German Grand Pix 1996 – Race

Excitement has returned to Grand Prix racing – at last there was more than one car with a real possibility of winning the race with four laps to go. This followed on from an exciting qualifying session when Hill snatched pole away from Schumacher in the dying seconds of the session who then found himself pushed even further down the grid as Berger followed Hill over the line to take the second spot.

With race strategies formulated before the start of the race the position you are in at the first corner can dictate your final position. It was quickly obvious that Hill’s strategy was based on him reaching the first corner in the lead, something he could reasonably expect to do, being on pole, but something he singularly failed to do finding the two Benettons ahead of him. Hill looked to be on a two stop strategy while the Benettons of Berger and Alesi would stop only once. This required Hill to gain an advantage over the Benettons to make up for the time loss.

Despite the heavier fuel load the leading Benettons and Hill soon pulled out a lead over the following pack headed by Schumacher who was holding up Coulthard, Villeneuve and Hakkinen behind him. At the end of the fourth lap the gap from Berger to Schumacher was 6.155 seconds. By lap 10 this gap had increased to 11.376 seconds.

Hakkinen was the first of the front runners to stop on lap 13 but he trickled out of the pits and immediately retired. Hill came in at the end of lap 19, was stationary for only 8.1 seconds and then rejoined in 5th place behind a great battle between Schumacher and Villeneuve.

At the end of lap 22 Alesi, Schumacher and Villeneuve all made their stops. The latter two had come in nose to tail and so the time in the pits would be of paramount importance. Villeneuve was stationary for 11.3 seconds and Schumacher 11.7. They rejoined the track as they had entered the pits, with Villeneuve all over the gearbox of the Ferrari. It wasn’t long before Villeneuve was past and on his way.

The order after Berger had made his one stop was: Hill, Berger (3.2s behind), Alesi (5.07), Coulthard (22.07), Villeneuve (26.75) and Schumacher (28.8). Hill had now to put some space between himself and Berger, at least eighteen seconds if he was to be able to pit and re-join in the lead. Over the next few laps Hill set a succession of fastest laps and the gaps increased from 4.7s to 15.9 seconds on lap 33 when he went in for his second stop. It wouldn’t be enough and Hill rejoined 2nd, 2.2 seconds adrift.

There was still time for Hill to pass Berger – after all it is not unheard of leading cars passing each other – it just doesn’t happen very often! For the next eight laps Hill dived left and right searching for a way past the Benetton, in a scene very reminiscent of Senna and Mansell at Monaco, but Berger is far too experienced to leave a gap. In the end it came down to mechanical failure with a spectacular engine blow-up just three laps from the end. You had to feel for Berger who must have thought he had it in the bag.

Meanwhile Villeneuve was quietly keeping the momentum going to come in third. Williams could have put the constructors championship beyond the Benetton team today, who still have a mathematical chance of winning it, but that can wait.

Hill’s twentieth win today equals the number scored by Schumacher, an impressive total, and this weekend he showed the mark of a true champion (elect!).

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