The 1996 Australian Grand Prix, otherwise officially advertised as the LXI Transurban Australian Grand Prix, was the opening round of the 1996 FIA Formula One World Championship, staged at the Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit in Melbourne, Australia, on the 10 March 1996. The race, which was staged only four months after the previous Australian Grand Prix, would see Damon Hill claim victory over rookie teammate Jacques Villeneuve.
It had been a very busy four months in between the two races, not just because all of the equipment from the previous Grand Prix had to be shipped from Adelaide via road to the pseudo-purpose built Albert Park Circuit. Indeed, it had been a sustained political campaign by local politicians to take the Grand Prix from Adelaide, and had resulted in a lot of investment and protest to create a new F1 venue.
Furthermore, the F1 paddock had was virtually unrecognisable compared to how it had been in late October, with numerous driver changes. The most high-profile of these would be the move of defending Champion Michael Schumacher from Benetton-Renault to Ferrari, with the Scuderia also hiring Eddie Irvine from Jordan-Peugeot to reignite their F1 programme.
Elsewhere, Williams-Renault had dropped David Coulthard, who found himself a seat at McLaren-Mercedes, and instead hired 1995 CART Champion Jacques Villeneuve to replace Damon Hill. Benetton, meanwhile, would pick up both exiled Ferrari drivers, namely Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger, while Jordan hired Martin Brundle to replace Irvine.
There were also new rules regarding qualifying, with just one session to determine the grid order, and a new "107% rule" to prevent slower drivers from getting onto the grid. The result was a shock pole position for the debuting Villeneuve ahead of Hill, while Irvine surprisingly beat Schumacher to third.
Villenueve duly aced his maiden F1 start to claim an early lead, while Irvine managed to squeeze Hill into turn one and open the door for both Ferraris to pass the Brit. However, the race would be brought to a spectacular halt as the field poured into turn three, with a red flag thrown as a result of a huge crash.
The cause would be Alesi, who threw his Benetton across the circuit on the run to turn three, causing the rest of the field to slam on the brakes. Coulthard would brake so hard that his car snapped sideways into the path of Johnny Herbert, with his sudden change of direction catching Brundle out. The #12 Jordan duly went sailing over the top of the Sauber-Ford Cosworth, spiralling into the air before slamming down in the gravel in two separate pieces.
Fortunately Brundle was unhurt, and duly went sprinting from the medical car to find F1 doctor Sid Watkins to get permission to take the restart. He was subsequently granted the chance to take the spare Jordan, and duly joined the rest of the field in lining up on the grid for the full race restart.
This time Hill would get away flawlessly, and hence denied the two Ferraris a chance to challenge into the first corner. Irvine went with them but would quickly forfeit third to Schumacher, with the German just managing to keep in touch with the Williams' before his first stop.
Schumacher would be left half a minute behind the Williams on his two-stop strategy, although that would become academic when a brake issue left him on the sidelines. Irvine hence inherited third place in his now battered Ferrari, having received a whack from Alesi after the Frenchman mistimed a lunge.
Out front, meanwhile, it seemed as if Villeneuve would become one of only a handful of drivers to claim victory on their debut, until an oil leak caused his pace to collapse late on. Hill duly swept past to secure the win ahead of the Canadian, while Irvine was a lonely third to complete the podium.
The full entry list for the 1996 Australian Grand Prix is outlined below:
The full qualifying results for the 1996 Australian Grand Prix are outlined below:
|1||6||Jacques Villeneuve||Williams-Renault||1:32.371||—||206.636 km/h|
|2||5||Damon Hill||Williams-Renault||1:32.509||+0.138s||206.328 km/h|
|3||2||Eddie Irvine||Ferrari||1:32.889||+0.518s||205.484 km/h|
|4||1||Michael Schumacher||Ferrari||1:33.125||+0.754s||204.963 km/h|
|5||7||Mika Häkkinen||McLaren-Mercedes||1:34.054||+1.683s||202.939 km/h|
|6||3||Jean Alesi||Benetton-Renault||1:34.257||+1.886s||202.502 km/h|
|7||4||Gerhard Berger||Benetton-Renault||1:34.344||+1.973s||202.315 km/h|
|8||11||Rubens Barrichello||Jordan-Peugeot||1:34.474||+2.103s||202.037 km/h|
|9||15||Heinz-Harald Frentzen||Sauber-Ford Cosworth||1:34.494||+2.123s||201.994 km/h|
|10||19||Mika Salo||Tyrrell-Yamaha||1:34.832||+2.461s||201.274 km/h|
|11||9||Olivier Panis||Ligier-Mugen-Honda||1:35.330||+2.959s||200.222 km/h|
|12||17||Jos Verstappen||Footwork-Hart||1:35.338||+2.967s||200.206 km/h|
|13||8||David Coulthard||McLaren-Mercedes||1:35.351||+2.980s||200.178 km/h|
|14||14||Johnny Herbert||Sauber-Ford Cosworth||1:35.453||+3.082s||199.964 km/h|
|15||18||Ukyo Katayama||Tyrrell-Yamaha||1:35.715||+3.344s||199.417 km/h|
|16||21||Giancarlo Fisichella||Minardi-Ford Cosworth||1:35.898||+3.527s||199.036 km/h|
|17||20||Pedro Lamy||Minardi-Ford Cosworth||1:36.109||+3.738s||198.600 km/h|
|18||16||Ricardo Rosset||Footwork-Hart||1:36.198||+3.827s||198.416 km/h|
|19||12||Martin Brundle||Jordan-Peugeot||1:36.286||+3.915s||198.234 km/h|
|20||10||Pedro Diniz||Ligier-Mugen-Honda||1:36.298||+3.927s||198.210 km/h|
|107% Time: 1:38.837|
|NC||21||Luca Badoer||Forti-Ford Cosworth||1:39.202||+6.831s||192.407 km/h|
|NC||22||Andrea Montermini||Forti-Ford Cosworth||1:42.087||+9.716s||186.970 km/h|
- T Indicates a driver used their test/spare car to set their best time.
- Bold indicates a driver's best/qualifying time.
- * Coulthard and Brundle would restart the race from the pitlane.
- † Herbert was unable to take the restart due to Frentzen using the spare car.
The full results for the 1996 Australian Grand Prix are outlined below:
- T Indicates a driver used their test/spare car.
- First World Championship Grand Prix to be staged at the Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit.
- This was also the first Australian Grand Prix to be held in Melbourne since the 1956 Australian Grand Prix.
- Rubens Barrichello entered his 50th Grand Prix.
- Twentieth entry for Mika Salo.
- Debut race for Jacques Villeneuve, Giancarlo Fisichella and Ricardo Rosset.
- Maiden pole position for Villeneuve.
- Fourteenth career victory for Damon Hill.
- Williams secured their 84th win as a constructor.
- Villeneuve claimed his first podium finish.
- This was also Villeneuve's first points finish.
- Maiden fastest lap recorded by Villenueve.
- This was also the 50th fastest lap to be recorded by a car using #6 as its race number.
An opening day victory for Damon Hill left the Brit atop the Championship, with no controversial investigations to take away his points. Jacques Villeneuve, meanwhile, would open his maiden F1 campaign in second, with Eddie Irvine in third after his Ferrari debut. Gerhard Berger was next ahead of Mika Häkkinen, while Mika Salo completed the early top-six.
In the Constructors Championship it had been an ominously strong afternoon for Williams-Renault, who left Australia with sixteen points to their name. That left them twelve ahead of Ferrari in second after the opening race, with Benetton-Renault a point further back in third. McLaren-Mercedes and Tyrrell-Yamaha had also got on the board at the opening round.
Only point scoring drivers and constructors are shown.
Images and Videos:
- 'Australian GP, 1996', grandprix.com, (Inside F1 Inc., 2014), https://www.grandprix.com/gpe/rr582.html, (Accessed 12/08/2019)
- 'Australia 1996: Entrants', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2015), https://www.statsf1.com/en/1996/australie/engages.aspx, (Accessed 12/08/2019)
- 'Australia 1996: Qualifications', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2014), https://www.statsf1.com/en/1996/australie/qualification.aspx, (Accessed 12/08/2019)
- 'Transurban Australian Grand Prix - QUALIFYING', formula1.com, (Formula One World Championship Ltd., 2019), https://www.formula1.com/en/results.html/1996/races/638/australia/qualifying-0.html, (Accessed 12/08/2019)
- 'Australia 1996: Result', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2016), https://www.statsf1.com/en/1996/australie/classement.aspx, (Accessed 12/08/2019)
- '1996 Australian GP', chicanef1.com, (Inside F1 Inc., 2014), http://www.chicanef1.com/racetit.pl?year=1996&gp=Australian%20GP&r=1, (Accessed 12/08/2019)
- '1. Australia 1996', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2014), https://www.statsf1.com/en/1996/australie.aspx, (Accessed 12/08/2019)
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