GRANDPRIX247 Formula 1 News Website Title Partner BCGAME
villeneuve schumacher f1 1997.PNG

Hey Netflix! How about Villeneuve vs Schumacher?

villeneuve schumacher f1 1997.PNG

One of the more controversial Formula 1 rivalries was the intense battle for the 1997 World Championship title between Jacques Villeneuve and Michael Schumacher.

A memorable feud worthy of a Netflix mini-series not only because of the drama, action and intrigue but also because there appears to be no possibility of real closure on the bitterness between the rival protagonists.

Consider this for a script: VILLENEUVE VS SCHUMACHER: THE SERIES

Set in the wake of the death of the King of F1 at the time – Ayrton Senna – Schumacher the heir apparent took over the throne after the Brazilian triple F1 World Champion died on May 1, 1994.

On 13 November, the German Benetton driver was World Champion for the first time, a feat he repeated in 1995 with the same team that had morphed into Renault by then.

In 1996, Schumacher moved to Ferrari to continue his quest to greatness with the greatest F1 team. But the Williams of the time was mighty, at the height of the British team’s glory years, and powered Damon Hill to the F1 title that year.

Within Maranello, Schumi was making sense of the politics and shenanigans that are part and parcel of Ferrari. At the same time was (son of Ferrari’s much-loved Gilles Villeneuve) Canadian Jacques Villeneuve who burst onto the F1 scene in ’96 after a stellar career in Indycar. Thrusting himself into F1 title contention for 1997 after Hill departed to make way for highly rated (at the time) Heinz-Harald Frentzen,

Thus, in only his second year with Williams, 26-year-old Villeneuve became the ‘tip of the spear’ for their F1 title charge. In contrast, history shows that Frentzen did not live up to the hype that preceded his move to the team.

Ferrari F1 dream team for Schumacher was in its infancy

Jacques Villeneuve and Michael Schumacher

With Ferrari constantly (although slowly) improving with Jean Todt leading the show, and Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne in Schumi’s corner, the pressure – constant on the Scuderia – was immense. Deliver at all costs one might say.

The stress and expectations spawned the need to dig into the ‘black arts’ of racing by Schumacher in what turned out to be an intense season. One packed with controversy and petty conflicts that produced some of the sport’s most controversial moments.

So intense and pressure-packed that after all these years, and with the great Michael out of sight for a decade, Villeneuve has not forgotten. And who better to recall those crazy days, when the rivalry exploded with Netflix potential than 52-year-old Jacques himself?

During an interview made possible by the media team at BetIdeas looking back on key moments during their time together in F1 and his ‘relationship’ with Schumacher, candid as ever Villeneuve said: “We never had one!”

“I have had some great relationships in racing and made some very close friends, but I never had one with him. It is a shame because he is one of the greatest. I don’t know if we would have gotten along because we were very different personalities. It doesn’t mean we could not have. We just will never know.”

Villeneuve recalled his arrival on the scene: “When I got into F1 he joined Ferrari. I was the next big thing without really deserving it, partly because of my Dad, who obviously had driven for Ferrari. I think there was some enmity there which didn’t help the relationship.

“Michael was not used to being beaten and was never being overtaken. It started when I overtook him on the outside at Estoril on the last corner in 1996. That did not have a good effect on our relationship,” recalled Villeneuve.

The move that got Schumacher disqualified and made Villeneuve World Champ

1997 European Grand Prix

Indeed, that move on the outside of the long and fast right-hander leading onto the Estoril start/finish straight is a popular clip on YouTube. Villeneuve was an F1 rookie, Schumacher a double F1 World Champion at that stage.

Villeneuve then elaborated on their feud: “He was the guy to beat because you knew you had to surprise him and do something special to beat him, something you probably could never repeat, a one-in-a-million manoeuvre which you had to go for.

“Racing him, even though it was frustrating and we got angry at each other, the satisfaction of beating him to the world championship was just unbelievable,” admitted Villeneuve, who was an 11-time Grand Prix winner.

However that was not the end of it, the animosity between Schumacher and Villeneuve intensified a year later, as did the politics: “Before that, there was another incident in Hockenheim. A few races from the end he was nine points behind before I got disqualified at Suzuka. That gave him the lead. He felt he had the championship won. I am sure of his mindset.

“Then it became a political thing and mind games before the race. A lot of that final race happened before it started! It involved me making sure through the media that we made everyone aware of what had happened against Hill and how he had won that championship against Damon. That forced the FIA to think that if something nasty happened the driver would be disqualified.”

Schumacher ended up in the gravel

schumacher villeneuve f1 jerez 1997

The Canadian continued: “Already that put doubt in Schumacher’s mind that he couldn’t think that if he took me out nothing would happen. Then it happened. I surprised him. When you drive with all that psychological battle having gone on, you don’t have the same freedom in your racing. He ended up in the gravel. YouTube video clip here>>>

“That is what helped in that overtaking manoeuvre. I had a split second. I had decided coming out of the previous corner, it was that lap or never, knowing how the tyres were. I knew I had to get out of that corner just a metre closer to him than any other lap. I could see how deep I was braking and every time I was just getting to his gearbox.

“I thought if I could just get one metre closer down the straight I could get a bit of a tow and then I could dive bomb him and it probably should work. He wouldn’t expect it or see me because I was too far in his mirror. That’s why I didn’t pull out until he started braking. He never saw me coming. It was a split second. It was the championship or nothing. So why not go for it? Why finish second?

“It was never the case that I went to take him off. I actually did everything I could to stay on track to make the corner which I did in the end. It was my best move EVER in racing! What made me really happy was that Valentino Rossi, when he went to Jerez to race, went to that place and kissed the ground. That was nice.

“The Schumacher camp had already made Number 1 baseball caps with three stars on them (to signify his third world championship) and Eddie Irvine ended up finding one so he walked around the paddock with it!” recalled Villeneuve, of his most famous year.

Villeneuve: That destroyed the potential of any relationship

The Jerez clash ended with Schumacher in the gravel with Villeneuve in P3 and thus the 1997 F1 World Champion. Schumacher was penalised by the FIA for his role the incident, but retained the five GP wins, but was stripped of his P2 place in the final championship standings.

But there was more as Jacques divulged: “After the main party we got back to the hotel and a couple of us from my group started playing with plastic garbage lids in the reception area. The bar was closed. Someone then gave us the keys to the bar and I ended up behind the bar pouring drinks to my friends.

“Michael arrived with his wife wearing a blonde wig (my hair was dyed peroxide white) which had been made by Renault. Michael came to the bar smiling and helping me pour drinks. I thought, ‘Cool, that’s fine we can move on. The Championship is finished.’

“The problem is the week after pictures came out in a magazine and papers in Germany with Michael saying look there’s no issues. I didn’t do anything bad. I am friends with Jacques, he isn’t angry with me.’

“That destroyed the potential of any relationship. That was my moment. He should not have used my moment for his own benefit. He came to the party only to make sure he could claim that moment. I really didn’t find that cool. From that moment on we never spoke,” admitted Villeneuve.

Jacques Villeneuve 1997 F1 World Champion

How I beat Schumacher to the title at Jerez '97 - by Jacques Villeneuve

As long as Schumacher lives in well-guarded seclusion, out of public view and in an unknown state of consciousness, this feud with Villeneuve will always remain unresolved, because anger of unfinished business still lingers. And was one of several unsavoury blips on an otherwise stellar career the seven-time F1 world champ and legend enjoyed in the top flight.

Without the near-fatal, life-altering skiing accident Schumacher suffered, where would he be today?

Villeneuve ventured: “I’m not sure. When he went away from F1 the first time he stayed away and rode motorbikes. So would he have actually been around the paddock if he hadn’t had his accident? Or would he have preferred something else and let his son race and not overshadow him?

“We have no idea how involved he would have been. It would have been great if he had been. But nobody talks. They have kept it very tight,” lamented Villeneuve of his old foe.

Sadly, this one shall not get closure until Michael gives his side of the story, which he probably never will. The End.

Big Question: Yo, Netflix! Villeneuve vs Schumacher Mini-Series?