Widely regarded as the greatest Formula 1 race in history, Olivier Panis’ win at the Monaco Grand Prix in 1996 was a moment to savour for motorsport fans all over.
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The weekend didn’t get off to a good start for the Frenchman, though, due to electronics problems during qualification, which meant he’d start the race in lowly 14th. This was certainly seen as a major handicap even if Panis knew the car had the speed upon considering the Monaco GP had never been won by anyone starting lower than eighth.
With the rain bucketing down and Panis believing in himself and the car, he achieved the unthinkable to claim his first victory in 15 years. Notching the fastest warm up lap, this served as a good omen for the race ahead despite the field including the likes of Michael Schumacher, Damon Hill, Johnny Herbert, David Coulthard, Rubens Barrichello, Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger.
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With many of the big names dropping out in the treacherous conditions and cause of engine failure, Panis seized his chances, racing through the pack early. As the track dried, a change to slicks was executed superbly by Panis and his team, which saw him gain some additional positions.
After Hill and Alesi were forced to retire, the lead was Panis’, but he still had to see out the race on minimal fuel.
Knowing he couldn’t win the race if he stopped like his crew were encouraging him to do, he asked his engineer what he needed to do to finish the race. Panis recounts the situation brilliantly in an interview on the F1 website, stating: “All my engineers, speaking in different languages, were coming onto the radio at different times and telling me I needed to pit for a splash of fuel.
“I said: ‘Look, just tell me the time I need to do each lap to finish the race with the fuel I have in the car. Every lap, I saved a lot of fuel. I didn’t use sixth gear, I didn’t push each gear on the upshift. I stopped the car in front of the podium, and the car never started again, because there was no more fuel! When it’s your day, it’s your day.”
What an end it was to an absolutely amazing race, as Panis emphatically etched his name into Formula One history on a day that will never be forgotten.