Nurburgring ’96 will be remembered as one of the closest and most exciting races of the nineties. Williams dominated the weekend once more with Hill taking his third pole in as many races from Villeneuve, Schumacher, Alesi and Coulthard. Ultimately Hill wasn’t able to capitalise on his pole as he completely messed up the start and was fifth at the end of the first lap.
Villeneuve made a good start bettered by only Coulthard who stormed up and was prevented from taking the lead by Villeneuve taking the inside line. Villeneuve lead from Coulthard, Barrichello, Schumacher and Hill. As if he didn’t have enough incentive already, Hill was no doubt doubly keen to pass Schumacher since the latter had made disparaging remarks about his ability to do so. After a few attempts and near misses Hill squeezed past and soon he was trying to do the same to Barrichello, but found him just as difficult and in the end Williams called him in for his stop.
Meanwhile Villeneuve was making a quick get-away and putting plenty of track between himself and second placed Coulthard. Hill’s pit-stop was a disaster, taking over twenty seconds, due to tyre change problems and a close inspection of the car by Patrick Head. When Hill rejoined it was down in 11th place.
The only major change at the top after the first pit stops was a reversal of positions for Coulthard and Schumacher, who had stopped earlier and was able to pass Coulthard as he exited the pits on cold tyres.
Hills race from hell was continuing. Back amongst the midfield he came upon Diniz’s Liger and, in a move very reminiscent of the clashes between Hill and Schumacher last year, the two had a coming together, putting Hill back behind all those he had passed. Murry Walker’s view was that Diniz was in the wrong, a point Jonathan Palmer seemed to agree with, but you would have thought anyone passing Pedro Diniz would have learnt to be a little less cavalier by now.
After the second stops Schumacher started to catch Villeneuve hand over fist and with about 15 laps to go was upon the Canadian. Despite there never being more than a few tenths between them until the flag the Ferrari was kept in its place as Villeneuve held his line and his nerve. At the flag the gap was 0.762 seconds the closest finish for a long time.
Hill’s race improved as people dropped out and he passed others. He fought his was back up to fourth place behind Coulthard, where he stayed until the flag. Things got a bit hairy at the last corner as Hill ran wide nearly letting Barrichello through. Third, fourth and fifth were covered by 1 second, albeit, 33 seconds behind the leader.
Villeneuve, summing up his first win after only four races, said “It was fun!”.