The 1996 Spanish Grand Prix saw Michael Schumacher score his first victory for Ferrari in torrential weather conditions.
After taking back-to-back world titles with Benetton, the German driver decided to make the move to the Prancing Horse for the following season.
It was a tough start, with a mix of podium finishes and retirements as the Williams duo started to edge clear in the drivers’ standings. But at the Circuit de Catalunya, Schumacher proved why he was nicknamed “Regenmeister” (“Rainmaster”) after a stunning display in the wet.
He qualified third on the grid in the dry qualifying session, just under one second down on pole-sitter Damon Hill. The Brit had a poor start and dropped to third behind Jacques Villeneuve and Jean Alesi, but it was far better in comparison to Schumacher’s getaway from the line.
“My start was a disaster,” Michael said after the race. “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 dropped down to ninth place by the first corner but made up three positions over the remainder of the opening lap.
He had a clear pace advantage and moved ahead of Gerhard Berger for third on lap four, having already passed Hill and his team-mate Eddie Irvine after both suffered off-track excursions. Alesi dropped behind the Ferrari driver at turn five on lap nine and Schumacher moved into the lead after passing Villeneuve at the same place three laps later.
He rapidly pulled away from the chasing pack and by the time he pitted for the first time on lap 24, the gap to second place was 40 seconds. Schumacher was just in a league of his own.
He pitted for the second and final time on lap 42 and despite an exhaust problem, he eventually took the chequered flag 45 seconds clear of Alesi in second place to take his first win of the season and his first victory at the wheel of a Ferrari.
It really was one of the greatest wet weather drives in the sport’s history. He didn’t have the quickest car – by far – in the dry conditions but proved his incredible pace in the rain to dominate the seventh race of the year.
Villeneuve finished in third, with Heinz-Harald Frenzten being the first lapped driver in fourth. Incredibly, Mika Hakkinen and Pedro Diniz completed the classified finishers and top six after 13 retirements and one driver disqualification.