F1 - Historica

SPA 1999: The day J. Villeneuve and Zonta crashed for a bet

The history of Formula 1 is full of myths and legends, probably based on something that actually happened but that got exaggerated by the sands of time. Today we won't tell an old-wives tale, insted we will recall the day Jacques Villeneuve and Ricardo Zonta crashed at Spa for a bet.

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SPA 1999: The day J. Villeneuve and Zonta crashed for a bet
Fuente imagen: Via RedBull.com

Spa-Franchorchamps, one of the legendary tracks of Formula 1, is well-known for its trickiness. Among all the dangers spread around the seven kilometres of the circuit, there's one that stands tall: Eau Rouge-Radillon.
Straight after you leave the pits what you face is a hill, rising for 24 metres, you have to climb through an S corner with a compression at the bottom and a blind apex on top. This double corner is known as Eau Rouge-Radillon.
Today the drivers go through it flat-out at over 300 km/h, but back in 1999 cars wouldn't stick and drivers were forced to lift the throttle to keep it on the road. That was absolutely clear, since Mika Hakkinen, on his qualifying lap, had the gas only 80% open on a well-performing McLaren car. But drivers are a crazy breed...

The 1997 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve had tested the danger of Radillon on his skin already in 1998, when he had an oversteer snap at the top of the hill that send him brutally against the outside barriers. The crash was massive, the car shattered in pieces, but the Canadian managed to walk away from the aftermath on his own feet.
"Because it's a big one, when you walk out and you're not hurt it's like when you get out of a big fight and you are the one who won" stated a very calm Villeneuve in front of the cameras. But Jacques wasn't happy with a 'mere win': he wanted to knock-out that infamous corner.

The following year, in 1999, he had the chance for a second round: before the Friday free practice session, Jacques walked to his BAR team-mate Ricardo Zonta and dared him "Let's see who can drive flat-out through Radillon". That was a non-sense challenge, since it was just not doable, but Ricardo didn't waste any time and accepted the bet.
The first to try was Villeneuve that at the top of the corner lost the rear of his BAR 01 and crashed heavily on the barriers in a carbon-copy of what happened the year before.
The Canadian walked out of the wrekage and when the journalists rushed to him, all he had to say was "I think the impact was smaller than last year but I rolled, so I have a bonus".
"A bonus? For what?" the journalists ask themselves, not knowing about the on-going bet.
After a twelve minutes long red flag, to clear the debries and repair the barriers, the session restarted.
Now it was Zonta's turn. The Brazilian entered Eau Rouge carrying a crazy speed, his car bottomed on the compression and was sent out-of-control against the inside barriers. The BAR bounced back on track, rolled over and kept on spinning before coming to a rest in the gravel trap. Spectators are shocked by the accident, but also Ricardo walked away unscaved.


"I was sitting at the pit-wall and i thought 'this cannot be true, it can't be my car again'" later commented Team Principal Craig Pollock. "But after all -he added- drivers are paid to take risks and push the car to the limit and sometimes they go over."
This multi-million-dollars-worth russian roulette was taken with more irony by Jock Clear that had a laugh on that by stating "It's a little bit disappointing, because I think that Jacques was outdone by Zonta..."


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