F1 Blast From the Past: Schumacher Wins First Race for Ferrari in Soaking Spain

Formula 1’s European season continued into Barcelona for the Spanish Grand Prix at the Circuit de Catalunya, round seven of the 1996 World Championship.

The Williams drivers of Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve had dominated the season so far, winning all but one of the first six races. After a crazy race in Monaco that saw Olivier Panis claim his only F1 win, Hill led Villeneuve by 21 points, with defending world champion Michael Schumacher in third on 16 points.


Hill broke Schumacher’s pole streak in qualifying, setting a time almost half a second faster than his Williams teammate Villeneuve. The Canadian rookie had regained his form after a disappointing weekend in Monaco two weeks previously.

Damon Hill claimed pole for the Spanish GP. Image: Pinterest

Schumacher qualified third ahead of the two Benetton’s of Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger with Eddie Irvine completing an all Williams-Ferrari-Benetton top six. While at the tail of the field, in a repeat of the season opener in Melbourne and at the Nürburgring, both Forti-Ford cars fell afoul of the 107% rule and missed the cut.


Soaking Spain

Race day saw very un-June like Spanish weather, with torrential rain. 65 laps of the saturated Barcelona circuit started with Villeneuve getting a better start than his teammate and taking an early lead, with Alesi moving up to second. Schumacher lost several places due to a clutch problem.

Villeneuve took the lead at the start of the race. Image: F1.

As the field bunched up behind, there was trouble as David Coulthard’s McLaren collided with Pedro Lamy’s Minardi, eliminating both on the spot. The other Minardi of Giancarlo Fisichella was involved in a separate collision with Ricardo Rosset’s Footwork, the damage ending both their races.

Monaco winner Panis came back down to earth with a bang, as his race was over after just one lap with suspension damage. Villeneuve led from Alesi, Hill, Berger, Irvine and Schumacher. Irvine would not go much further though, as he beached his Ferrari into the wet grass after just two laps.

On Lap 4, it was Hill’s turn to have an off-track excursion at Turn 4, dropping from third to fifth. Worse was to come for the championship leader though, when he spun again on Lap 8, relegating him to 8th place.

The Rainmaster commeth

Michael Schumacher on the other hand was flying in the Ferrari, quickly closing on the battle for the lead between Villeneuve and Alesi. A terrible Grand Prix for Hill came to an end on Lap 11, when he spun coming out of the final corner and hitting the pit-wall.

Schumacher seized his opportunity to move into second place by overtaking Alesi at Turn 5. On Lap 12, the German repeated this manoeuvre on Villeneuve’s Williams to take the lead.

Once Schumacher got the lead, he was never going to let it go. Image: DeviantArt

Schumacher began to create an unassailable lead, setting the fastest lap of the race on Lap 14. On Lap 24, he made his first fuel-stop but re-joined comfortably in first place. Alesi was on a one-stop strategy, which he used to good effect to leap-frog Villeneuve after the Canadian opted for two stops.

Wet weather specialist Rubens Barrichello was driving superbly in the Jordan-Peugeot and was running as high as second position until clutch problems robbed him of a potential podium finish. The attrition rate rose when Berger in the Benetton spun into retirement after 44 laps.

Lap 46 saw Dutchman Jos Verstappen fall victim to the conditions and lose fifth place after pirouetting off the circuit, leaving just six cars on the road.

An astounding drive for Michael Schumacher saw the German score his first win for Ferrari. The Regenmeister was 45 seconds ahead of Jean Alesi by the end of the race. Villeneuve completed the podium, over 48 seconds back and the last man on the lead lap.

Sauber’s Heinz-Harald Frentzen drove sensibly to finish fourth after escaping a huge accident in the morning warm- up. Mika Hakkinen’s McLaren was fifth and Pedro Diniz in the Ligier scored his first World Championship point in sixth.

The race was regarded as one of Michael Schumacher’s greatest ever victories, Sir Stirling Moss described his performance as a “demonstration of brilliance.” His dominant performance also marked the first of 72 victories for the Scuderia.


Video highlights

If you want to see the highlights of this incredible race yourself, the F1 YouTube channel uploaded this video for your entertainment:

Grid Talk Podcast

The Grid Talk crew previewed the 2021 Spanish GP in their latest podcast. George Howson hosted Jack Watson, Louis Edwards, and Coops ran through all of the news ahead of this weekend’s race. Both video and audio versions of the show are linked below:

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