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When Michael Schumacher, Jacques Villeneuve and Harald Frentzen fetched pole position together during controversial Grand Prix in 1997

Ananya Bangera

Although Senna retired from almost half the races in the 1984 season, he never finished lower than seventh, when the car actually reached the chequered flag. The Brazilian had signed a deal with Toleman that meant he would remain with the team until 1986, but when Lotus came knocking, Senna didn’t hesitate to jump ship. From a legal point of view, everything was pretty much in order. However, the timing of the announcements was a bit of a shit-show. Before Lotus triggered the £100,000 release clause to get Senna out of his Toleman contract, the PR department apparently didn’t get the message and announced that Senna would be joining the team in 1985. Toleman was therefore pretty pissed and as a punishment, suspended Senna for the 1984 Italian Grand Prix. I’m sure he didn’t lose a lot of sleep over it though!

Three drivers shared the pole time during the 1997 European Grand Prix, leading to a huge controversy and drama for F1.

The 1997 European Grand Prix, held at the Circuito Permanente de Jerez, will go down in the history books as the race where Jacques Villeneuve won his first and only title after Michael Schumacher retired from the race while attempting to overtake Villeneuve.

But this wasn’t the only odd thing that happened during that race. The final race of the 1997 Formula One season saw three drivers set identical times for the pole position; in what would become one of the most controversial races of all time.

Even in 1997, the timekeeping was precise enough to record lap times down to the thousandth of a second. During the qualifying session of the Grand Prix, Villeneuve secured the pole position. Followed by Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher and Williams Renault’s Heinz-Harald Frentzen in third place.

But what makes this qualifying round exceptional is the fact that the time set by the three drivers; was identical to a thousandth of a second. Jacques Villeneuve set the reference time in the one-hour, 12-lap session, crossing the line with a lap of 1:21.072.

Ferrari legend Michael Schumacher followed with the identical time finishing in second place at 1:21.072; accurate to a thousandth of a second. With the commentators and the fans still gasping for breath, Williams Renault’s Heinz-Harald Frentzen finishes third. Clocking in at the identical 1:21.072 mark, making it a three-way tie between them.

Also read: Michael Schumacher almost won against a $142 Million fighter jet during a race in Italy

The rarest of rare qualifying

The fourth spot was taken by Damon Hill in his Arrows-Yamaha with a time of 1:21.130. Only 0.058 seconds off the pole in a fantastic but largely forgotten display.

He had been on course to get pole position but was forced to slow down towards the finish of the lap due to yellow flags in response to an accident involving Ukyo Katayama’s Minardi.

The three-man pole was completely unprecedented in Formula One. It rightly stole the headlines, and to this day remains the closest result in a qualifying session.

According to the F1 regulations, when drivers set identical qualifying times, the order in which the times were set is taken into account. The driver who set the time first was given priority. Villeneuve was granted the pole position, with Schumacher coming in second and Frentzen coming in third.

If the race had been completed this way, Villeneuve would have won his first Formula One championship. Instead, Mika Hakkinen went on to win his maiden Formula One race, with Coulthard taking second.

While Villeneuve was able to secure third place, winning the 1997 Formula One World Championship. The 1997 season was full of thrills and easily one of the most controversial years for Formula 1.

Also read: Michael Schumacher drove 19 qualifying laps to win 9 seconds ahead of David Coulthard

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