THE RACE

Car (South Africa) - - SPEED -

Trech­er­ous at the best of times, the 1996 run­ning of the Monaco Grand Prix was made more chal­leng­ing – and ul­ti­mately more event­ful – with the ar­rival of un­sea­sonal rain­fall both dur­ing qual­i­fy­ing and for a large por­tion of the race it­self. The sixth race of a sea­son which would even­tu­ally be dom­i­nated by Wil­liams (and won by Damon Hill), it was Michael Schu­macher who made the most of the damp qual­i­fy­ing ses­sion to po­si­tion his Fer­rari on pole po­si­tion. Strug­gling with me­chan­i­cal is­sues, the Ligier cars qual­i­fied in 14th and 17th places, with Pa­nis ahead of his team­mate, Pe­dro Diniz.

A crash on the warm-up lap by An­drea Mon­ter­mini meant 21 cars left the grid at the de­layed start of the race. This num­ber was quickly culled with Jos Ver­stap­pen (gam­bling too early on slick tyres) run­ning off the track at the first cor­ner and both of Mi­nardi’s cars crash­ing shortly there­after. Both Schu­macher and Rubens Barichello’s races would also end with early crashes and, af­ter five laps, only 13 cars were still run­ning.

Amid the car­nage of fur­ther crashes and me­chan­i­cally re­lated re­tire­ments, Pa­nis suc­cess­fully over­took Martin Brun­dle, Mika Häkki­nen and Johnny Her­bert, and fol­low­ing a strate­gi­cally as­tute pit­stop to switch onto slick tyres, he even­tu­ally forced his way past the Fer­rari of Eddie Irvine. While Irvine, Häkki­nen, Mika Salo and Jac­ques Vil­leneuve would all even­tu­ally crash out, me­chan­i­cal is­sues with race lead­ers Damon Hill and sub­se­quently Jean Alessi pro­moted the no. 9 Ligier-mu­gen-honda to an un­likely lead with the two-hour cut-off time for the Grand Prix loom­ing. De­spite a late charge from David Coulthard in one of the only four cars re­main­ing in the race, Pa­nis would cross the line to record his first and only For­mula One race vic­tory. It would also be Ligier’s last taste of suc­cess at this level.

On 19 May 1996, a French driver, driv­ing a French car, won a French Grand Prix.

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