Monaco 1996 - a remarkable race 30 May 2003
Monaco is a track which has traditionally rewarded the best drivers and not just the best cars in Formula One. In 1996, the circuit provided one of its fabled surprises when, against the odds, Olivier Panis came through to take his first, and Ligier's last, Grand Prix victory. A downpour in the Principality meant that only three cars finished on the circuit, fourth-placed Heinz-Harald Frentzen sitting in the pits when the chequered flag fell and the fifth and sixth-placed drivers having both retired on lap 70. Truly, this was a remarkable race.
At the start Damon Hill got away from the slow starting Schumacher brothers and disappeared off into the distance. Behind them there was plenty of confusion into turn one, not least because David Coulthard had borrowed one of Michael Schumacher's spare helmets, thus making it look like there were two Michaels in the race. Jos Verstappen crashed into the barrier at Ste Devote, with both Minardis following him out of the race.
On the exit of the Loews hairpin, Michael Schumacher's Ferrari was looking a handful and in the run up to Portier, he duly slammed into the barrier. Just a few corners later Rubens Barrichello spun at the Rascasse, and so by the end of lap one, six cars were out of the race, with Andrea Montermini having damaged his car so badly in the warm up that it didn't even make the grid.
Hill was flying around the track, the two Benettons of Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger unable to keep in touch with the Williams. After 10 laps, though, Berger went out with gearbox problems. Ukyo Katayama, Ricardo Rossett and Pedro Diniz all retired, and Martin Brundle soon spun off too.
Hill took his first pit stop and second-placed Alesi jumped into the pits just a few laps later. Drying conditions meant slick tyres were by now the way to go, but Alesi had a problem. His rear suspension was broken and he retired from the race. This huge disappointment had come, however, after he had briefly led the race following Hill's Renault engine expiring on the exit from the Tunnel.
Eddie Irvine had been holding the field up and Frentzen duly attempted a pass only to collide with the Ferrari. Both cars pitted and emerged to continue with the race, with Frentzen putting in some really fast laps to finish fourth (the last runner). Luca Badoer took out the sole remaining Williams of Jacques Villeneuve and this promoted Mika Hakkinen up the field. Hakkinen was fighting hard with fellow Finn Mika Salo when the pair came across Eddie Irvine's spun Ferrari at the corner before Portier. With nowhere to go both slammed into him and all three were out.
Although having spun himself, Olivier Panis now found himself in the lead, well ahead of David Coulthard in the Schumacher helmet, and Johnny Herbert who had driven solidly and kept himself out of trouble to be positioned in third place. And that was how the race ended. Frentzen had recovered from his accident with Irvine, but was sitting in the pits when the chequered flag fell, one lap behind the leaders.
Salo was classified fifth and Hakkinen sixth despite both having retired with five laps to go. It was one of the most remarkable races in Formula One history and a very memorable one. It was the first time that a French driver in a French car had taken the spoils in the Principality since Rene Dreyfus won there in a Bugatti in 1930, 20 years before the official world championship had even begun.