Villeneuve Back in Japanese GP
Oct. 11, 1997
SUZUKA, Japan (AP) _ Canadian star Jacques Villeneuve was reinstated Saturday in the Japanese Grand Prix after race officials accepted an appeal from his team over his disqualification.
Villeneuve will start from the pole position Sunday _ his ninth this season.
Earlier in the day, Villeneuve had appeared a step closer to his first Formula One season title, after edging two-time champion Michael Schumacher in qualifying.
Then Villeneuve was disqualified for ignoring a yellow flag. His team, Williams-Renault, appealed, and the grand prix stewards met to discuss the appeal. Villeneuve was reinstated an hour later.
``The stewards have just decided that he will be reinstated under appeal,'' said International Federation of Automobile Sport spokesman Alistair Watkins.
Still, the chances for Villeneuve's title victory remain in the air.
Even if he wins, Villeneuve will only be provisional champion until the FIA, auto racing's governing body, makes a ruling. If the FIA dismisses the appeal by his team, he will lose his title.
``This is the most difficult season I've ever been part of in any form of racing,'' Villeneuve told reporters after his reinstatement under appeal.
The stewards initially expelled Villeneuve because he ignored the yellow flag during a free practice earlier Saturday and passed Jos Verstappen's Tyrrell-Ford, which was parked on the side of the racetrack for engine trouble.
The yellow flag prohibits drivers from passing any car on the racetrack.
Villeneuve's team argued that he did not pass the car because he was a lap ahead of that car.
Five other drivers _ Schumacher of Germany, Johnny Herbert of Britain, Ukyo Katayama of Japan, Rubens Barichello of Brazil and Heinz-Harald Frentzen of Germany _ were handed down warnings that they would be suspended if they ignore the yellow flag again.
Villeneuve was disqualified because he already had a similar warning from the Monaco Grand Prix in May.
Sunday's race is the season's 16th and penultimate event, and Villeneuve, a French-Canadian, only needed to finish ahead of Schumacher in the top six places to clinch the 1997 title.
During the qualifying session, the 26-year-old Villeneuve set the fastest lap time on the 3.644-mile Suzuka Circuit in 1 minute, 36.071 seconds.
Schumacher, 28, will start from the second grid after finishing in 1:36.133, jut 0.062 seconds behind Villeneuve. Schumacher's Ferrari teammate Eddie Irvine of Britain was third at 1:36.466.
So far, Villeneuve, a former IndyCar champion, leads Schumacher by nine points in the standings, 77 to 68.
Winning a grand prix is worth 10 points, and one point is awarded to the sixth-placer. A tie in the standings would give the title to Villeneuve because he has won more races so far _ seven to Schumacher's four.
Schumacher gave up his five-month lead after retiring on lap two following a collision with his brother, Ralf, on the Nuerburgring Circuit in Germany on Sept. 29.