The 1996 F1 Season
After a super successful and record-breaking season with Benetton in 1995, Schumacher moved over to the Ferraris for the 1996 season. Media and fans were curious about the move, as Benetton was still a world-beater while Ferrari was way off in terms of performance.
The apprehension notwithstanding, Schumacher’s early run with Ferrari was in stark contrast to the beginning of the 1994 or the 1995 season. Before the teams reached Spain, Schumacher already had three retirements, but thankfully, three podium finishes too. A win was still elusive, and Schumacher had a tough job, with Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve, both with the Williams, being extremely competitive.
Besides, the Ferrari package was nowhere close to the Williams or even the Benettons. Jean Alesi in the Benetton had an equal number of podium finishes as Schumacher by the time they reached Spain. Barring the two Williams at the top of the points table, there was nothing much differentiating the other teams.
But then again, Michael Schumacher was supposed to be the differentiator. Could he win in Spain?
Let’s find out.
The 1996 Spanish GP Qualifying
Much like most of the season, the Spanish Grand Prix qualifying belonged to the Williams with the other cars also participating. Only Schumacher could go anywhere closer and even took provisional pole. But the pace of the Williams was too much for the Ferrari to tackle. Michael did an excellent job with his final timing being just under a second off Damon Hill’s pole time. That said, the rest of the cars were more than a second and a half off Hill’s pace. As usual, Schumacher produced something out of the ordinary to take P3.
Most of the qualifying was a Williams affair with Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve trading quick laps. Damon Hill eventually took pole about 0.4 seconds ahead of Villeneuve. The Williams’ pace, as well as reliability, had ensured them a couple of 1-2 finishes already, so Michael had a huge task of not only fighting his main title rival, Damon Hill, but also his teammate Jacques Villeneuve.
As most had expected, the Spanish GP was wet, but nobody knew for how long or how much. It witnessed one of the heaviest downpours even before the race started. The conditions were ideal for levelling the competition and therefore allowing the better driver to rule. Schumacher did not disappoint.
Michael’s race started with a bit of a hiccup as he almost stalled the car. However, once he got in control, the track appeared his from the beginning. Within the first lap, Michael gained three places and then started the onslaught on the front runners.
Take a look at the race summary:
Schumacher went ahead of Jean Alesi in second place and Jacques Villeneuve in first, by the eleventh lap of the race. Any hopes of the race being a tight contest was soon dispelled by Michael pulling away from Jacques Villeneuve. Initially, Michael was pulling away at the pace of two seconds per lap, but then, he continued to set faster lap times. His best lap times were four seconds faster than the second-fastest car on the track.
Once Schumacher was out of sight, it was amply clear to the rest of the track that it was a race between them and not with Michael. Michael was so well ahead that he could complete his three pitstops and not once lose his lead. The interesting part was that the Ferrari went in for three stops as against the rival teams’ two and one-stop strategy. Despite the extra pitstop, Michael was unstoppable or rather uncatchable (a new word for Schumacher).
Michael was almost a minute ahead of the rest of the pack and had lapped all the cars up to the fourth place. Closer to the last few laps, Schumacher started to ease his pace and still finished forty-five seconds clear of Jean Alesi in second place. Jacques took third place three seconds behind Alesi.
Michael, the rainmaster, reigned in the rain!
Schumacher and Senna’s Rain Mastery Comparison
After the Spanish GP, a lot of comparisons between Senna and Schumacher came up for their absolute control on rain-soaked tracks. Take a look at the 1984 Monaco GP on a similarly wet track (as the 1996 Spanish GP) witnessing Senna domination.
At some point in the race, Senna was catching up with Prost, the race leader, at the rate of 15 seconds per lap. This race earned Senna the title of Magic Senna.
Because of Senna’s performance in the 1984 Monaco GP and Schumacher’s in the 1996 Spanish GP, the comparisons were obvious.
Too bad we never got a chance to see both the masters take the track at the same time in wet conditions!
Back to the Pits
While Michael Schumacher was back to his winning ways with the 1996 Spanish GP, it was just the first win for Ferrari in the 1996 season.
Want to know the story of Michael Schumacher's twenty-first win? Click here to find out:
© 2020 S K