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Saturday, October 25, 1997 Published at 15:52 GMT


Formula One - The road to Jerez

Villeneuve - so close to the title after a stormy fortnight

The 1997 season has built to a dramatic climax. After 16 races at tracks around the world, it is this weekend's European Grand Prix on the 2.75 mile (4.4 km) long track in Jerez, Spain, which will decide the battle between Michael Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve for the world championship.

The Canadian driver is currently one point behind Schumacher following a controversial Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka on October 12. Villeneuve ignored a yellow flag in qualifying and was initially banned from the race. His Williams team appealed against the ruling, with the hearing to be held on Tuesday, October 21.

In the meantime, Villeneuve was allowed to take part in the race, but he had a possible disqualification hanging over him. He came fifth and gained two points - which would have kept him a point ahead of arch-rival Michael Schumacher. But after stern warnings to withdraw the appeal or risk being banned from competing in the final Grand Prix in Jerez, Williams decided to accept disqualification from the race, and forfeit the points.

Controversy at Suzuka...

Eddie Irvine came third in Japan, but was still the hero of a thrilling race. The Irishman, so often kept out of the limelight by his Ferrari teammate Michael Schumacher, was heralded by the German, who came home first to take 10 championship points.

On a track he knows extremely well, Irvine made a dramatic jump up the starting order to an early lead in the race. Having got out in front he pulled away from the pack. His performance was equalled by Ferrari's tactical prowess. Irvine let Schumacher pass him and held up Villeneuve long enough to guarantee 10 points for the twice world champion. Irvine was rewarded by third place on the podium and gratitude from the Ferrari team.

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Villeneuve came in fifth, but his Williams partner Heinz-Harald Frentzen stormed through to secure second place.

Memories of Adelaide '94

The Canadian will go into the dramatic showdown of the season one point behind Michael Schumacher in the Drivers Championship. Schumacher has 78, Villeneuve 77 points. After losing out to Damon Hill in the last race of 1996, Villeneuve will be eager to claim his first championship.

However, both drivers will remember the Adelaide Grand Prix in 1994. There Damon Hill could have won the championship if he had finished ahead of Michael Schumacher. Instead Hill finished the race in a gravel pit after a 'coming together' with Schumacher - who drove on to become World Champion.

In Sunday's race Villeneuve must finish ahead of Schumacher to win the championship. But if neither driver finished the race then Schumacher would claim a fourth title.

The Suzuka controversy has increased the level of excitement ahead of the final race.

To add to the emotionally charged atmosphere, Gerhard Berger has announced his retirement from Formula One. The popular Austrian will drive his last race in Jerez.

This race was originally added to the schedule because the French engine designers at Renault, in their final season in Formula One, did not want to say goodbye to the sport in Japan. No-one knew that it would provide such a tense climax to the season.


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