3 drivers set the EXACT same pole-position time in Formula 1 qualifying

Alex Gassman

by Alex Gassman

Schumacher Villeneuve Frentzen Jerez 1997

Formula 1 qualifying often sees one or more drivers seperated by only a couple of tenths or hundredths of a second.

But there was one qualifying session where the gap was even less than that. In fact, there was no gap at all between the top-3 drivers, in what turned out to be a one in a million event

Jerez 1997

First I’ll set the scene. It’s the final round of the 1997 Formula 1 World Championship at the Jerez circuit in Spain. It’s actually called the European Grand Prix as there was already a race held in spain earlier that year.

This was the title decider. The contenders were Michael Schumacher and the Canadian driver Jacques Villeneuve, who both entered the final round on 78 points. Villeneuve’s teammate Heinz-Harold Frentzen was in third place, but too far behind on points to win the title.

Villeneuve had already won 7 races so far that season and Michael had won 5. The title was anyone’s, and it was all to play for.

1997 F1 race weekend format

During the 1997 Formula 1 season the race weekends had a slightly different format to how they do now.

Before qualifying there were four seperate practice sessions. The first two were one hour long and the second two were 45 minutes.

Then for qualifying itself, all the drivers had a 1 hour window in which to set their fastest lap time. Within that hour each driver could set up to 12 timed laps (the fastest of which was used as their qualfiying time). There was no knockout Q1 / Q2 / Q3 like there is now.

1 in a million

The qualiying times were measured by TAG Heuer with a precision of one-one thousandth of a second – 0.000.

Drivers are often seperated by less than tenths or hundredths of seconds, such is the nature of the sport’s competitiveness, so the extra decimal place was needed. But no-one could have guessed what would happen in this particular qualifying session.

Villeneuve was the first to set his fastest lap. He clocked a 1:21.072 lap time. Next up was Schumacher who crossed the line with a 1:21.072. Exactly the same. No two drivers had ever tied for pole position before.

Frentzen was the last to set a lap and, unbelievably, he again set a 1:21.072. It was a 3-way tie for pole position with the three drivers having clocked the exact same lap time. Nothing like that had ever happened, or is like to ever happen again.

The rules stated that in the event of a tie, the driver who set the lap time first gets the position. So the starting order was Villeneuve, Schumacher, Frentzen.

Murray on the commentary

In the commentary box at the time was the legendary Murray Walker, accompanied by a young looking Martin Brundle.

The amazing footage below takes you inside the booth as the two iconic commentators react to this truly astonishing event.

The title is decided

Villeneuve got a poor start and dropped behind Schumacher and his teammate. Frentzen let him past, but it wasn’t until the drivers had pitted that he managed to catch up to Michael.

Whichever driver finished ahead of the other would win the title, and both of them knew this.

Schumacher was losing pace. Villeneuve was right behind him and was carefully picking his moment to try and pass. And on lap 47 he made his move.

He dived up the inside of Schuey in a clean move. But when he did so, perhaps knowing that his title was slipping away, Schumacher turned hard in to the side of Villeneuve.

That put Michael in to the gravel where he got stuck and retired from the race. Villeneuve continued to finish third and take his one and only F1 championship.

After the race the FIA dealt Michael a harsh punishment. He was deemed to have turned in to Jacques on purpose, and for that they disqualified him from the championship entirely.

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Alex Gassman

I‘m Alex. I write F1 and motorsport guides based on my own experience as a racing driver and full-time motorsport nerd. I’ve traveled the world watching F1 and other racing series.

I started oversteer48 with the aim of helping other motorsport fans who want to learn more about racing.

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