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F1 Rewind: The last time Williams were World Champions

rehaan díaz
ANALYST
Feature
252   //    Timeless

Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Jacques Villeneuve at the Austrian GP podium
Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Jacques Villeneuve at the Austrian GP podium

The last time the Grove-based side won the manufacturer's title in Formula 1 was also the last time they defended it successfully - in 1997.

Team boss Sir Frank Williams fired 1996 F1 world champion Damon Hill in favour of Heinz-Harald Frentzen who teamed up with Jacques Villeneuve.

Williams once again built a front-running and dominating car with Renault engines, with the Canadian achieving what his illustrious father Gilles hadn't - become World Drivers' Champion. Villeneuve's victory was also the last instance that the championship was won by a non-European driver.

Three new teams came into Formula One in 1997: Prost, Stewart, and the short-lived Lola which only entered the Australian Grand Prix.

It was also the beginning of tire wars as Bridgestone entered into F1 and supplied tyres to midfield and back-marker teams like Arrows, Prost, Minardi, Stewart and Lola.

Williams with their entry - the FW19 - had a clear car advantage in the beginning over rivals Ferrari and Benetton and won eight out of the 17 races and started on pole 11 times.

The season was still competitive with wins for Ferrari, Benetton-Renault and McLaren-Mercedes, who were on their way up after Ayrton Senna left for Williams after 1993.

Villeneuve became world champion after winning IndyCar championship in 1995
Villeneuve became world champion after winning IndyCar championship in 1995

The Portuguese Grand Prix at the Estoril Circuit was originally scheduled as the 17th and final round of the season.

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After the organisers refused to make changes requested by the FIA, it was replaced by European Grand Prix at Jerez.

Incidentally, the drivers' championship went to the last race where for the first and till now only time, three drivers - Villeneuve, Frentzen, and Michael Schumacher, all registered the same fastest qualifying time, down to the last thousands of a second. The pole went to Villeneuve as he had set the time first.

Williams won their last championship and the engine suppliers Renault (RS9 3.0 V10) pulled out of the sport, which meant they entered a period of trouble. Their chief designer Adrian Newey was on gardening leave en-route his way to McLaren to work on the 1998 car.

The team went backward soon. Williams has had their few spikes and race wins since then, but they've never scaled the heights since Jerez 1997 when they were world champions for the last (ninth) time.

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