The 1996 Monaco Grand Prix was record-breaking and took place in torrential conditions. It provided Olivier Panis with his first and only F1 victory, as well as the last for the Ligier team.
Michael Schumacher, driving in his sixth Grand Prix for Ferrari, took pole position in qualifying by half a second from Damon Hill – who had won four of the opening five races – and Jean Alesi.
Sunday’s warm-up session took place in dry conditions, but rain fell prior to the race and an extra 15 minute practice was added to allow drivers the chance to sample the difficult conditions.
Off the line, Hill had a better launch from the grid and took the lead into Ste Devote. Schumacher attempted to close the gap but found the wall at Portier. He wasn’t the only driver to exit the race on lap one, with Jos Verstappen, Giancarlo Fisichella and Pedro Lamy also crashing and Rubens Barrichello spinning at La Rascasse.
So after the opening tour, the field has already decreased from 21 to 16 cars. A further three were eliminated after Ukyo Katayama and Ricardo Rosset crashed and Pedro Diniz was forced to retire after a transmission problem.
Hill opened up a commanding lead in the early stages, with the lead trio pulling away from the struggling Eddie Irvine. Gerhard Berger promoted the Ferrari driver to third after retiring with a gearbox issue on lap 10.
Heinz-Harald Frentzen broke his front wing after tagging Irvine at turn one a few laps later. The field dropped to 11 cars after Martin Brundle spun on lap 31, just as the leading cars pitted for a set of slick tyres. Meanwhile Panis had been making steady progress up the order and passed Irvine in an aggressive move at the hairpin.
Alesi briefly took the lead in the pit stop sequence before Hill found his way back through. However, he only held on to the top spot until lap 40 when he retired with an engine failure at the exit of the tunnel. Alesi then hit the front before a suspension failure caused his exit from the race. Jacques Villeneuve and Luca Badoer failed to make the finish after tangling.
The lead was then handed over to Panis, who took the chequered flag in first place to score his first and only F1 victory. The race didn’t last the full distance as it reached the two hour limit. David Coulthard, who finished five seconds further back, was second and Johnny Herbert was third.
Only three finishers were classified after Heinz-Harald Frentzen, who was running fourth and last, pulled into the pits on the penultimate lap. Eddie Irvine spun at Portier in the closing stages and eliminated Mika Salo and Mika Hakkinen as he attempted to recover.
The race broke the record for the fewest number of cars to be running at the end of the race due to the incredibly high attrition rate. It was certainly one of the most dramatic races to take place around the Monte Carlo streets.