Whenever you sit down and watch an F1 race these days, you hope for it to be a pretty spicy affair, with close racing, tense rivalries and some surprise DNFs from the unpredictable new cars. But today’s racing is nothing compared to how Formula 1 was in the ‘90s.
Back then, hard-to-handle cars and reliability issues meant retirements were much more common. And the 1996 Monaco Grand Prix took this to a whole new level.
The lights went out and 21 drivers set off around the streets of the principality on May 19th 1996. Five racers had retired before the end of the first lap. Four more were out of action by lap 10, and a further nine were walking back to the garage before the checkered flag fell.
For anyone who’s math can’t quite keep up, that means just three finishers were classified in the 1996 Monaco Grand Prix. That puts the 2005 US Grand Prix to shame with its six successful racers crossing the finish line.
The Monaco race was one of those classic wet-into-dry scenarios, where everyone’s gambling over when to switch onto slick tires. It’s a storyline that always makes for an exciting race, but I’m not sure anyone could have predicted the carnage that ended up defining that day.
Michael Schumacher started the race on pole, but was caught out by the wet weather and hit the wall before the end of lap one. Further back, Max Verstappen’s far less successful father decided it was a good idea to start on slicks. He quickly found the wall as well.
A spectacular engine failure befell 1996 World Champion Damon Hill, putting him out the race. And the Ferrari of Eddie Irvine was forced into the wall by a passing Olivier Panis.
There were also retirements for Mika Häkkinen, Jean Alesi and Sky F1 commentator Martin Brundle.
In the end, only the podium finishers were classified.
Third place went to Sauber driver Johnny Herbert, McLaren’s David Coulthard came home second and the win was awarded to Olivier Panis, who drove for Liger Mugen Honda at the time. The 1996 Monaco victory was the French driver’s one and only F1 win.
If you want to relive this crazy race, there’s a great highlight real over on the F1 YouTube channel. There, you can hear legendary commentator Murray Walker gradually lose his shit as the race unfolds. Classic Murray.