conditions, drivers familiarised themselves with the latest revisions to one of the sport’s oldest tracks. The approach to La Piscine – the Swimming Pool complex – had been opened up to give drivers more space to recover if they made a mistake. “At the demand of drivers and the FIA we’ve widened that and created more of an angle to slow the cars a bit more,” explained Prince Albert.

Portions of the track had also been resurfaced. That together with the softer compounds being used because of the tyre war meant lap times dropped by over two seconds.

But for the first time in 1997 it was not points leader Jacques Villeneuve on pole position. Heinz-Harald Frentzen, fresh from scoring his breakthrough victory at Imola two weeks earlier, triumphed in a trilling one-hour qualifying session on Saturday.

Giancarlo Fisichella was revelling in Jordan’s handling and briefly put his car ahead until Frentzen knocked him off the top spot. Villeneuve was the next of the big hitter to make a bid for pole but clipped the barrier at Sainte Devote, breaking his right-rear suspension.

This eliminated one of Frentzen’s biggest rival but another, Michael Schumacher, was a major threat around a circuit where he could overcome some of his Ferrari’s shortcomings. A revised engine aided his cause, but a fired-up Frentzen had a little more in reserve.

The Williams driver was two-tenths of a second up after the second sector but nearly threw it all away in the final part of the lap. He crossed the line with just 19 thousandths of a second in hand over the Ferrari. Schumacher began his final run with five seconds to spare but couldn’t recapture his former pace, and Frentzen duly took the first pole position of his career.

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The Williams driver’s relief was palpable. His weekend had got off to an awkward start when he stumbled down the steps outside the medias centre, hurting his ankle. He compounded matters by crashing his car during Thursday practice.

Villeneuve therefore took third ahead of the impressive Fisichella. David Coulthard took fifth while his McLaren team mate Mika Hakkinen crashed and lined up eighth. The pair were separated by the second Jordan of Ralf Schumacher plus Johnny Herbert, who had surprised by topping Thursday practice in his Sauber.

Benetton’s difficult season continued. Jean Alesi was their best qualifier in ninth while a still-unwell Gerhard Berger was a poor 17th. The only Bridgestone-shod runner in the top ten was Barrichello, whose Stewart was pushed back to the car park at the conclusion of Saturday’s running.

1997 Monaco Grand Prix grid

Row 1 1. Heinz-Harald Frentzen 1’18.216
Williams-Renault
2. Michael Schumacher 1’18.235
Ferrari
Row 2 3. Jacques Villeneuve 1’18.583
Williams-Renault
4. Giancarlo Fisichella 1’18.665
Jordan-Peugeot
Row 3 5. David Coulthard 1’18.779
McLaren-Mercedes
6. Ralf Schumacher 1’18.943
Jordan-Peugeot
Row 4 7. Johnny Herbert 1’19.105
Sauber-Petronas
8. Mika Hakkinen 1’19.119
McLaren-Mercedes
Row 5 9. Jean Alesi 1’19.263
Benetton-Renault
10. Rubens Barrichello 1’19.295
Stewart-Ford
Row 6 11. Nicola Larini 1’19.468
Sauber-Petronas
12. Olivier Panis 1’19.626
Prost-Mugen-Honda
Row 7 13. Damon Hill 1’19.674
Arrows-Yamaha
14. Mika Salo 1’19.694
Tyrrell-Ford
Row 8 15. Eddie Irvine 1’19.723
Ferrari
16. Pedro Diniz 1’19.860
Arrows-Yamaha
Row 9 17. Gerhard Berger 1’20.199
Benetton-Renault
18. Jarno Trulli 1’20.349
Minardi-Hart
Row 10 19. Jan Magnussen 1’20.516
Stewart-Ford
20. Ukyo Katayama 1’20.606
Minardi-Hart
Row 11 21. Shinji Nakano 1’20.961
Prost-Mugen-Honda
22. Jos Verstappen 1’21.290
Tyrrell-Ford

1997 Monaco Grand Prix

Warm and dry conditions greeted the drivers for the pre-race warm-up but it wouldn’t stay that way. The rain began to fall during the build-up to the race, forcing hasty car set-up tweaks on the grid.

This was a concern for Williams, whose uncompromising FW19 chassis was highly pitch-sensitive and required major changes to be made suitable for wet conditions. Ferrari hurried a near rear wing assembly onto the grid for Schumacher’s car.

Neither team had won the race for more than a decade. Keke Rosberg scored Williams’ last Monaco win in 1983, two years after Ferrari’s most recent victory. With their cars occupying the top three positions it seemed certain one of those streaks would end.

Williams appeared to be favouring their 1983 tactics as they gambled on slick tyres to start the race on a wet track. They weren’t alone – Hakkinen did the same in his McLaren – but Ferrari and most others plumped for wets. Significantly, Schumacher preferred Goodyear’s 1996-specification tyres rather than the newer generation other drivers favoured.

Within seconds of the race starting it was clear Williams had got it disastrously wrong. Schumacher shot into the lead while the rest of the track picked its way past the flailing Frentzen and Villeneuve. By the end of lap one Schumacher already had a 6.6-second lead over Fisichella. After five laps his lead was 22.1 seconds. Barring a repeat of his 1996 slip-up, a Schumacher victory was already assured.

Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Williams, 1997
Williams got their tactics badly wrong
As lap two began the tentative Frentzen lost third to the other Jordan. Barrichello, Herbert and 1996 winner Olivier Panis followed him through on the next lap. By lap five Barrichello had split the Jordans and was closing on Fisichella, revelling in the wet weather grip of his Bridgestones. Barrichello took Fisichella for second at the chicane and the Jordans swapped places a few corners later with no repeat of their Argentina argy-bargy.

McLaren’s race was over on the first lap. Coulthard, running on intermediates, spun approaching the chicane and his slick-shod team mate hit the chicane trying to avoid him. The team’s weather forecaster, who had assured them the pre-race rainfall would only last half an hour, was later fired.

Arrows also began packing up after lap one. Damon Hill’s Arrows was eliminated when he hit Eddie Irvine’s Ferrari in the chaos behind them. Pedro Diniz had made it no further than Portier on lap one before spinning.

While the sure-footed Schumacher calmly extended his lead, more drivers were being caught out by the conditions behind him. Herbert crashed out of fifth place after nine laps and the younger Schumacher, who had been holding third, only lasted one lap longer. Fisichella was exercising more caution in the other Jordan but gradually slipping down the order.

The Williams drivers quickly abandoned their slick tyres: Villeneuve after three laps, Frentzen on the fifth tour. By lap 13 Schumacher was putting Villeneuve a lap down, and three laps later the championship leader retired from what had been a humiliating weekend.

As he explained afterwards Williams, like McLaren, had been operating from faulty intelligence. “We had data telling us it wasn’t going to be wet after half an hour,” he said. “It turned out it actually rained more so our dry set-up was completely useless.”

Mika Salo had worked his way into the top six points paying positions having started 14th. Alesi was applying pressure until he spun out and stopped. Berger also damaged his Benetton against a barrier but was at least able to keep going.

By mid-race the track was beginning to dry out. This was good news for Bridgestone runners Barrichello and Panis in second and third, as their rubber had held up well on drying tracks during testing. But fresh rainfall meant new wet tyres would be ready, and Schumacher called in the Ferrari pit for another set of Goodyears. By lap 40, at which point the leading trio had all pitted, his lead was almost a minute.

Frentzen’s misery came to an end when he hit the kerb too hard at the chicane which spat his Williams into a barrier. He’d already gone off at Mirabeau while being lapped by the driver he’d shared the front row of the grid with.

Irvine had stealthily moved his way up from 15th on the grid in his Ferrari and jumped ahead of Panis via his pit stop. By now just the top four drivers were on the lead lap.

Barrichello was on course for a remarkable second place for Stewart but ten laps from home all their dreams almost came true. Schumacher, 75 seconds to the good, went straight on at Sainte Devote. Fortunately for the race leader he kept his engine running and found enough space to execute a neat spin-turn and continue on his way.

Schumacher eased off over the final laps and took the chequered flag when the two-hour time limit was reached, seven laps shy of the scheduled distance. His first victory of 1997 catapulted him into the championship lead.

Behind Barrichello, Irvine put the second Ferrari on the podium ahead of Panis. Salo ran the entire race without pitting to change tyres – the last time any driver has done this – and by doing so collected a valuable fifth place for the struggling Tyrrell team. This turned out to be the final points finish for the once world championship-winning team.

The final point went to Fisichella while only four other drivers saw the chequered flag. Jan Magnussen struggled to seventh in his Stewart and Jos Verstappen spun his Tyrrell twice on his way to eighth.

1997 Monaco Grand Prix result

Pos. No. Driver Team Laps Time / gap / reason
1 5 Michael Schumacher Ferrari 62 2hrs 00’05.654
2 22 Rubens Barrichello Stewart-Ford 62 53.306
3 6 Eddie Irvine Ferrari 62 1’22.108
4 14 Olivier Panis Prost-Mugen-Honda 62 1’44.402
5 19 Mika Salo Tyrrell-Ford 61 1 lap
6 12 Giancarlo Fisichella Jordan-Peugeot 61 1 lap
7 23 Jan Magnussen Stewart-Ford 61 1 lap
8 18 Jos Verstappen Tyrrell-Ford 60 2 laps
9 8 Gerhard Berger Benetton-Renault 60 2 laps
10 20 Ukyo Katayama Minardi-Hart 60 2 laps
4 Heinz-Harald Frentzen Williams-Renault 39 Accident
15 Shinji Nakano Prost-Mugen-Honda 36 Accident
17 Nicola Larini Sauber-Petronas 24 Accident
7 Jean Alesi Benetton-Renault 16 Accident
3 Jacques Villeneuve Williams-Renault 16 Accident
11 Ralf Schumacher Jordan-Peugeot 10 Accident
16 Johnny Herbert Sauber-Petronas 9 Accident
21 Jarno Trulli Minardi-Hart 7 Accident
10 David Coulthard McLaren-Mercedes 1 Accident
9 Mika Hakkinen McLaren-Mercedes 1 Accident
1 Damon Hill Arrows-Yamaha 1 Accident
2 Pedro Diniz Arrows-Yamaha 0 Accident

Rubens Barrichello, Stewart, Monaco, 1997
Barrichello scored a breakthrough result for Stewart
Ferrari’s joy at taking their first victory in Monaco for over a decade and a half was outstripped only by Stewart’s delight at their first points and podium finish. It was an outstanding result for F1’s unwanted team at its most famous race.

Stewart himself broke down in tears when asked about the emotion of his achievement after the race. Two years since he and the Ford bosses had hatched a plan to launch Stewart GP it had delivered its first major result.

Twenty years later the team is now Red Bull, the outfit which swept to a string of championship titles in the early 2010s. The team Stewart founded has become one of the most competitive and powerful forces in F1 – a far cry from those struggling early days in the Monaco car park.

1997 Monaco Grand Prix championship standings

42 comments on “Schumacher’s wet weather mastery puts him on top”

  1. Shameless plug featuring the 1997 Monaco Gp weekend (Well practice, warm-up & race) from the F1 Digital+ service:
    https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLhCh0fz_rbe68-hsEK4sWEr7c0yzHPaEi

  2. Schumacher was simply incredible in this race. Absolute genius.

  3. Unicron (@unicron2002)
    11th May 2017, 13:15

    One of Schumacher’s most devastating wet weather drives, totally untouchable. I remember being embarrassed for the Williams drivers – and Villeneuve had a similar experience the year before too. Great result for Barrichello and Stewart.

  4. “But the car in second place was just as significant. New team Stewart scored a shock breakthrough result which set them on a course to becoming one of F1’s most successful teams of the past decade.”

    @keithcollantine surely you mean “one of F1’s most successful new teams of the past decade.”

    1. @ho3n3r The “past decade” refers to the years 2007-2016, where Stewart and Tyrrell scored four drivers and four constructors titles each.

    2. @ho3n3r
      Read the article to its very end, he’s talking about Red Bull Racing, currently the most successful team of the past decade with 4 WDC and 4 WCC to their tally, together with Mercedes and their predecessor Brawn, who won the same amount of world championships.
      (and, as @crammond hints, Brawn GP were ultimately a successor of the Tyrrell team, for whom this race had also been a special one)

  5. What are some of everyone’s favourite races from Schumi? Monaco ’97 always seems to be overlooked, but it was on par with Spain ’96 in my opinion. My list, in no particular order is:

    ’92 Spa
    ’93 Portugal
    ’94 Monaco
    ’94 Spain
    ’94 Suzuka
    ’95 Spa
    ’96 Spain
    ’96 Argentina
    ’97 Spa
    ’97 Monaco
    ’98 Silverstone
    ’98 Hungary
    ’99 Malaysia
    2000 Suzuka
    2000 Nurburging
    2001 Malaysia
    2004 Magny Cours
    2005 Hungary
    2006 China
    2006 Brazil
    2011 Spa
    2011 Monza
    2012 Valencia

    1. None…never been a fan.

      1. Actually, I did enjoy Jerez 97 immensely, and Austria 02.

        1. Then Silverstone 1999 must be your favorite GP of all time?

          Grow up. You may not like a driver but you’ve got to admire those performances listed by He Man.

          1. There is one Schumi race that will always be remembered above all others and that is the 1994 Australian GP. There, he forever tarnished his image so that no matter what he later accomplished, he will be remembered as a cheat. Unsurprisingly, his team boss in 1994, Flavio Briatore, went on to engineer the greatest scandal in F1, the 2008 Singapore GP Crashgate. They are two peas from the same pod.

      2. You are not a F1 fan…

    2. No mention of Spa ’98?

      Yes he collided with Coulthard whilst trying to lap him but he was, as he was so many times, in a league of his own that race.

      1. He gambled on full wet set-up when the track started to dry a bit Hill was quicker.

    3. Excellent. I would add Austria 03 as well. Who remembers Schumi being on fire literally?

      San Marino 2006 was also excellent!

    4. 99 Malaysia, returning from injury, was special, even though he had to hand it to Irvine, if I recall it right, to help him in the WDC.

      His early Ferrari years were spectacular, much like Alonso’s, or Senna’s late McLaren years. No titles, but several meaningful wins without the best machinery, in a great but struggling team. It’s the ultimate test for any F-1 driver, along with fighting a highly competitive team-mate for the title. Senna is one of the very few to pass both tests, which is why so many people love him. Schumacher never had a team-mate of his stature

  6. Mark (@melmgreen)
    11th May 2017, 15:56

    Wasnt Salo the first and only point finisher without a pitstop in that race??

    1. @melmgreen
      In fact, he was the last one. Races without a single scheduled pit stop were commonplace up until the 80s.

      1. Frentzen finished Brazilian GP 2003 without a pit stop too. He probably would have needed one if race had gone to the end.

  7. Great article! This is one of those races from my early days as an F1 fan that I can relive by closing my eyes.

    I can think of three little missing details that I’d find worthy of a mention:
    – Not only did Mika Salo complete a race distance without coming to the pits, he was also driving with front wing damage for many laps. According to him, that little bit of understeer was actually beneficial to the car’s handling.
    – I remember Eddie Irvine setting the highest top speed by a healthy margin – by completely missing the braking point before the harbour chicane …
    – You’re absolutely right in mentioning that the young Stewart team, who celebrated an early breakthrough in this memorable race, would later evolve into one of F1’s most powerful teams. But the same thing can also be said about the declining Tyrrell team, whose successor after several changes of ownership is now on its way to equal or even surpass Red Bull’s success story: Mercedes GP.

  8. I never really bought that “half an hour” explanation of Williams. Even if the weather forecast had been correct, it would have been very difficult to keep car between the walls for that long on slicks.

  9. The 1997 Monaco is proof that this race does not have to clash with the Indy 500 every year

    1. At that point, the race was always held on the week of Ascension Day. Nowadays it’s not longer the case every year, although it happens this year.

  10. I personally love this series. Being in grad school during this time, without money for a TV much less cable (or heat), I missed all of these on television. I would have to wait a month to go read about them in Road&Track, standing in the aisle in the grocery store. And these summaries are so much better. (R/T didn’t tell you about the sudden hilarious weather department “redundancies”!)

    This report reminds me of HH Frenzten and his terrible luck. To me he was one of the best drivers of the 90s never to win a title. He had the misfortune of arriving during the Schumacher era, which led to disasters both professional and personal, as followers of F1 gossip may know.

  11. Sorry to be picky, but Mika Salo did not run the “entire” race without pitting as the race ran for 7 laps lesser than full distance.
    As someone has already mentioned above, Frentzen ran the entire Brazilian Grand Prix of 2003 without pitting. Although that race was also stopped 17 laps before full distance was completed. He also won points that weekend.
    When it comes to full distance races, one could technically say that the last driver to run without a pit stop is actually Romain Grosjean in the 2016 Australian Grand Prix. He changed tyres during the stoppage and did not make a pit stop afterwards. He won points too that weekend. One could argue that the 2016 Australian Grand Prix wasn’t a ‘full distance’ as there were two formation laps (due to Kvyat’s car problem) and the race was shortened by one lap. However, Grosjean did make 58 rounds of the circuit unlike Frentzen and Salo above.

    1. I believe the breakthrough fact from Salo here was that for the first time since 1994, someone completed a race distance without refueling.

      There were a couple of factors around this, Monaco is not a 300 km race like the others and the chance of rain making the 2 hour limit feasible. So Tyrell decided to top up Salos car all the way to the max. For Jos Verstappen they couldn’t do the same, as Mike Gascoyne said that his driving style was not as smooth as Salo.

      1. I believe in the 1994 Japanese Grand Prix, which was also a wet race, a few backmarkers didn’t pit.

    2. Jonathan Parkin
      1st July 2017, 19:56

      I would say that Mika Salo did the “whole” race without a pit stop because as the great Murray Walker said once, “Ir’s either full distance or 2 hours, it’s one or the other.” Since it went the full two hours in my opinion he did do the full race nonstop

  12. Good race by Rubens but no less than 14 retirements through that year. Good (?!) days of true unreliability.

  13. No mention of Monaco 96 when Hill took him off the line in the wet and he went on to smash into a barrier.

    Schumacher was good at gambling with wet set-up. The best ever wet race was Hungary 2006 where Alonso owned him and some more.

    1. No mention of Monaco 96 when Hill took him off the line in the wet and he went on to smash into a barrier.

      Yeah, but why mention that in the 1997 Monaco GP flashback, when it’s been mentioned in the 1996 GP flashback?
      I get the feeling that you’re just annoyed by the fact that this was an excellent race for (and by) Schumacher. He had bad races as well? Really now?

      1. no just the headline ‘Schumacher’s wet weather mastery’ his reputation was earnt by gambling on full wet set-ups.

        1. He seemed to do quite well in the dry as well for someone that gambled on wet setups any time it threatened to rain.

          1. And Bottas has just discovered his secret. Maybe with a dedicated tyre supplier and Hamilton backing him up Bottas will go on to greatness.

          2. Bottas who spun in slightly wet conditions in China BigJoe?

    2. No mention of Monaco 96 when Hill took him off the line in the wet and he went on to smash into a barrier.

      Are you blind?

      Barring a repeat of his 1996 slip-up, a Schumacher victory was already assured.

    3. Spain 1996 was his best wet race better than anything Senna or anyone ever did in the wet.

      1. No it wasn’t. Schumacher was lucky his car had an exhaust issue which caused him to be down on power and therefore gave him less wheel spin issues (he said so himself).

        Besides, it’s like saying Panis is the best wet weather driver ever because he won a race in Monaco in the wet when he was one also of only one of 6 cars to make it to the finish. By the way, that’s the same race where “rain master” Schumacher binned it already on the first lap.

        Spain 96 is more like that Panis Monaco fluke and nowhere near a race like Donnington 93 or Silverstone 2008.

        Reality is, Schumacher wasn’t really all that great in the wet. He blundered of so many times in wet conditions that one fluke win and one lucky setup gamble don’t come close to cover for all those misses.

  14. Wow, the last time Tyrrell scored points as a constructor was also the first time their WDC-winning driver scored points as a constructor.

  15. Curiously, the Schumacher-Barrichello-Irvine podium (in that order) would be repeated in the 2001 race. On both occasions, the podium featured 2 Ferraris and the first podium for a predecessor of the Red Bull team (Red Bull also scored their first podium at Monaco).

  16. Salo ran the entire race without pitting to change tyres – the last time any driver has done this

    @keithcollantine this is slightly misleading. he ran the entire race without pitting, full stop. he didn’t refuel, which is quite amazing if you think about it. in more recent years many drivers ran the entire race without changing tyres because they didn’t need to or weren’t allowed to (2005).

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