The 1997 Australian Grand Prix was a Formula One motor race held on 9 March 1997 at the Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit in Albert Park, Melbourne. It was the first race of the 1997 Formula One season. It was the second Grand Prix to be hosted in Melbourne. The 58-lap race was won by McLaren driver David Coulthard after starting from fourth position. Michael Schumacher finished second for the Ferrari and Coulthard's teammate Mika Häkkinen was third.
Nicola Larini scored his last ever world championship points at this race.
Two new teams came into Formula One in 1997: Stewart and Lola. Footwork reverted to their old name of Arrows and acquired Yamaha engines, while Ligier were bought by Alain Prost and changed their name to Prost Grand Prix. Tyrrell acquired Ford engines.
The change that dominated the drivers line up was Damon Hill's surprise sacking from Williams having just won the World Championship to join Tom Walkinshaw and the newly purchased Arrows team. In the week up to the race, there were rumours of Hill having left Arrows due to the poor performance of the car, rumours that were quashed.
Pedro Diniz with his sponsorship backing was hired as his teammate. Williams retained Jacques Villeneuve and was teamed with Heinz-Harald Frentzen who was not seen as a popular replacement to Hill.
Villeneuve was the bookmakers favourite heading into the new season, himself noting that being the favourite put "extra pressure, but it's good pressure [on me]".
Ferrari retained Michael Schumacher and Eddie Irvine, Benetton kept Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger and McLaren signed on Mika Häkkinen and David Coulthard. The Jordan team had two new drivers in Giancarlo Fisichella the Italian youngster from Minardi and had signed Ralf Schumacher brother of Michael in an interesting line up. The new Prost Grand Prix team kept Olivier Panis and signed Japanese rookie driver Shinji Nakano. Sauber kept Johnny Herbert and the loss of Frentzen saw Peter Sauber sign Ferrari test driver Nicola Larini. Tyrrell retained Mika Salo for a third year and added Jos Verstappen to the team from Arrows. Minardi with V8 Hart engines signed Ukyo Katayama and promising Italian driver Jarno Trulli. This was a milestone grand prix for Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Olivier Panis, both making their 50th race entry, and Johnny Herbert's 100th race entry.
The new Stewart Grand Prix team had signed Rubens Barrichello as their main driver and highly promising Danish driver Jan Magnussen. Lola recruited pay driver Riccardo Rosset and former Benetton test driver Vincenzo Sospiri.
Bridgestone also made their first official appearance in Formula 1 breaking Goodyear's reign as a sole tyre supplier which began in 1992. Bridgestone provided tyres for Minardi, Arrows, Prost, Stewart and Lola.
The British television coverage switched to ITV for the 1997 season and beyond, after 18 years of regular coverage for the BBC. Former driver Martin Brundle joined Murray Walker in the commentary box.
In the build-up to the weekend, Michael Schumacher was criticised for saying that the circuit "wasn't particularly special", with locals responding by calling him an "overpaid prima donna". There was also protests in the lead-up to the race, with protestors pouring diesel on to the track the week before the race. A strike also meant that there was no public services running, Jeff Kennett, the Premier of Victoria, labelling them "bloody minded" and that they will have to "incur the wrath of the community".
Canadian Jacques Villeneuve took his fourth career pole position after a stunning lap of 1:29.369, while Heinz-Harald Frentzen could only manage a 1:31.121 to fill the remaining spot on the front row. Only 6 drivers managed to qualify within 3 seconds of the pole position time. The session was red flagged with just over two minutes remaining after a collision between Gerhard Berger and Nicola Larini on the straight between turns 10 and 11. This resulted in many of the cars effectively having to complete a one-lap sprint to post a lap time before the end of the session. Damon Hill struggled during the session, only just qualifying inside of the 107% limit due to an oil leak which hampered the lap times. Both of the Lola cars failed to make the qualifying limit and were over ten seconds slower than Villeneuve in their first and only F1 qualifying session, as the team had to withdraw from the next race due to a lack of funds. Pedro Diniz was also outside of the 107% time, however he was permitted to race, having set a time in practice within the 107% time.
Before the race even began there were problems for the reigning world champion, Damon Hill. On the parade lap his throttle jammed leaving him stranded on the track and causing him to retire from the race. The drama continued into the first corner as Eddie Irvine dived into the first corner and misjudged his braking, hitting both Villeneuve and Herbert - all three were out of the race. The race was down to the strategies and here we had some interest because Williams had adopted a two-stop one although most of the cars were going for one-stop races. Jos Verstappen spun off on lap two while attempting to overtake Ukyo Katayama. In those early laps, however, Heinz-Harald did not have to worry about such problems. The car was light and he had an empty road ahead and no-one challenging. The gap went out rapidly: 2.7secs on the first lap; 3.7s on the second; 5.3s on the third; 7.2s on the fourth and so on. Both of the Jordan cars soon retired from the race, Ralf Schumacher suffering a gearbox problem and Fisichella spinning off the track while passing Barrichello. By lap 12, however, the progress stopped and for the next six laps the gap between first and second stayed at 17-18s. Heinz-Harald pitted on lap 18 and rejoined third. Jean Alesi embarrassingly retired from the race after running out of fuel, despite the Benetton team calling him into the pits 5 laps earlier. In the laps that followed he was able to close up on Coulthard and Schumacher but it was not as dramatic as one might have expected. Heinz lost time in traffic, struggling with the brakes and looking rather tentative on occasion. Coulthard and Schumacher pitted in mid-race and so Frentzen moved ahead again and ran very quickly for a few laps before he began to fade again. On lap 40 he came in for his second stop. The gap to Coulthard was only 23secs and with the time in the pitlane being around 22-24secs it was touch and go whether he would emerge ahead. In fact it was an academic question because his right rear tire caused problems and Heinz-Harald sat there for an extra six seconds by which time Coulthard and Schumacher were ahead. At the front David Coulthard continued to keep away from these incidents to lead the race, followed by Michael Schumacher and Frentzen. Frentzen closed up on Coulthard and Schumacher who were by then running together but Schumacher had to make an unscheduled fuel stop towards the end of the race, promoting Frentzen to second. Large quantities of dust had been coming from Frentzen's brakes for some time and with three laps to go a brake disc failed, sending him into the gravel trap at the end of the start/finish straight. Coulthard went on to take his second career win. It was also McLaren's first win since Ayrton Senna won the 1993 Australian Grand Prix.Note: Only the top five positions are included for both sets of standings.