The 1996 Spanish Grand Prix, despite not being one of the most action packed races ever seen in Barcelona, it was, in truth, one of the greatest wet weather drives in history by Michael Schumacher, guiding Scuderia Ferrari to take the first win of his career with the team.
In the season of 1996, Ferrari has snatched up Schumacher from the Benetton team where he had won the past two driver’s championships. Now his task was to help revive the Ferrari team, which had spent the last decade in an unfortunate slump.
Unfortunately for him, the 1996 car was very bad. It looked like a bathtub and it went like one too, lacking grip, down force and balance. In fact the car should never have won a race. But Schumacher, as all great drivers do, found a way to transcend its shortcomings.
Of all the amazing things he achieved that year, one stands out more than any, his victory in Spain. Not only was the Spanish race special for Michael as it was his first victory in red, but the way he did it was one of the reasons why he was dubbed “the rain-master”.
It absolutely poured down that day. A wetter grand prix it is hard to imagine, and the conditions were so bad that these days the race would probably have been canceled. Rain changes everything in racing. It affects traction, braking, visibility and confidence, just to name a few things. It forces drivers to choose different lines than they would take in the dry. Many people can’t handle driving in the rain.
The rain-soaked race began with Damon Hill on pole, Jacques Villeneuve in second and Schumacher in third, though he was a full second off pace. In the gloom, Damon Hill, on pole in the dominant Williams-Renault, spun twice in the first nine laps. Schumacher made a bad start and dropped back from his third place on the grid,but somehow, as nearly every other driver on the field struggled, he reached inside himself and pulled out some magic. By lap 13 he was past Hill’s team-mate Jacques Villeneuve and into the lead.
From there, he never looked back, regularly lapping five seconds faster than anyone else on track. At the end of the race only six cars remained, but Schumacher remained in a class all his own. He won the race a staggering 45.302 seconds ahead of second-place finisher Alesi and 48 seconds ahead of Villeneuve. The win was made even more incredible by the fact that the Ferrari finished the race at all. On lap 33 the F310 lost a cylinder – despite rectifying itself later in the race – and also suffered a cracked exhaust.
Amazing was about the only way you could describe it. It was Schumacher’s first win for Scuderia Ferrari, and by no means his last.
Schumacher finished third in the drivers’ championship in 1996 and Ferrari took second place in the constructors’ championship. He wouldn’t win a title until the 2000 season, but it was this day in 1996 Spain grand prix, when one driver raised himself to a level beyond the reach of his rivals and showed the dominant force he would become.
Today, one of the greatest to have ever driven a racing car, seven-time F1 World Champion Michael Schumacher is still recovering from severe head injuries he suffered in a skiing accident three years ago. It’s not over yet Michael. Keep on fighting!