The season of 1996. It marked the dawn of a new era for Formula One, the one that won’t be forgotten easily. The era of Schumacher-Ferrari. Michael Schumacher, riding high on his success in the ’94 and ’95 World Championships, had moved to Ferrari to establish a new partnership, that would last no less than 10 years, including 5 championships. We relive the legendary Michael Schumacher’s first Ferrari victory and what a race it was.
Despite the much hyped partnership, it was Damon Hill in Williams who was making more news than the Scarlet Ferrari. With four wins in the first five races, Hill made sure that no Schumacher could deny him the championship this year.
After a few podiums here and there, Ferrari were still struggling for a win. And their first win of the season came as a very memorable one, in Spain at the Circuit de Catalunya.
Damon Hill was on pole and Williams had the edge over Ferrari. But Ferrari had something, or rather, someone to challenge the might of the Williams…Schumacher.
After a dry Qualifying on Saturday, it was raining heavily on Sunday. Schumacher was very strategic and took the gamble of a full wet set up with light tanks.
Hill had a poor start and a couple of spins meant he dropped further back. The rain was torrential which meant by lap 11, there were only 12 cars running with 20 having started. Schumacher himself had a shockingly poor start, almost stalling. Recalling the incident, “My start was a disaster,” Michael said. “I went for the clutch, and there was nothing. I nearly stalled, then tried it again. Fortunately, no one went into the back of me.”
He was ninth by the time he crossed the first corner. He had gained three positions already by the end of the first lap. On lap five, he was up to third thanks to a couple of cars in front spinning out, and of course his sheer control over his Ferrari. On that particular lap, he lapped two seconds quicker than anyone else on the circuit! Next lap, he was a whooping 3.7 seconds quicker than the two drivers ahead of him, Jacques Villeneuve and Jean Alesi.
On lap 12, German overtook Villeneuve for the lead with a perfectly timed overtake at the Renault right hander out of Respol. He now had the clean air, and by the end of the lap, he was three seconds clear of everyone.
He made it all look very easy. It seemed as if he was driving in dry weather conditions. Such ease with which he drove to be 3 seconds faster than almost anyone. He set up his fastest lap on lap 14, which was again a massive 2.2 seconds clear of what anyone else managed in the race.
He took the race victory comfortably later, being 45 seconds clear off the field and lapping every other car but Alesi and Villeneuve who finished at second and third respectively. Shockingly, only six cars managed to cross the finish line.
The 1996 Spanish Grand Prix marked Schumacher’s first Ferrari victory. Although the car Ferrari gave Schumacher that year was no match for Damon Hill’s Williams, in track conditions like these driver talents matter more than anything else. It was a perfect strategy for Schumacher and his brilliant ability to master over the torrential weather conditions makes this race one of the best wet race victories in the sport. Schumacher’s first Ferrari victory was something special.
This race victory is very often regarded as the German’s finest win, something that proves his earned nickname of ‘Regenmeister’ or Rain Master.
“It was not a race. It was a demonstration of brilliance.”– Stirling Moss for Schumacher after this race.
But the most vivid praise came from the opposition. Williams senior operations engineer James Robinson said, “I don’t think the Ferrari was that brilliant. It looked like it was on ice to me. That guy is something else. It was pretty amazing.”
Legendary is only how you can describe it.