A retrospective review of the 1998 Belgian Grand Prix – Jordan GP’s first victory

It was one of the most dramatic races ever – It’s worth mentioning also that the team hadn’t done that well that year, with numerous DNF’s and a very slow car as well. However, when the team changed their designer, bringing Mike Gascoyne on board and he introduced a new floor and sidepods. Damon Hill drove the improved car to fourth in the German and Hungarian races, the two races before Belgium.

 

During the Friday’s free practice sessions, Damon placed the car fourth and then third fastest, showing the changes were making a dramatic difference. Then in qualifying Damon put the car third on the grid, ahead of Michael Schumacher and behind only Mika and David in their McLaren Mercedes.

 

In the wet and raining warm up on Sunday morning the two Ferrari’s led the way, with Michael ahead of Eddie Irvine, whilst Damon was sixth.

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At the first start there was a massive accident taking out nine cars. The drivers who didn’t restart were Rubens who was injured, Olivier, Salo and Rosset.

 

The rain eased off and after the clean up that saw so many cars out, the grid lined up for a restart with the drivers opting to switch to intermediate tyres.

 

At the start, Damon Hill took the lead, but Mika Hakkinen spun at La Source and was hit by Johnny Herbert who clipped the front of the McLaren. With Mika and Johnny colliding at the first corner, the safety car came out for a couple of laps whilst the mess was cleared up.

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At the restart after those safety car laps, Jacques passed Jean Alesi, moving into fourth place. Seven laps into the race, Damon and Michael were lapping a full three seconds faster than all the other drivers and were eight seconds ahead of Eddie Irvine who was third.

 

After eight laps, the rain started to fall harder and Michael Schumacher took the lead from Damon, out braking the Brit into the bus stop chicane. Once there, with his set-up on his Ferrari set to the track getting wetter. Each lap saw the German pull away from Damon and the lead by lap 13 was ten seconds.

 

Lap nine saw Eddie spin off and damage his front wing and further back the remaining Stewart driven by Jos Verstappen retired after his Ford engine failed. Twelve laps in and Michael had a nine second lead over Damon. Williams driver, Heinz Harald Frenzen was now in third place, but Jean in his Sauber was actually catching the German ahead of him. On lap 14, Frenzen ran wide into the gravel in the final third of the lap, and Jean passed him, moving into third and was now lapping faster than Damon. The lap times were starting to increase as the rain began to fall heavier and Jacques had now caught his teammate. On lap 16, having not stopped for full wets the Canadian spun out and retired from the race. The result of that was our top three was now Michael, Damon and Ralf.

 

However, the race was to have a dramatic moment on lap 25, when Michael struck the rear of David’s McLaren as he was coming through to lap him, and this ripped off his right-front wheel and suspension, and David’s rear wing being knocked off! The two drivers completed the lap, Michael driving on just three wheels, but then Michael stormed down to the McLaren pits and had a go at David. He was pushed away by his own team who had tried to stop him from going down there in the first place.

 

The net result of this was that Damon was back in the lead. A couple of laps later, Damon ran wide at the bus stop chicane and took a skip over the grass. No big drama though, as he had a good lead over his teammate. In third place by this point was Jean Alesi in his Sauber and at points, he was lapping faster than the two Jordan’s ahead of him.

 

The following lap saw an identical crash – Fisichella in his Renault hit the rear of Nakano’s Minardi as they came down to the bus stop chicane, with the result that he lost control and also hit the barrier at the start of the pit lane. A small fire started on the side of the car, which was put out quickly and given the position of the car, race control released the safety car which stayed out for five to six laps whilst the mess was cleared up. A number of cars pitted during the safety car period and Damon managed to pit and re-join in the lead.

 

David’s McLaren had been rebuilt with a new rear wing and re-joined the race in seventh place but was four laps behind the sixth-place driver. With 12 laps remaining, the safety car was still out there but preparing to pit and the race would restart.

 

With 10 laps remaining, Damon had everything under control and was pulling away from his young teammate, Ralf, who in turn was keeping a good gap to Jean in his Sauber and four seconds covered the top three with eight laps remaining, but the gap then started falling as the rain eased off and with just five laps remaining just three seconds covered the top three.

 

Three laps to go and Damon had opened up a bit more of a lead now with the rain falling harder again. Jarno Trulli, running in the final points position was lapped safely by Damon on lap 42.

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The final lap passed without incident and Damon Hill crossed the line to win his twenty-second race and Jordan’s first. Ralf took second place and Jean Alesi took Sauber’s first podium in third place with a brilliant drive. Heinz Harald-Frenzen was fourth and Pedro Diniz, driving for Arrows was fifth and taking the final points position of sixth, Jarno Trulli in his Prost.

 

I’d say, that this race is definitely one of my favourites, and not just because Damon won, but for the incredible drama and excitement it brought to the those who watched.

 

Full race result

 

Pos No Driver Constructor Laps Time/Retired Grid Points
1 9  Damon Hill JordanMugen-Honda 44 1:43:47.407 3 10
2 10  Ralf Schumacher JordanMugen-Honda 44 +0.932 8 6
3 14  Jean Alesi SauberPetronas 44 +7.240 10 4
4 2  Heinz-Harald Frentzen WilliamsMecachrome 44 +32.243 9 3
5 16  Pedro Diniz Arrows 44 +51.682 16 2
6 12  Jarno Trulli ProstPeugeot 42 +2 Laps1 13 1
7 7  David Coulthard McLarenMercedes 39 +5 Laps 2
8 22  Shinji Nakano MinardiFord 39 +5 Laps 21
Ret 5  Giancarlo Fisichella BenettonPlaylife 26 Collision 7
Ret 3  Michael Schumacher Ferrari 25 Collision damage 4
Ret 4  Eddie Irvine Ferrari 25 Spun off 5
Ret 23  Esteban Tuero MinardiFord 17 Gearbox 22
Ret 1  Jacques Villeneuve WilliamsMecachrome 16 Spun off 6
Ret 21  Toranosuke Takagi TyrrellFord 10 Spun off 19
Ret 19  Jos Verstappen StewartFord 8 Engine 17
Ret 8  Mika Häkkinen McLarenMercedes 0 Collision 1
Ret 6  Alexander Wurz BenettonPlaylife 0 Collision 11
Ret 15  Johnny Herbert SauberPetronas 0 Collision 12
DNS 18  Rubens Barrichello StewartFord 0 Collision 15
DNS 11  Olivier Panis ProstPeugeot 0 Collision 14
DNS 17  Mika Salo Arrows 0 Collision 18
DNS 20  Ricardo Rosset TyrrellFord 0 Collision 20

Hungarian Grand Prix Retrospective, 1997. So close for Damon Hill and Arrows-Yamaha.

Let me take you back in time. In 1997, the reigning F1 champion was Damon Hill. He’d won the title when driving for Williams-Renault, but had lost his seat to Heinz-Harald Frentzen at the end of 1996.

 

Nineteen ninety-seven was tough for Damon, but there came a moment in that year’s 11th round in Hungary. He qualified 3rd on the grid with only Michael Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve ahead. After qualifying, he was in a bullish mood and was clearly up to the fight for the win.

 

After the start, Michael and Damon were running first and second. Do remember that the Arrows were running Bridgestone tyres and most of the others were on Goodyear’s. From lap five to lap ten, Damon started to close the gap to Schumacher’s Ferrari, and at the start of lap ten, Damon pounced and took the lead at turn one.

 

The reason for Michael’s lack of pace? Well, the Goodyear tyres were blistering in the relentless hot weather that day in Hungary.

Damon Hill during The 1997 Hungarian Grand Prix. Photo Courtesy of ‘Race27’

 

So, what happened next? Well, after 15 laps, Damon had a 7.9 second lead over Jacques. He was in the groove! On lap 19, he lapped his teammate, Pedro Diniz who was in 19th place. Twenty-two laps into the race, and the gap between Damon and Jacques was 5.1 seconds.

 

Lap 23, and Jacques and DC in his McLaren pitted for new tyres and fuel. Damon pitted at the end of the same lap. All the other teams made their stops and Frentzen was in the lead at the start of lap 27, but heading into lap 28, he would start to get a problem with his car, which was highlighted with flames coming out of the rear. At the end of this lap he made his stop for tyres and fuel, but the team would retire the car.

 

Damon was back in the lead at the start of lap 30, with 47 still to go. Pole sitter Michael was down in 4th. Jacques, David and Michael were running together, 33 laps into the race, contesting 2nd, 3rd and 4th.

 

However, Michael pitted at the end of that lap, leaving JV and DC to fight.

 

At the start of lap 36 Damon’s lead over the remaining Williams Renault was now over 12 seconds. The top five was now, Hill, Villeneuve, Coulthard, Herbert, Schumacher. Into lap 40 and the lead was now 18 seconds. Just a remarkable drive from the reigning champion.

 

Lap 44, and Damon’s lead was now 21 seconds over JV, who was continuing to fight to keep David behind him. Such was Damon’s dominance, he even lapped Jean Alesi during this lap.

 

Over the next few laps, the lead would grow larger between Damon and JV. Damon and Jacques would make their second pitstops on lap 51. The lead that Damon had was now 26 seconds. To explain how big this lead was, Damon was already turning into the first corner, whilst Jacques and DC were in the penultimate corner.

 

Fifty-three laps down, and Jacques was 27 seconds down on the leader. We started to believe that we would witness a famous victory. What could stop Damon and Arrows-Yamaha?

 

Just as JV and DC lapped Pedro Diniz, Damon’s teammate retired from the race. Lap 57 and Damon was now 29 seconds ahead of second placed Jacques, with DC keeping him close company. How far back was Michael? 54 seconds! Just incredible.

 

We were in the final stages of the race and there were around 17 laps to go. Brothers Michael and Ralf were fighting over fifth position and Johnny Herbert was ahead of them both in 4th place. Damon’s lead was now over 30 seconds.

 

On the 65th lap, David retired from the race. Johnny in his Sauber was promoted to 3rd place. With twelve laps to go, the top five was, Hill, Villeneuve, Herbert, M. Schumacher, R. Schumacher.

 

Damon’s lead had increased again and was now 32 seconds. In fact, it continued to grow with each lap. On lap 72 the lead was now 35 seconds. There were just five laps left. Fourth to seventh was covered by just a few seconds with Michael leading Ralf (Jordan), then Eddie in the other Ferrari and finally Nakano in the Prost Mugen-Honda. Just three laps remaining! I remember thinking, this is it. Damon’s going to do it!

 

He started lap 75….. He started having problems accelerating and you could see the car was visibly slower. The car had suffered hydraulic failure and it was stuck in fifth gear.

Jarno Trulli unlapped himself at the end of lap 76. Then Gerhard Berger as well, who was in 8th position.

 

The Arrows was still moving though and it was the last lap. After turn three Jacques took the lead in spectacular style, putting two wheels on the grass! The dream of victory was over for Damon and Arrows. Now it was all about making sure he finished on the podium. JV crossed the line and celebrated his victory, Damon finished in second place and Johnny Herbert third for Sauber. Jacques winning margin in the end was 9 seconds.

 

It was a remarkable race, which will always remain in my memory and shows just how good Damon was at developing a car. This would also be the last time a driver from Arrows would stand on a podium.

Hungarian Grand Prix 1997 Podium celebrations, Photo credit Deviant Art F1 History.

 

Finishing positions

 

1st.    J. Villeneuve

2nd.   D. Hill

3rd.   J. Herbert

4th.   M. Schumacher

5th.    R. Schumacher

6th.    S. Nakano

7th.    J. Trulli

8th.    G. Berger

9th.    E. Irvine

10th.  U. Katayama

11th.  J. Alesi

12th.  T. Marques

13th. M. Salo

 

Those that retired.

Coulthard       Lap 65    Electrical

Verstappen   Lap 61     Gearbox

Diniz                  Lap 53    Electrical

Fisichella        Lap 42    Spun out

Frentzen         Lap 29    Fuel system

Barrichello     Lap 29    Engine failure

Hakkinen        Lap 12     Hydraulics

Morbidelli       Lap 7       Engine failure

Magnussen    Lap 5      Steering