SportF1Monaco 1996, possibly the craziest race in F1

Monaco 1996, possibly the craziest race in F1

The 1996 Monaco Grand Prix was the last time a French driver had managed to win in Formula 1… until 24 years later Pierre Gasly won it at the 2020 Italian GP. May 19 in the streets of the Principality was far from being another race on the Grand Circus calendar.

The multiple changes of positions, the three different leaders during the 75 laps and the various accidents, seasoned with persistent rain, made the sixth round of that season’s calendar a grand prix to remember.

Williams had dominated the first five rounds of the season thanks to Jacques Villeneuve and Damon Hill, while Jean Alesi (Benetton) had scored two podium finishes: a second place in Brazil and a third in Argentina. The Frenchman came fourth overall before Monaco.

Qualifying saw Michael Schumacher’s second consecutive pole position in the Principality, half a second ahead of Hill. Alesi and Berger occupied the second row, while Panis could only be 14th. For Alesi, it was the best one-lap result since the start of the season, giving him a serious chance to score another podium finish, after those achieved on the streets of Monte- Carlo in 1990, 1991 and 1993.

Shortly before the start, a downpour had drenched the track, forcing the drivers to be very cautious with the proximity of the guardrails and the daunting visibility conditions.

Hill got off to a perfect start to gain the lead over Schumacher, and Alesi cemented his third place. Moments later, the German made a rare mistake, ending up against the wall after Mirabeau. After multiple incidents early in the race, Alesi found himself second in a field already reduced to 16 single-seaters.

For the Benetton driver, it was impossible to keep up with Hill , with whom he lost more than a second a lap in the first stint. As the Briton pitted at the end of lap 28, Alesi led the race for two laps, before mounting the slicks . The difference between the two was then 30 seconds…

Photos from the 1996 F1 Monaco GP

Jean Alesi, Benetton B196

Jean Alesi, Benetton B196

1/25

Foto de: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch

Flavio Briatore, Benetton F1 Team Principal and Jean Alesi, Benetton

Flavio Briatore, jefe de equipo de Benetton F1 y Jean Alesi, Benetton

2 / 25

Photo By: Sutton Motorsport Images

Jean Alesi, Benetton, Gerhard Berger, Benetton

Jean Alesi, Benetton, Gerhard Berger, Benetton

3 / 25

Photo de: LAT Images

Olivier Panis, Ligier JS43

Olivier Panis, Ligier JS43

4 / 25

Photo from: LAT Images

Detail of the Mugen Honda engine of the Ligier JS43

Detalle d el motor Mugen Honda del Ligier JS43

5 / 25

Photo by: LAT Images

Ganador Olivier Panis, Ligier JS43 with the ex piloto of Ligier Jacques Laffite

Ganador Olivier Panis, Ligier JS43 con el ex piloto de Ligier Jacques Laffite

6 / 25

Photo from: LAT Images

David Coulthard, McLaren MP4/11B, wearing Michael Schumacher’s spare helmet

David Coulthard, McLaren MP4 / 11B, con el casco de repuesto de Michael Schumacher

7 / 25

Photo by: LAT Images

Olivier Panis, Ligier JS43

Olivier Panis, Ligier JS43

8/25

Foto de: Sutton Motorsport Images

Michael Schumacher, Ferrari F310

Michael Schumacher, Ferrari F310

9 / 25

Photo de: LAT Images

Rubens Barrichello, Jordan 196 Peugeot

Rubens Barrichello, Jordan 196 Peugeot

10 / 25

Photo by: LAT Images

Johnny Herbert, Sauber C15 Ford

Johnny Herbert, Sauber C15 Ford

11/25 _

Photo by: LAT Images

Olivier Panis, Ligier

Olivier Panis, Ligier

12/25 _

Photo by: Sutton Motorsport Images

Podium: Race Winner Olivier Panis, Ligier, 2nd Place David Coulthard, McLaren, 3rd Place Johnny Herbert, Sauber

Podio: ganador de la carrera Olivier Panis, Ligier, segundo lugar David Coulthard, McLaren, tercer lugar Johnny Herbert, Sauber

13 / 25

Photo By: Sutton Motorsport Images

Podium: Race Winner Olivier Panis, Ligier

Podio: ganador de la carrera Olivier Panis, Ligier

14 / 25

Photo By: Sutton Motorsport Images

David Coulthard, McLaren MP4/11B, wearing Michael Schumacher’s spare helmet

David Coulthard, McLaren MP4 / 11B, con el casco de repuesto de Michael Schumacher

15 / 25

Photo By: Sutton Motorsport Images

Race winner Olivier Panis, Ligier JS43

Ganador de la carrera Olivier Panis, Ligier JS43

16 / 25

Photo by: LAT Images

Winner Olivier Panis, Ligier, third place Johnny Herbert, Sauber

Ganador Olivier Panis, Ligier, tercer puesto Johnny Herbert, Sauber

17 / 25

Photo by: LAT Images

Olivier Panis, Ligier JS43

Olivier Panis, Ligier JS43

18 / 25

Photo from: LAT Images

Podium: Race Winner Olivier Panis, Ligier, 2nd Place David Coulthard, McLaren, 3rd Place Johnny Herbert, Sauber

Podio: ganador de la carrera Olivier Panis, Ligier, segundo lugar David Coulthard, McLaren, tercer lugar Johnny Herbert, Sauber

19 / 25

Photo by: LAT Images

Race winner Olivier Panis, Ligier JS43 captured on the big screen by the harbor

El ganador de la carrera Olivier Panis, Ligier JS43 capturado en la pantalla grande por el puerto

20 / 25

Photo by: LAT Images

Olivier Panis, Ligier JS43

Olivier Panis, Ligier JS43

21 / 25

Photo from: LAT Images

Damon Hill, Williams FW18 Renault

Damon Hill, Williams FW18 Renault

22/25

Foto de: LAT Images

Jean Alesi, Benetton B196

Jean Alesi, Benetton B196

23 / 25

Photo from: LAT Images

Flavio Briatore, Benetton F1 Team Principal and Jean Alesi, Benetton

Flavio Briatore, jefe de equipo de Benetton F1 y Jean Alesi, Benetton

24 / 25

Photo by: LAT Images

Jean Alesi, Benetton B196

Jean Alesi, Benetton B196

25/25 _

Photo de: Ercole Colombo

(Click on Full Version at the bottom if you can’t see them)

But Hill’s Williams’ Renault engine wanted to play its part in this drama. On lap 40, at the exit of the tunnel, it began to smoke and deprived the future world champion of a victory that would have allowed him to imitate his illustrious father, Graham.

Alesi thus found himself about thirty seconds ahead of the rest… which were only nine other drivers, after multiple retirements. Victory seemed to be in the hands of Alesi, who stopped 21 laps from the end to fit new tires and refuel. Back on track, he still had 10 seconds against a Panis who had gained positions lap after lap.

Although he kept control as much as possible, Alesi returned to the pitlane with 15 laps to go, for a completely unexpected stop. The Benetton mechanics tried to spot the problem, the driver pointing to the rear of the car with his hand before expressing any frustration… by the time he returned to the track on fresh tyres, he was already seventh.

Analysis of the Goodyear tires did not reveal any suspected puncture. A lap later, Alesi was back in the pits with an unresolved issue. This time, the Frenchman immediately took off the wheel, got out of the cockpit and took refuge in the back of the garage. A little later, the diagnosis was clear: a suspension fault.

Therefore, it was Panis and not Alesi who became the fifth French driver, and the last so far, to win the Monaco GP. His only win in Formula 1 was Ligier ‘s first win since the 1981 Canadian GP. His last too, before the team was sold to Alain Prost for the 1997 season.

Only three cars crossed the checkered flag after 75 laps, with David Coulthard (McLaren) and Johnny Herbert (Sauber) filling the other two spots on the podium.

Panis remained the legitimate hero of 1996, although the story could have been very different. Because if Alesi had won, his victory would not have been experienced with the same degree of surprise and we would probably not talk about it 26 years later. But that was the trajectory of Jean Alesi, like a roller coaster.

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