On This Day, 25 Years Ago: Michael Schumacher Crashes Out as Olivier Panis Takes a Shocking at 1996 Monaco Grand Prix

Published 05/19/2021, 11:56 AM EDT
JEREZ DE LA FRONTERA, SPAIN: Michael Schumacher of Germany and team Ferrari visits Formula 1 testing on March 3, 2009 in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain. (Photo by Andy Hone/Getty Images)


The Monaco Grand Prix is regarded as one of the most prestigious races on the F1 calendar. Given that the circuit has almost zero opportunities for overtaking, qualifying usually determines the race result. So, very few drivers won the race from lower than eighth. However, French driver Olivier Panis decided to buck that trend in 1996. Driving for Ligier at the time, the Frenchman was looking for his maiden F1 win.

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Admittedly, he had almost no hope of winning after he qualified 14th on the grid. On race day, the heavens opened and threw every prediction out of the window. He confessed that he told his wife that he would finish on the podium, though she had a hard time believing him. The signs for a huge upset were laid out when Panis was quickest in the warm-up session. However, many chalked it down to Panis having a low fuel load, and they wrote him off.

The driver said, “We knew we had the pace. When you start 14th in Monaco, anything can happen, anything is possible. On Saturday in qualifying, we had an electronics problem, otherwise we could have started in the top five. My race engineer started crying, because he knew we were quick, and he felt our chance was lost.

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“I said ‘don’t worry man, the race is tomorrow, you never know what can happen.”

How did the race unfold for Olivier Panis and Michael Schumacher?

Fortunately, the rain stopped before the race began, though the track was still wet. Monaco and wet weather is usually a recipe for disaster and this race was proof of it. Not even the Rain Meister, Michael Schumacher, was spared. While many drivers either crashed or retired from the race, a calm Panis scythed his way past seven cars.

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When the time came to swap to slicks, race leader Damon Hill blinked first and Panis shadowed him. Soon it became apparent that it was the right call, as he vaulted up to fourth. Hill soon ground to a smoky halt and Jean Alesi wrecked his suspension, forcing him out of the race. Meanwhile, Eddie Irvine in the Ferrari ran into a spot of trouble and dropped down the order.

However, Olivier Panis could not breathe easy just yet. This was because the Ligier team informed him that he didn’t have enough fuel to finish the race. It didn’t help that Panis refused to pit and lose a chance of taking his maiden F1 win. Instead, he tried a new tactic of trying to save fuel.

In the end, his efforts paid off, as he crossed the finish line ahead of David Coulthard and Johnny Herbert, making history as one of the most shocking F1 wins in history.

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DIVE DEEPER

Monaco GP Throwback: When Hamilton Called Schumacher a ‘Dirty Driver’ After Gutsy Overtake

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Dhruv George

11636 articles

Dhruv George is a senior Formula One and NASCAR analyst for EssentiallySports, having authored nearly 12000 articles spanning different sports like F1, NASCAR, Tennis, NFL, and eSports. He graduated with a PG Diploma in Journalism from the Xavier Institute of Communications. Dhruv has also conducted interviews with F1 driver Pierre Gasly and Moto2 rider Tony Arbolino.

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