This day in 1996 saw a truly magical moment in Formula One, especially for fans of Ferrari and Michael Schumacher, as the German took his first ever Italian grand prix victory and Ferrari’s first at the hallowed straights of the classic circuit, Monza since Gerhard Berger won there in 1988.
The season was Michael’s first for the Maranello team and the car provided was nowhere near the quality of Williams’ FW18 or the McLaren MP4-11, suffering from unpredictable handling. However, somehow Michael still managed to take three victories with it, much to the astonishment of team mate Eddie Irvine.
“I don’t know how he took four poles with that s***box!” Irvine said in a recent interview with SkyF1. However, this weekend Michael wasn’t able to take pole position, as Williams locked out the front row with Damon Hill taking pole and team mate, Jacques Villeneuve alongside.
Michael took third, 0.5 seconds behind Hill’s pole time, and the two McLarens of Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard took fourth and fifth respectively.
Michael’s team mate, Irvine gave more reason to be in awe of the German as he qualified seventh, half a second behind Schumacher.
Most pundits predicted a show of Williams supremacy on the Sunday, however when the race came both their cars encountered problems of their drivers’ doing. Immediately off the line, Jean Alesi made an awesome start from sixth on the grid to lead the two Williams into the first few corners. However as he led the field through the Lesmos he ran wide and struck the tyre barrier.
Villeneuve was the first Williams to drop out of contention as he also ran wide on the first lap while he tried to repass Schumacher, who like Alesi, had also made a good start to the grand prix. He had to run the rest of the race with bent suspension finishing a lap behind and out of the points.
It only took until the sixth lap for the other Williams to drop out completely when Hill, who was building a nice four second lead at the time, also ran wide and hit a tyre barrier at one of the chicanes. Unlike Villeneuve and Eddie Irvine, who also had a similar incident, Hill was unable to continue and this left Michael as the new race leader.
Even despite his recalcitrant machine, Schumacher was able to hold the lead for the remainder of the race, and took a historic chequered flag 18 seconds ahead of former Ferrari driver Alesi and a full minute ahead of Hakkinen in the final podium position.
Personally, this sporting event is special to me as it was the symbolic start of one the most impressive and successful sporting partnerships in history; a relationship which represented determination, hard work, and extraordinary levels of talent. Growing up watching Schumacher and Ferrari dominate their sport by winning five successive world drivers’ and constructors’ championships, was so inspirational to a young boy entranced by world sport.