Italian Grand Prix 1996 – Race
For the Italian Tifosi the right result – for Williams fans the most disappointing race of the season. Hill could have wrapped the championship up here but he stuffed it up. Jacques race was little better, but at least he finished. To make matters worse the problems were all of Hills making – it was him that had insisted on the introduction of the tyres at the chicane that were to be his downfall.
On Saturday it was business as usual – Hill on top followed by Villeneuve, the 8th Williams qualifying one-two this season. At the start Hill and Villeneuve fought for the first place, Hill coming off better. Alesi, capitalising on the battling Williams pair, shoots through into the lead from sixth position! Before the lap is out Hill has passed Alesi and Villeneuve is passed by Hakkinen. By the end of the first lap Hill is already 0.6 seconds ahead of Alesi, followed by Hakkinen, Villeneuve, Coulthard and Schumacher.
On lap two Williams hit their first problem when Villeneuve hit the tyres, taking out Coulthard as a consequence. Villeneuve was immediately down to fifth. Meanwhile Hill is streaking into the distance having already built up a lead of over two seconds by lap four, setting fastest laps on the way.
Then, on lap six, it was all over. Like Villeneuve, Hill hit the tyres at the chicane, unlike Villeneuve this would prove to be the end of his race as he spun into retirement. No championship this weekend.
On lap ten Villeneuve makes a pit stop for fresh rubber, he rejoins tenth, 40 seconds behind Alesi who has inherited the lead. By lap 15 the gap between Alesi and Villeneuve has extended to 49 seconds. Lap 22 and Villeneuve is up to 9th due to retirements but still 20 seconds behind the sixth placed car of Diniz. The slide further continued – lap 24 eighth position but a minute behind and then two laps later Villeneuve was caught by the leading pair of Alesi and Schumacher. It took six more laps but on lap 30, for the first time in 1996 a Williams was lapped.
Schumacher, for the record, won the race. Not that it matters to the championship. He too hit the tyres but came away unharmed – the luck of a true champion? The battle for the title is not over yet but it has got harder for Villeneuve. Hill made a mistake which could yet cost him the championship and may have made Williams feel they have made the right decision.