Getty Images

It was 20 years ago today Olivier Panis, Ligier shocked F1 in Monaco

Leave a comment

Max Verstappen’s win this past Sunday in the Spanish Grand Prix was certainly unexpected, but it’s very likely a harbinger of things to come for the talented, 18-year-old Dutchman at Red Bull Racing down the road.

But 20 years ago today in Monaco, however, a race win happened in a Grand Prix that almost no one – not least Olivier Panis himself – could have seen coming.

Ligier hadn’t won a Grand Prix in 15 years (Jacques Laffite, 1981 Canadian Grand Prix) and Panis, in his third full-time season of F1, had only stood on the podium twice before – in abnormal circumstances of both the 1994 German and 1995 Australian Grands Prix, in second place.

Heavy rain dampened the track in-between the morning warmup and the race. And for proof this was 20 years ago, yes, they still had the morning warmup back then.

Starting 14th, Panis slowly but then confidently ascended up the order as the damp track began to claim its victims. Only 22 cars were present at the weekend – same as now – but between Andrea Montermini’s DNQ for Forti and then a series of accidents in the opening laps – including Verstappen’s father Jos in a Footwork, both Minardis (Pedro Lamy and Giancarlo Fisichella, who now race sports cars), future Ferrari teammates Rubens Barrichello (then with Jordan) and polesitter Michael Schumacher (in his first Monaco with Ferrari) – cut the field by six cars just at the end of the first lap.

Four more retirements later (Gerhard Berger’s Benetton, Pedro Diniz’s Ligier, Ukyo Katayama’s Tyrrell and Ricardo Rosset’s Footwork) and the field was down to 12.

Olivier Panis with arms aloft climbs from his #9 Equipe Ligier Gauloises Blondes Ligier JS43 Mugen-Honda 3.0 V10 to celebrate victory at the Grand Prix of Monaco on 19th May 1996 on the streets of the Principality of Monaco in Monte Carlo, Monaco.(Photo by Pascal Rondeau/Getty Images)
Olivier Panis with arms aloft climbs from his #9 Equipe Ligier Gauloises Blondes Ligier JS43 Mugen-Honda 3.0 V10.(Photo by Pascal Rondeau/Getty Images)

Panis, who’d survived the carnage, made a move of Ferrari’s Eddie Irvine mid-race that would go down in the record books.

The race looked set for early season dominator Damon Hill in his Williams Renault to claim another victory, his first on the principality, only for a massive and memorable engine detonation to occur out of the tunnel on Lap 41.

Another Renault-powered driver, Jean Alesi of Benetton, then appeared to enter the catbird’s seat before he retired with suspension failure 20 laps later.

That promoted Panis, in the Ligier Mugen Honda, to a shock lead and one he would not relinquish the rest of the race. David Coulthard finished second for McLaren Mercedes – he’d worn Schumacher’s crash helmet in the race in abnormal circumstances given the conditions.

Sauber bagged a rare double points finish with Johnny Herbert and Heinz-Harald Frentzen third and fourth in the two Ford-powered entries, their last year before becoming a Ferrari customer team and rebadging the engines at Petronas. Frentzen took the checkered flag in the pit lane, because at that rate, why not.

The craziness continued behind him with a collision between Hill’s teammate, Jacques Villeneuve, and the sole Forti in the race of Luca Badoer, at Mirabeau. Irvine crashed out as well; that triggered a multiple-Mika-car pileup that also took out Mika Salo (Tyrrell) and Mika Hakkinen (McLaren).

Such was the attrition rate, though, that Salo and Hakkinen still were classified fifth and sixth even though they failed to finish.

The official F1 website did this video last year – hosted by Peter Windsor – to recap the race. It’s linked here.

Reflecting on matters, F1 hasn’t had a French race winner since, although Romain Grosjean has come close on a number of occasions with the team now known as Renault, having then been known as Benetton (with pit stops as Renault, Lotus and Renault again since).

Panis pulled off a similar shocker at the 2011 Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring in a customer Peugeot 908 HDi FAP with Team Oreca Matmut, co-driving with countrymen and young rising stars Nicolas Lapierre and Loic Duval, the latter of whom is now an Audi factory driver.

But of those teams that ran in the 1996 Monaco GP, only four of 11 – McLaren, Sauber, Ferrari and Williams – live on today in their current guises.

The rest? Ligier became Prost Grand Prix, and folded after 2001. Neither Ligier nor Prost ever won another Grand Prix although Prost did secure a handful of podiums.

Tyrrell? You might know them as Mercedes AMG Petronas today, having morphed into BAR in 1999, then Honda, then Brawn, and then Mercedes.

Benetton, as noted, became Renault, then back to Lotus, then back to Renault.

Forti folded later that year, Jordan became Sahara Force India (pit stops as Midland/MF1 and Spyker in the interim), Footwork (later Arrows) dropped out in 2002 and Minardi became Scuderia Toro Rosso.

Guy Ligier? The legend died last August, although his name lives on under the Onroak Automotive constructor in France, for its Ligier line of JS P2/JS P3/JS P217 prototype chassis.

Lewis Hamilton completes Friday F1 practice double in Australia

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Lewis Hamilton continued his march at the top of the timesheets in practice for the Formula 1 season-opener in Australia on Friday afternoon, leading the way once again for Mercedes.

Hamilton entered the weekend unsure about his chances after an impressive display from Ferrari through pre-season testing, prompting the Briton to pick the Italian team as the favorite for victory in Melbourne.

Hamilton set the pace through first practice at Albert Park as the new-style F1 cars got their first official running, heading up a one-two finish for Mercedes with Valtteri Bottas in tow.

FP2 was expected to offer more insight into Ferrari’s true pace after it opted to limit its running through first practice, but it was Hamilton who led the way once again.

Running on the ultra-soft tire, Hamilton produced a stunning lap of 1:23.620 to finish half a second clear of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, the German driver unable to respond to his rival’s pace.

Bottas continued his impressive start to life with Mercedes, finishing the session third-quickest, while Kimi Raikkonen rounded out a Mercedes-Ferrari top-four lock-out in the second SF70H car.

Despite Ferrari’s inability to challenge Mercedes, it was Red Bull that came away from FP2 as the biggest disappointment after Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen had scruffy sessions en route to P5 and P6 respectively. Verstappen had been on a quick lap and due to improve his time, only to run wide at Turn 12 and narrowly avoid losing control.

Carlos Sainz Jr. finished a solid seventh for Toro Rosso ahead of Haas driver Romain Grosjean, who was fortunate to keep his car out of the wall as the American team’s brake issues arose once again. Nico Hulkenberg was ninth for Renault, with Daniil Kvyat rounding out the top 10.

FP2 was red flagged early on following a big shunt for Jolyon Palmer at the final corner. The Briton lost the rear-end of his car coming through the right-hander, causing him to slide into the wall and suffer a large amount of damage to his car. Felipe Massa was another driver to hit trouble, with his Williams FW40 grinding to a halt midway through the session, forcing the Brazilian to end his day early, while Marcus Ericsson spun off with five minutes to go, beaching his Sauber.

Lewis Hamilton sets rapid pace to open F1 2017 in Australia FP1

Getty Images
2 Comments

Lewis Hamilton kicked off Formula 1’s new technical era in style by heading up a one-two finish for Mercedes in opening practice for the Australian Grand Prix on Friday morning in Melbourne.

Despite predictions from many that Ferrari and Red Bull would pose a greater challenge at the top of the timesheets in Australia, FP1 offered a familiar result as Hamilton led home new teammate Valtteri Bottas.

The added downforce of the new-style 2017 cars had the desired effect of slashing lap times, with Hamilton’s best effort of 1:24.220 being less than four-tenths of a second off his pole position time for last year’s race.

Bottas made a good impression in his first F1 weekend session in Mercedes colors, leading the bulk of the session before Hamilton jumped ahead on the ultrasoft tires with around 30 minutes remaining.

Daniel Ricciardo led Red Bull’s charge, finishing third ahead of teammate Max Verstappen, but Ferrari decided against showing its hand early and limited its running, only pushing for fast laps in the final 15 minutes of the session.

Kimi Raikkonen ended FP1 fifth in the SF70H, 1.1 seconds off Hamilton’s best time, while Vettel was a further tenth back in P6.

The session went by without any major incident, although a handful of drivers did have minor technical issues that are part and parcel of the first session of the year.

McLaren’s difficulties continued from pre-season as Stoffel Vandoorne was limited to just 10 laps, while Jolyon Palmer and Esteban Ocon also had their running cut due to problems. All three featured in the bottom five of the standings.

Times are below:

Sean Gelael set for Toro Rosso F1 tests in 2017

FIA Formula 2
Leave a comment

Formula 2 driver Sean Gelael will play a part in this year’s in-season Formula 1 test running after agreeing a deal with Toro Rosso.

Gelael, 20, raced full-time in GP2 last year before the championship evolved into F2, scoring one podium finish in Austria.

The Indonesian driver also appeared in the final three rounds of the FIA World Endurance Championship, scoring an LMP2 podium for Extreme Speed Motorsports in Shanghai.

Gelael will race in F2 this year with Arden, but will also get his first taste of F1 machinery in the upcoming tests for Toro Rosso.

All F1 teams will get four days of in-season running this year (two in Bahrain, two in Hungary following their respective races) as well as the traditional end-of-year test in Abu Dhabi.

Gelael will feature in all three for Toro Rosso, having undergone a seat fitting at Faenza earlier this week.

All F1 teams are required to allocate at least half of their in-season running to junior drivers who have made fewer than two grand prix starts.

Gelael will make his first appearance for Toro Rosso following the Bahrain Grand Prix, with running set to take place at the Bahrain International Circuit on April 18 and 19.

More speed, but will Formula 1 be more of the same?

Getty Images
3 Comments

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Faster cars and fiercer competition are the great expectations of the new regulations in Formula One, yet the championship outlook hasn’t altered much ahead of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

Lewis Hamilton remains the hot favorite to win another title for Mercedes.

Hamilton won 10 GP events last season and was close to claiming his fourth drivers’ title but was narrowly beaten by his teammate Nico Rosberg, who secured Mercedes a third consecutive championship and then retired.

While Hamilton talked about wanting more drivers competing for the title, and even tipped Ferrari to be quickest this weekend, he’s already lining up a victory he thinks would be unprecedented.

“I don’t believe (any) team has won back-to-back through rule regulation changes,” Hamilton said Thursday during the first official news conference ahead of Sunday’s race. “So that’s our goal as a team. We’re here to win. We’re here to do what no-one else has done.

“I have every belief in my team that we can do that.”

Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel won four consecutive season titles from 2010-13 while he was racing for Red Bull, so he knows what it’s like to be in Hamilton’s position. He has no doubt who is favorite this season, regardless of the rule changes that dictated wider tires, greater aerodynamics, bigger fuel loads and increased downforce and which are expected to make the heavier cars faster.

“Obviously Mercedes has been in a very, very strong form the last three years and even with changes to the rules and regulations, if the team is strong then they will build a strong car the year after, no matter what they do,” Vettel said. “It is very clear who is the favorite.

“For all of us sitting here we are obviously trying our best to catch up. As the season goes on obviously, I’m sure the cars will have big progression.”

Ferrari had good results in the eight days of pre-season testing, and Hamilton predicted Vettel and former champion Kimi Raikkonen would have the fastest cars in the first practice sessions Friday and Saturday.

“I see Ferrari being the quickest at the moment – and I think they’ll definitely be the favorites,” said Hamilton, who was joined at Mercedes this season by former Williams driver Valterri Bottas. “It’s interesting to see, Sebastian is usually a lot more hype. I can tell he’s trying to keep a lid on it. But their pace was obviously great in testing.”

Hamilton said he couldn’t judge the pace of the Red Bulls in testing, saying they were “quite far behind” and he didn’t see many upgrades to the cars.

“I’m assuming they’re bringing something new,” he said, “which I’m excited to see.”

Daniel Ricciardo finished as the highest-ranked of the non-Mercedes drivers last season, winning the Malaysian GP and placing third in the season standings. He concedes Hamilton will start favorite, but is hoping for a shakeup at the top.

“I think for everyone it’s like when Red Bull were dominating a few years ago – everyone wanted to see someone else win,” Ricciardo said. “It’s natural that people like change.

“For us drivers, not being in Mercedes, we want to see change as well. Even for the fact to have more cars fighting for the win makes it more exciting.”

Hamilton wanted more frequent changes to the regulations, to keep the cars getting faster and the competition “spicier.”

That’s something on which all the leading drivers could agree.

If Hamilton “wins a race against four of us as opposed to maybe just his teammate I think that reward is bigger as well,” said Ricciardo, who is aiming to be the first Australian to win the Australian GP since it became part of the world championship in 1985.

“If you can win against more … that feeling of self-accomplishment is greater. Ferrari showed good pace in testing. If they can take a few points away as well it kind of opens up the championship over the long time.”