1997 Formula 1 Rejects Grand Prix 2 Championship season
The 1997 Formula 1 Rejects Grand Prix 2 Championship season was the fourth season of the F1RGP2C. The season was based upon the 1997 F1 season. Daniel Moreno and Williams started the year as reigning champions, and he would be aided by the retirement of his leading contender in 1996 Pippa Mann. However, the return to form of Ferrari, a fast McLaren and a rejuvinated James Davies would make things harder than ever for the Canadian, who sought to be the first person to retain their title in the F1RGP2C. The team who Moreno had driven for for the entirety of his career, Williams, also sought to be the first team to secure back-to-back constructor's titles in the F1RGP2C. In the end, Moreno and Williams emerged victorious from a hard-fought battle with Tom Douglas and Ferrari.
After the intra-team Williams drama of the 1996 F1RGP2C season, few expected similar fireworks for 1997. In preseason testing, Williams-Renault again demonstrated that they had the fastest car on the grid. Pieter Kickert had been signed by Williams following Pippa Mann's unceremonious departure at the end of 1996, which left him as the clear secondary driver to Daniel Moreno at Williams. Meanwhile, Ferrari were once again on the prowl, having left 1996 unsatisfied with the reliability of the car. Tom Douglas and Kazuhiko Takagi returned to bring Ferrari back to championship glory, with Douglas being touted as one of Moreno's main championship rivals. Benetton, perennial F1RGP2C title contenders, hoped to repeat the same surprising success from 1996, but testing showed that they had much work to do. Andrew Spokes and John Zimmer both expected a trying season. At McLaren, James Davies, Rory McAllister and Don Rennis all claimed that they could fight for victories in 1997, but no one paid them much attention. Instead, the popular dark-horse favorite was the newest iteration of the Jordan team, back with Leonhard von Gottorp and Damon Cannon.
Although driver lineups stayed stagnant at the top, many midfield teams awaited the debut of new drivers on the scene. Five rookies prepared to make their debut at the first round in Australia, Lawrence Tucker, Stephano Baroncelli, Jan van der Maeyede, Massimiliano Patrese and Bernhard Pech. Two brand-new teams also arrived at Australia, MasterCard Lola and Stewart. The Lolas were projected to prop up the rear of the field, but they had signed former-podium finisher Poppy Whitechapel to a contract and hoped to qualify for most races. Stewart had the potential to be a strong midfield team with veteran Ben Fleet and van der Maeyede at the helm. The Tyrrell team had been bought by Guillaume Gauthier for 1997, but a late protest by Ferrari blocked the team's name change. Their two drivers, Tucker and Samael Meerwick were both unproven. The upper midfield was to be populated by Sauber and Ligier, but no one expected DAMS' emergence as a midfield contender during preseason testing. Niko Nurminen and James Allen were both excited for the team's prospects.
The Australian Grand Prix was won by Rory McAllister, who cruised home to victory after mechanical failures struck all of his nearest rivals. Daniel Moreno was awarded an undisputed Reject of the Race for failing to qualify. McLaren's stunning victory left many rethinking their championship predictions. McLaren's form immediately dropped off in Brazil though, as Moreno dominated the race from pole position with Kickert trailing. Tom Douglas could only manage third. In Argentina, James Davies captured his first race victory and McLaren's second in three races. Davies was in contention to win the San Marino Grand Prix, but Masta Valsattis took advantage of a late mistake by Davies to take a stunning victory. Valsattis' maiden victory was followed by back-to-back wins for Moreno in Monaco and Spain. Douglas responded with two consecutive victories in North America, dominating Moreno's home race in Canada in the process.
The 1997 F1RGP2C United States Grand Prix proved to be the low ebb of Benetton's least successful season in the F1RGP2C. Andrew Spokes had DNQed due to mechanical issues in Spain, managed a podium in Canada before spectacularly crashing out at Road America. Kazuhiko Takagi remained as consistent as ever while James Davies' championship hopes faded by the end of the United States Grand Prix. Douglas' emphatic victories left him in the lead of the Drivers' Championship at the halfway mark, but Williams still controlled the Constructors'. Douglas retired from the lead in France, handing an easy victory to Moreno. The same situation reversed itself in Britain, but Pieter Kickert became the beneficiary of Moreno's misfortunes.
Moreno bounced back at the next race in Germany after Douglas was involved in an early collision with the Benettons. Although Douglas had the fastest car on the weekend, his off-track antics earned him Reject of the Race and handed Moreno a ten-point lead in the Drivers' Championship. Despite a good showing in Germany, McLaren squandered a chance at victory at the artificially wet Hungarian Grand Prix after a late-race transmission failure for James Davies. Moreno spun off on Lap 12 of the race, which allowed Douglas to cruise home for his third win of the season. Then came the 1997 F1RGP2C Belgian Grand Prix, one of the best races in F1RGP2C history. A classic surprise Ardennes rainstorm struck the Spa-Francorchamps circuit, leaving the field in disarray. In an extremely controversial incident, outspoken backmarker Robert Anderson, then driving for Gauthier, collided with Tom Douglas. Anderson was criticized for unsafely reentering the circuit, potentially costing Tom Douglas the world championship. Luckily for Douglas, Moreno sustained a mechanical failure, which allowed Andrew Spokes to inherit his fifth career F1RGP2C victory. Niko Nurminen finished in a fantastic third place for DAMS. Anderson was fired immediately and replaced by Brazilian Plinio Vida.
Over the two-week break between Belgium and Italy, Williams announced that Kickert's services would not be retained for 1998. Andrew Spokes was then given Kickert's spot at Williams. At Monza, the scene of Moreno's lucky break in 1996, everything seemed to be going the Canadian's way after he inherited the lead from James Davies on Lap 14. But Pieter Kickert and Damon Cannon continued to resist and the Williams number-two driver passed Moreno for the lead on Lap 24, despite frantic countermanding orders from Williams' management. Moreno tried to repass Kickert on the next lap and the pair collided. The Williams disaster enabled Douglas to hang on in the Drivers' Championship and allowed Damon Cannon to win his first grand prix. Kickert recovered to finish second in his final race with Williams as Prince Walik sacked the Dutchman immediately and replaced him with Clivio Durand. Durand went on to win the Austrian Grand Prix; his first career victory and points finish. Strangely, the Williams team did not let Daniel Moreno clinch the title at the A1 Ring after Douglas sustained a mechanical problem earlier in the race (he finished fifth).
Williams went on to nearly regret their decision in Japan. In typical Daniel Moreno fashion, Moreno crashed out in the rain at Suzuka. With Douglas in the lead, the Ferrari driver had an excellent opportunity to pull off a miracle and win the championship in the eleventh hour. Sadly, Douglas dramatically crashed out a few laps later, sealing the championship in favor of Daniel Moreno. Andrew Spokes went on to win another race for Benetton, putting Benetton ahead of McLaren for third in the Constructors' Championship by just one point.
Overall, 1997 was an above-average season. Most races were filled with good action and interesting subplots. The series also returned to the sheer randomness of 1994; nine different drivers claimed victory for six different teams. Several drivers proved that they could be top-flight stars in their own right, particularly Pablo da Silva, Masta Valsattis, Clivio Durand, Pieter Kickert and even James Davies (to an extent). Meanwhile, many F1RGP2C veterans (John Zimmer, Leonhard von Gottorp, Ben Fleet, Gio van Dycke, etc.) struggled mightily all season. Plenty of teams were also sorely disappointed by 1997 for vastly different reasons. McLaren never lived up to their early-season promise and threw away numerous opportunities. Arrows completely failed to make the leap into the midfield. Minardi trundled around the back once again. Stewart was reasonably quick but lost out badly due to chronic reliability issues. Volga slightly improved from last season, but were still abysmal.
Yet these drivers and teams were not the most rejectful parts of the season. Unlike previous years, the "Reject Podium" was never really in doubt for much of the season. Massimiliano Patrese finished third on the podium after a dismal season at MasterCard Lola, where he was utterly outdriven by his teammate Poppy Whitechapel. Gauthier-Ford was second, partly due to the eventual winner, and partly because of their awful driver decisions. Gauthier set a new record for most drivers utilized in one season with eight and none of them were any good. Lawrence Tucker and Samael Meerwick were just slow. Martin McFry was accident-prone and inconsistent. Vida, Voeckler, Wyndham and Gustafsson were never really given a full shot. And they had Robert Anderson. Needless to say, Robert Anderson was the undisputed "Reject of the Year" for 1997. Unlike some of the other candidates, Anderson was not just appallingly slow and dangerous on-track. He was also idiotically outspoken and his insane, unintelligent ramblings were widely derided. Then, after he was unceremoniously sacked by Gauthier, he embarked on a pointless legal campaign against his former team. Finally, news leaked that Anderson had been taking performance-enhancing and mind-altering drugs during the season, which led to a lengthy ban, retroactive disqualification (initially for 1997, but later also for 1996, according to the The F1RGP2C Saga book) and a criminal investigation, leading to his arrest after the collapse of RTCC the following year (although it was for soccer hooliganism). Anderson proceeded to frame Rollock before walking away from the sport.
Lastly, congratulations should be in order for Daniel Moreno, who became the sport's first (and arguably least-deserving) double-champion. This year, Moreno's misfortunes were generally the fault of his team (well, other than San Marino and Japan), rather than his own. Meanwhile, Tom Douglas will look back on this year with profound regret. If events had shifted slightly in his favor, he could have easily been champion. Heck, if his Ferrari engine didn't blow up with five laps to go at the first race in Albert Park, Douglas would have won the title. But Williams clearly possessed the fastest car in the field and it became more difficult for Ferrari and McLaren to hold on by the end of the year. Williams' third Constructors' title was wrapped up by midseason, leaving Ferrari in a solitary second place, well ahead of the battle for third. That battle was unconvincingly won by Benetton, who continued to fall down the grid in 1997. McLaren and Jordan continued to rise and should be poised for more success in 1998. Sauber had a brilliant year, thanks to the renewed form of Pablo da Silva. DAMS also made great progress. Will 1998 rise to the same standard of 1997? That remains to be seen.
Drivers and teams
|Team||Constructor||Chassis||Engine||Seat holder||#||Race Drivers||Rounds||Test/Reserve Drivers|
|Rothmans Williams Renault||Williams||FW19||Renault RS9 3.0 V10|| Prince Walik
|1||Daniel Moreno||All||Clivio Durand|
|Mild Seven Benetton Renault||Benetton||B197||Renault RS9 3.0 V10||John Zimmer||3||Andrew Spokes||All||None|
|Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro||Ferrari||F310B||Ferrari 046 3.0 V10||Andreas Stefano||5||Tom Douglas||All||Éadbhard Ó'Caoimhín|
|West McLaren Mercedes||McLaren||MP4/12||Mercedes FO 110/3 3.0 V10||Don Rennis||7||James Davies||All||None|
|Benson & Hedges Jordan Peugeot||Jordan||197||Peugeot A14 EV5 3.0 V10||Leonhard von Gottorp||9||Leonhard von Gottorp||All||None|
|Red Bull Sauber Petronas||Sauber||C16||Petronas SPE-01 3.0 V10||Chris Forbes||11||Pablo da Silva||All||Giovanni Roda|
|Ligier Gauloises Blondes||Ligier||JS45||Mugen-Honda MF-301 HA 3.0 V10||Dennis Mignolet||14||Masta Valsattis||All||Martin McFry|
|Minardi Team||Minardi||M197||Hart 830 AV7 3.0 V8||Masta Valsattis||16||Gio van Dycke||All||Ivan Lopez|
|PIAA Gauthier Team Tyrrell Ford||Tyrrell||025||Ford EDM4 3.0 V8||Guillaume Gauthier||18||Lawrence Tucker||1-5||None|
|Danka von Hegel Arrows Yamaha||Arrows||A18||Yamaha OX11A 3.0 V10||Max von Hegel||20||Jorg Scrattenheim||1-15||Alejandrina Rodriguez|
|21||Stephano Baroncelli||1-10, 12-16|
|TF1 DAMS Peugeot||DAMS||DA-03||Peugeot A14 EV5 3.0 V10||Thomas Kretzhaagel||22||Niko Nurminen||All||Robert Anderson|
|23||James Allen||1-8, 10-16|
|Max von Hegel||9|
|Volga Grand Prix||Volga||CHAD-03||Volga VG1 3.0 V8||Petr Chaddeev||24||Anton Kaliniczenko||1-14||None|
|HBSC Malaysia Stewart Ford||Stewart||SF01||Ford VJ Zetec-R 3.0 V10||Eddie Stewart||26||Ben Fleet||All||None|
|27||Jan van der Maeyede||All|
|MasterCard Lola F1 Team||Lola||T97/30||Melling Lola-1 V10||Clint Mort||28||Poppy Whitechapel||All||None|
- Forti bowed out of the sport at the end of 1996 after the team went into administration following the 1996 German Grand Prix. They were replaced by Clint Mort's MasterCard Lola team.
- Stewart also entered the sport in 1997 which mean that two cars would not qualify for every race.
- After Keith Wiggins parted ways with Petr Chaddeev following a legal battle during the off-season, Wiggins revoked Chaddev's licence to use the Pacific Grand Prix name and so the team became Volga Grand Prix.
- DAMS signed a deal for Peugeot engines.
- Hermann Mann became joint seat-holder at Williams, the first time that joint seat-holders had been implemented since the incarnation of the rule. He would have control over the second Williams seat, while Prince Walik kept control of the first seat, with both seat-holders having input into the test/reserve driver position.
- Guillaume Gauthier took over Tyrrell after Eadbhard O'Caiohmin left at the last minute. Gauthier renamed the team to Gauthier, but it was done only partially following Comission's considerations despite unsuccessful protest from Ferrari.
- Tyrrell refugee Poppy Whitechapel signed for Lola along with Italian Massimiliano Patrese who was backed by Italian football club Empoli FC.
- Jan van der Maeyede, no longer using the psuedonym Martin (coincidentally the name of his son, Martin van der Maeyede), was signed by the new Stewart team. Ben Fleet signed with Stewart after two disheartening years at DAMS.
- Pay driver James Allen replaced the outgoing Ben Fleet at DAMS.
- The Mann siblings of Douglas and Pippa retired from the sport. This meant that Pieter Kickert, who impressed new Williams seat-holder Hermann Mann enough to be offered a drive, replaced Pippa at Williams, while Ligier drivers Masta Valsattis and Reiko Megumi drove full-time after Douglas Mann's retirement.
- Clivio Durand was ousted from Tyrrell/Gauthier to become Williams' reserve driver. Samael Meerwick and Lawrence Tucker took the seats from Durand and Éadbhard Ó'Caoimhín, the latter having left Tyrrell at the last minute and too signed as Ferrari's test driver.
- After the Monaco GP, Gauthier/Tyrrell sacked both drivers and replaced them with Martin McFry and Robert Anderson.
- Stephano Baroncelli broke his finger after the British Grand Prix. He was replaced at Arrows by reserve driver Alejandrina Rodriguez.
- Robert Anderson was fired from Gauthier/Tyrrell after taking out Tom Douglas at the 1997 F1RGP2C Belgian Grand Prix. Anderson set fire to his car after the race when it was announced that he had been replaced in favor of Plinio Vida, an announcement that Guillaume Gauthier personally delivered during a post-race interview. Anderson was banned from racing in Europe for one year after the incident. He was evantually banned permanently from F1RGP2C for doping charges, although it was rescinded (he was instead given a two year ban and one year suspended ban from FIA-sanctioned events).
- Pieter Kickert was fired from Williams after colliding with Daniel Moreno at Monza, ruining Morneo's chance to extend his championship lead. Williams test and reserve driver Clivio Durand stepped in to replace him.
- Jorg Scrattenheim was handed a second Williams chance by Prince Walik, menaing that the German would be in the #2 Williams for the Japan finale.
- To aid new drivers looking to enter the series, and aid the team's bank balance, Gauthier/Tyrrell offered their second seat to anyone interested. After entering negotiations with Johan Gustafsson, Martin McFry offered to leave the team to allow the Swede his F1RGP2C debut, which was followed up on, while the second seat was filled by free agents Frédéric-Maxime Voeckler and Tracey Wyndham.
- Volga Grand Prix signed Japanese pay-driver Yuuri Jougaseki for the last two races of the season, replacing Anton Kaliniczenko.
|8||Pablo da Silva||3||6||10*||11||Ret||10||4||Ret||6||7||Ret||5||4||3||Ret||2||24|
|12||Leonhard von Gottorp||Ret||Ret||12*||Ret||Ret||Ret||7||5||5||5||Ret||6||6||4||6||7||12|
|21||Gio van Dycke||Ret||Ret||Ret||Ret||10||Ret||Ret||Ret||Ret||11||Ret||Ret||7||15*||14||Ret||0|
|24||Max von Hegel||8||0|
|27||Jan van der Maeyede||Ret||11||Ret||12||Ret||12||Ret||11||Ret||Ret||Ret||12||Ret||12||Ret||Ret||0|
|DSQ||Robert Anderson||DNQ||DSQ||DNQ||DSQ||DNQ||DNQ||DSQ||DSQ||EX||EX||EX||DSQ (0)|
|Formula One Rejects Grand Prix 2 Championship Seasons|