There is plenty of love lost between Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill, especially after the 1996 world championship fight. The Briton was still extremely bitter about losing the 1996 title when the German crashed into him. So, at the 1997 Japanese Grand Prix, Hill plotted his revenge.
Damon Hill already qualified down the order in 17th, so had nothing to lose. Schumacher led from Hill’s former teammate, Heinz-Harald Frentzen, and the two were coming up to lap Hill. The 1996 champion decided to mess with Schumacher and not allow him to pass. After holding him up for more than a lap, an incensed Michael finally passed him, flipping Hill off as his Ferrari barged past.
To really rub salt in the wound, Hill didn’t nearly as big a fight when Frentzen came to lap him. This did little to stop Michael from winning, but it was practically a psychological war between the Ferrari driver and his rivals. As evidenced at the season finale in Jerez, Michael may have won the Suzuka battle, but Jacques Villeneuve eventually won the 1997 war.
How Michael Schumacher let everyone get to his head
Some would suggest that this incident showed the first sign that the German was cracking under pressure. Truth be told, it likely explains why he chose to rip up the rule book and play rough. Too bad for him that the FIA caught onto his act this time, and didn’t allow him to get away like last year.
In the end, the 1997 title went to Villeneuve after Schumi tried to attack him, like he did with Hill. Luckily, the Canadian paid attention to last year’s season finale and expected such a stunt. So, when the German turned on him, Villeneuve did enough to survive and send Schumacher in the gravel. But the real question is, ‘Did Damon Hill set things rolling with his petty revenge?’