Spanich exposition

1996 Spanish Grand Prix Michael Schumacher (Ferrari F310)

The 1996 Spanish GP represented the start of a new chapter in Ferrari’s history. Michael Schumacher’s first win for the team has obvious significance, but it was much more than that. The victory came after a difficult start to the German’s career with the Italian team, and was achieved in glorious style by a man who has proved time and again to be the greatest wet weather master of his generation.

Michael picked up three podiums in his first six races with the ungainly F310, but a victory was proving elusive. hl Monaco he made one of the most embarrassing mistakes of his career, skating off on a damp first lap, and received a lot of flak in the Italian media.

Next time out in Barcelona he qualified third, behind the Williams pair of Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve. He fancied his chances when it rained on raceday, but a clutch problem saw him almost stall at the start and drop as low as ninth. Within five laps he had splashed his way up to third, and on lap 12, he relieved Villeneuve of the lead. His engine sounded rough, but he disappeared into the distance as if the others were running on slicks.

Barcelona predated the arrival of Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne at Maranello, and they were the final ingredients in the winning package. But despite the race’s significance to the world at large, team boss Jean Todt remains curiously unmoved by the memory. “When you need to win and when you achieve it, it’s just great for the team,” he explains. “It was the first win with Michael and Ferrari, and since then he has won a lot of races for us. It was important, but you will not get me to say that it was the most important one! Spa 1996 was for me much more important, and the most important amongst all the wins was Suzuka 2000.”

Perhaps because he’s now used to mesmerising drives from his star, Todt was not as impressed as the rest of us by Michael’s mastery of the conditions. “He needed to have the car. He did not have the right car in Brazil this year, and he couldn’t manage to win in the rain. Two weeks before in Malaysia, Michael and Rubens were outstanding. I don’t think in motor racing you can disconnect the car, the team, the driver. You need to have a good package, and we had a good package. “When it’s happening, you are only tenified you won’t finish. Of course, if you are leading, and it’s very difficult race conditions, so many things can happen, then you areconcentrated on the fact that you’re leading.”

“It was great, but you know, I did not know him as I know him now. As I said, Spa 1996 was something completely different because by then we had learned to struggle together. Nobody was expecting a lot of us before Barcelona, and then after that, we had a big desert to cross until we won at Spa.”

Adam Cooper