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On 26th October 1997, the European Grand Prix was held at the Jerez de la Frontera circuit in southern Spain, as the final round of that year’s Formula 1 World Championship. After the polemics in Suzuka, when Villeneuve was disqualified, first sub judice and then confirmed, Michael Schumacher arrived in Andalusia leading the classification by a single point over his platinum blonde rival. He therefore only needed to finish ahead of the Williams driver to win the title and put an end to a championship drought that had lasted over 18 years.
Something amazing happened in qualifying with the top three on the grid – Villeneuve, Schumacher and Frentzen – setting in chronological order and as a consequence the order in the classification, the very same time of 1.21.072. At the start, the Ferrari man got away better than his rival and kept the lead in the opening laps, increasing his lead over the Williams pair. After the first pit stop, Michael managed to get back on track ahead of Villeneuve, but Frentzen, who had planned to run a long first stint, created a bottle neck so his team mage could close up.
The leitmotiv of the second stint was the passing moves, on a track where overtaking has always been difficult, but once he had made his second stop, Michael managed to keep the lead. Everything seemed to be heading in the right direction for a Ferrari win, but on lap 47 came the blow Michael, who was saving his tyres for the final stages, let the Canadian close right up, confident however that he would not manage to get past. Villeneuve realised this was his only opportunity and, in the braking area for Dry Sac, went down the inside: Michael didn’t realise in this situation that Villeneuve in all probability would end up going off into the gravel on the outside and so instinctively closed the door, making contact with his rival and thus helping the Williams driver to make the turn. It was thus the German’s F310 that ended its race in the gravel in the escape road, thus extinguishing the Scuderia’s title dreams.
Villeneuve could now win the race but allowed the two McLarens to overtake him as per an agreement between the two teams which only came to light later on.
At the end of the race, there was a huge fuss in the media, orchestrated mainly by the English press who were certainly not sympathetic towards either Michael or Ferrari. On the wave of this controvery, the next day the FIA , who on Sunday afternoon had put the incident down to a normal race incident, appointed itself the arbiter of sportsmanship and called Michael and the team to face the World Council on the 11th November. At this time, the German champion was deprived of his second place in the championship for having deliberately caused the collision, but without premeditation, while Ferrari was allowed to keep its Constructors’ points. As for the collusion between Williams and McLaren, nothing was done, despite proof in the form of radio communications, being glaring.