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Panis's finest hour - Monaco 1996 19 Sep 2006

Olivier Panis (FRA) Ligier (Centre) hoists aloft his first ever GP winner's trophy on the podium alongside second placed David Coulthard (GBR) McLaren (Left) and Johnny Herbert (GBR) Sauber (Right), who finished third. Monaco Grand Prix, Rd 6, Monte Carlo, Monaco, 19 May 1996. World ©  Sutton.

Monaco is a track which has traditionally rewarded the best drivers and not just the best cars in Formula One racing. 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 was sitting in the Sauber pits when the chequered flag fell and the fifth and sixth-placed drivers both retired on lap 70. Truly, this was a remarkable race.

At the start Damon Hill in the Williams got away in front of pole-sitter Michael Schumacher and disappeared off into the distance. Behind them, there was plenty of confusion into turn one, not least because McLaren’s David Coulthard had borrowed one of Schumacher's spare helmets, thus making it look like there were two ‘Michaels’ in the race.

One of the first out of the race was Jos Verstappen in the Footwork, who crashed into the barrier at Ste Devote after a risky overtaking move on McLaren’s Mika Hakkinen. Shortly afterwards the Minardis of Pedro Lamy and Giancarlo Fisichella followed the Dutchman out of the race, after running into each other at the same corner.

Another car to fall victim on the first lap was Schumacher’s Ferrari. On the exit of the Loews hairpin, the German looked to be struggling and then in the run up to Portier, he duly slammed into the barrier. Just a few corners later Rubens Barrichello spun at the Rascasse in his Jordan. By the end of lap one, six cars were out of the race, with Andrea Montermini having damaged his Forti car so badly in the warm-up that it didn't even make the grid.

This left Hill flying around the track with the two Benettons of Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger struggling to keep up. After nine laps, Berger succumbed to gearbox problems. Ukyo Katayama, Ricardo Rossett, Martin Brundle and Pedro Diniz were also retirees in the early stages.

Hill took his first pit stop on lap 28 and second-placed Alesi jumped into the pits just a few laps later. Drier conditions meant slick tyres were by now the way to go. Soon after, however, on lap 40, Hill's Renault engine expired on the exit from the Tunnel and Alesi moved into the lead. But the Frenchman’s Benetton also had a problem - his rear suspension was broken and he retired from the race.

Further back, Ferrari’s Eddie Irvine had been holding the field up since the start. Frentzen eventually attempted to overtake 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, thus promoting Hakkinen up the field.
The Finn was fighting hard with countryman 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.

Olivier Panis now found himself in the lead, despite having spun himself in the tricky conditions. The Frenchman was well ahead of David Coulthard and third-placed Johnny Herbert, who had driven solidly to keep himself out of trouble. 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 having both retired with five laps to go.

It was one of the most remarkable and memorable races in Formula One history. It was also 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.