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

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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.

Kubica, di Resta complete Williams F1 tests in Hungary

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Robert Kubica and Paul di Resta have both completed one-day tests for Williams in a 2014-spec Formula 1 car as part of the team’s evaluation for its 2018 line-up.

Williams is known to be considering a number of drivers to partner Lance Stroll at the team next year, including existing racer Felipe Massa.

Massa is thought to be going up against Kubica and di Resta for the 2018 drive, with the latter duo taking part in a private test at the Hungaroring in Budapest this week to aid the team’s evaluation.

After missing out on a 2018 Renault drive due to lingering questions about his physical condition six years after his rally accident, Kubica tested for Williams at Silverstone last week before getting back behind the wheel of the 2014 FW36 car in Hungary on Tuesday.

Kubica’s test was called “productive” by Williams, with the Pole handing duties over to Mercedes DTM racer di Resta on Wednesday.

Di Resta raced in F1 with Force India between 2010 and 2013 before returning to DTM, but made a surprise return at this year’s Hungarian Grand Prix with Williams when Massa was taken ill. Di Resta impressed on short notice, putting himself in contention for a full-time return to F1 in 2018.

Williams has one of the few remaining seats on offer in F1 for 2018, with Massa’s future known to be in question after a quiet campaign thus far.

The Brazilian had been due to retire from F1 at the end of last year, only for Williams to recall him after Valtteri Bottas’ late move up to Mercedes following Nico Rosberg’s surprise retirement.

Massa has made clear he would like to keep racing in F1 next year, but only if the deal is right and if Williams is determined to keep him.

While Massa, Kubica and di Resta appear to be the three leading contenders for the seat, Williams technical chief Paddy Lowe made clear in Japan there was a “large range” of drivers under consideration.

“You’ve probably seen a number of names that are floating around that we’re looking at, but honestly, the range is almost unlimited,” Lowe said.

“We will consider all ideas. We’re not in a super hurry to do so, and we’ll just make sure we land the best line-up we can.”