Five years ago, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Formula 1 world championship won by Jacques Villeneuve, Motorsport.com interviewed the Canadian, who explained the controversial race at Jerez in which Schumacher was disqualified and he took the title.
Although much has been said about that controversy and that European Grand Prix , Villeneuve revealed a story unknown to almost everyone. Something that did not happen on the circuit but that same day, more specifically at night.
The 1997 season had focused on Jacques Villeneuve and Michael Schumacher. And after losing the title to his Williams team-mate Damon Hill the year before, Villeneuve smashed his new pit neighbor Heinz-Harald Frentzen and only rivaled Ferrari with Schumacher.
Villeneuve and Schumacher arrived in Jerez, at the European GP , separated by only one point in favor of the German, and in qualifying they finished tied with Frentzen, all three with exactly the same time of 1:21.072. Schumacher kept the lead at the start and Villeneuve passed his teammate Frentzen. But when he went to make the overtaking that would give him the title, Villeneuve encountered a historic maneuver by Schumacher that ended in an accident and disqualification from the world championship for the German.
Suddenly, the ‘Michael Schumacher, World Champion 1997′ caps that the driver’s manager, Willi Weber, had bought were unusable, and the joy passed to Williams’ side. All the members of the team witnessed the podium with a blonde wig, as a nod to Villeneuve’s hair color, and at night Villeneuve and his crew went to a Renault party, in a nightclub that suddenly, just after midnight, turned on the lights and announced the closing of the bar.
With no alternative plan, the party moved to the Hotel Montecastillo where they were staying, in Jerez. A celebration that had an assistant, who was not invited, special. The bar there was also closed, but the entire entourage took the bottles from the minibars in their rooms and went downstairs to set up an impromptu celebration. Such was the commotion that the hotel owner decided it would be a better plan to open the bar, although there was no waiter.
“Our relationship was never good,” Gilles Villeneuve’s son began about Schumacher before explaining the story.
“What put an end to our possible relationship is what happened at the party that night, in Jerez. It happened at the hotel. There was so much noise that someone opened the bar. There was no waiter, but a friend and I took care of make of it. And then Schumacher arrived.”
“He did it with a yellow wig. Those wigs had been made by Renault because I had platinum blonde hair. He stood behind the bar next to me pouring glasses, with a big smile. He put his arm around my shoulder and his woman took photos. Good, great. We laughed and everything was fine…”.
Eddie Irvine, the other Ferrari driver, pulled an acoustic guitar out of his room and tried to play some tunes (the intro to Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here ) while Schumacher’s physio flipped some containers to play a bongo. It was all laughter and behind the bar Schumacher, in his wig, was trying to make small talk with a slightly reluctant Villeneuve. It was somewhat surprising, given the intensity of their battle on the track and the controversy that was still brewing.
“It was weird, but there was a reason for it. There was no talk about the accident, it was just about having a good time and being waiters, serving everyone drinks. It was fun, he played along, he was a good actor.” And I’m sure a part of him was amused too, because he enjoyed having a good night out.
“Personally, at the time I thought it was cool, because that’s the kind of thing I would have done. ‘Okay, you beat me.’ That’s how it was with Damon the year before. At that point I didn’t see what was coming next.” .
“But a week later, in all the German newspapers, you could see those photos with some words saying: ‘Here is the proof that I did nothing wrong [in the Jerez race], I am a friend of Jacques.’
“He used my celebration, he took advantage of my moment and not because he thought it was pretty, but for the media. And it really pissed me off. That’s what ruined any relationship potential there might be, what happened off the track. not inside.”
One of those stories for which Schumacher left no one indifferent and for which, although many people adore him, there is no unanimity among all Formula 1 fans. Despite this, his track record is unblemished and he is a true legend of the category. We continue to wish for your recovery every day.
Keep fighting, Michael!