June 2, 1996 – Circuit de Catalunya
For many race fans, this was the day that the faltering ‘Schumacher era’ was given a new lease of life. The reigning champion’s first win for Ferrari was a long time coming, but it could hardly have come in a more satisfying manner!
Although Schumacher had to wait until the year 2000 for another championship, this was perhaps the German’s finest hour for Ferrari during his earlier days in the famous crimson attire. Battling against appalling conditions to claim this much-needed win rejuvenated his racing spirit, putting him on a long-term path to greatness.
In Monaco, just two weeks prior to this race, Michael Schumacher had been forced to retire before a lap had even been completed, crashing into a wall just after the Lower Mirabeau. As a result of wet conditions on the most challenging track in the calendar, only four cars survived the race. For the sake of his future in Ferrari colours, Schumacher could not repeat his mistake of Monaco.
The 1996 Spanish Grand Prix was one day that the rain in Spain missed the plane, and fell in bucket-loads onto the Circuit de Catalunya.
Driving for Team Williams, runaway leader Damon Hill had been true to form during qualifying, claiming pole position. Schumacher began in third place on the grid, with Jacques Villeneuve in second.
Almost immediately, future champion Hill relinquished his lead, spinning twice on the opening laps. A poor race for Hill ended with ignominy after just 12 laps, with the champion-elect hitting the pit wall. This was a game-changing event that gave Schumacher license to exploit the racing lines, and he duly took the lead just one lap later – never looking back from the point.
Schumacher was three seconds ahead per lap, such was his dominance for the remainder of the race. The only other driver worth acknowledging was Schumacher’s fellow countryman Heinz-Harald Frentzen. Under the banner of Sauber, Frentzen fought his way up from eleventh on the grid to finish a respectable fourth.
This was also a day of firsts further down the finishing order. Driving for Team Ligier, Brazilian racer Pedro Diniz scored his first Formula One points by virtue of being just one of six survivors in Barcelona. A sixth place finish represented his best result of the season.
Schumacher’s victory closed the gap in the championship standings on leader Damon Hill, but the German would again fall drastically from title contention soon after. Though Hill prevailed in the 1996 championship fight by a considerable margin, his time at the top would be extremely short-lived in comparison to the years of Schumacher dominance that were to soon unfold.
There could be no doubt that the rebirth of Michael Schumacher was underway…
By Tamhas Woods
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