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Schumacher's first win with Ferrari

Schumacher's first win with Ferrari

Despite engine problems, Schumacher gained his first victory with Scuderia Ferrari at the 1996 Spanish GP

The Monaco Grand Prix took place at the Monte Carlo circuit on 19 May 1996. Michael Schumacher's Ferrari F310 was in pole. On a unique circuit of its kind the car had again displayed all its qualities. A light rain was falling over the Principality, which only added to the fans' confidence, because the German was always among the fastest in the wet. However, the unexpected happened: Michael started badly, losing first position and while chasing the Williams of David Coulthard took a wet kerb too confidently at the Portier corner to end up against the barriers: "I made a serious mistake throwing an excellent opportunity to the wind," he said, adding: "I thank the team for the work done. I am indebted to the fans of Ferrari."

Michael Schumacher overtakes Jacques Villeneuve on a Williams-Renault FW18, at the 1996 Spanish Grand Prix <em>Photo: Getty Images</em>
Michael Schumacher overtakes Jacques Villeneuve on a Williams-Renault FW18, at the 1996 Spanish Grand Prix Photo: Getty Images

The chance to repay that debt came two weeks later in Spain. In qualifying, in the dry, Williams called the shots as it did all season. Damon Hill won pole position four tenths of a second ahead of Jacques Villeneuve and almost a second in front of Schumacher. However, on race day it was pouring. It looked like the race would start behind the Safety Car but at the last moment the race director decided that it could go ahead as normal.

The cars set off gingerly over the soaking wet Catalan asphalt, and Schumacher was among the worst, slipping to seventh place by the first corner, behind his teammate Eddie Irvine. Meanwhile, the race director's decision proved way off the mark with five cars pulling out in the first lap alone. Irvine joined them on the second lap, going into a spin and his engine extinguishing.

Michael Schumacher leading the 1996 Spanish Grand Prix in heavy rain <em>Photo: Getty Images</em>
Michael Schumacher leading the 1996 Spanish Grand Prix in heavy rain Photo: Getty Images

On lap 3 Schumacher was already in a battle with the Benetton of Gerhard Berger for fourth place, although the duel quickly became one for third place because in the meantime race leader Hill had gone into a spin. Indeed, he performed another before ending his race against the pit wall. Thus Villeneuve took the lead ahead of the other Benetton of Jean Alesi. Schumacher was third having overtaken Berger on lap 4, before speeding off in pursuit of the Frenchman.

Jean was a wizard in the rain but Michael had an excellent day. In less than no time he was in the slipstream of the Benetton and by the ninth lap was in the second position. Villeneuve's time in front also appeared numbered. Just three laps passed before Ferrari no. 1 took the lead, which by lap 13 had stretched to four seconds ahead of the Canadian. Michael was the absolute master of the race: his fast laps built up a lead over everyone. His 14th lap was the fastest lap of the race in 1:45:571. The fastest of the others, Rubens Barrichello for Jordan, was 2.2 seconds slower.

Michael Schumacher at 1996 Monaco Grand Prix in Monte Carlo<em> Photo: Getty Images</em>
Michael Schumacher at 1996 Monaco Grand Prix in Monte Carlo Photo: Getty Images

From the outside you might have thought that everything was going smoothly. But actually Schumacher's incredible pace masked difficulties with his engine, the 046 V10, a cylinderage that the federation had imposed on all manufacturers. Indeed, on lap 18 one or two cylinders stopped working due to water infiltration to the point that anyone with an ear for these things began to fear a breakdown.

On the 24th lap the engine was running well again but seven laps later the worrying sound returned. Michael's lead over the first of his pursuers, Alesi, dropped from one minute to 45 seconds but the day was destined for a happy ending. The F310 crossed the finish line first and Schumacher notched up his first victory with the Scuderia to kick off a series that would only end 10 years and 71 wins later at the 2006 Chinese Grand Prix.

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