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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.

Street race in Vietnam could lead Formula One’s Asia expansion

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TOKYO (AP) — Formula One is expected to add more races in Asia, including a street circuit in the capital of Vietnam, a country with little auto racing history that is on the verge of getting a marquee event.

“We think Hanoi could come on in the next couple of years, and we’re working with the Hanoi government to that end,” Sean Bratches, Formula One’s managing director of commercial operations, told the Associated Press.

There is even speculation it could be on the schedule next season, which Bratches rebuffed.

Vietnam would join countries like Azerbaijan, Russia and Bahrain, which have Grand Prix races, little history in the sport, and authoritarian governments with deep pockets that serve F1 as it tries to expand into new markets.

“This (Hanoi) is a street race where we can go downtown, where we can activate a large fan base,” Bratches said. “And you have extraordinary iconography from a television standpoint.”

A second race in China is also likely and would join Shanghai on the F1 calendar. Bratches said deciding where to stage the GP will “be left to local Chinese partners” – Beijing is a strong candidate.

Bratches runs the commercial side of Formula One, which was acquired last year by U.S.-based Liberty Media from long-time operator Bernie Ecclestone.

Formula One’s long-term goal is to have 24-25 races – up from the present 21 – and arrange them in three geographical segments: Asia, Europe and the Americas. Bratches said the Europe-based races would stay in middle of the calendar, with Asia or the Americas opening or ending the season.

He said their positioning had not been decided, and getting this done will be slowed by current contracts that mandate specific places on the calendar for several races. This means eventually that all the races in Asia would be run together, as would races in Europe and the Americas.

The F1 schedule is now an inefficient jumble, allowing Bratches to take a good-natured poke at how the sport was run under Ecclestone.

“We’ve acquired an undermanaged asset that’s 67-years-old, but effectively a start-up,” Bratches said.

Early-season races in Australia and China this year were conducted either side of a trip to Bahrain in the Middle East. Late in the season Formula One returns to Asia with races in Japan and Singapore.

The Canadian GP this season is run in the middle of the European swing, separated by four months from the other races in the Americas – the United States, Mexico and Brazil. These three are followed by the season-ending race in Abu Dhabi, which means another trip across the globe.

“With the right economics, with the right structure and cadence of events across territories, 24 or 25 is probably where we’d like to be from a longer-term standpoint,” Bratches said.

Big changes are not likely to happen until the 2020 season ends. This is when many current rules and contracts expire as F1’s new owners try to redistribute some income to allow smaller teams to compete.

“There’s more interest than we have capacity in the schedule,” Bratches said, firing off Berlin, Paris or London as potentially attractive venues. “We want to be very selective.”

“Those cites from an economic impact standpoint would find us value, as do others around the world,” Bratches added. “It’s very important for us as we move forward to go to locations that are a credit to the Formula One brand.”

An expanded schedule would have to be approved by the teams, which will be stretched by the travel and the wear-and-tear on their crews. The burden will fall on the smaller teams, which have significantly smaller revenue compared with Ferrari, Mercedes or Red Bull.

Bratches also envisions another race in the U.S., joining the United States Grand Prix held annually in Austin, Texas. A street race in Miami is a strong candidate, as are possible venues like Las Vegas or New York.

“We see the United States and China as countries that could support two races,” he said.

Liberty Media has reported Formula One’s total annual revenue at $1.8 billion, generated by fees paid by promoters, broadcast rights, advertising and sponsorship. Race promotion fees also tend to be higher in Asia, which makes the area attractive – along with a largely untapped fan base.

In a four-year cycle, F1 generates more revenue than FIFA or the International Olympic Committee, which rely almost entirely on one-time showcase events.

Reports suggest Vietnamese promoters may pay between $50-60 million annually as a race fee, with those fees paid by the government. Bratches said 19 of 21 Formula One races are supported by government payments.

“The race promotion fee being derived from the government … is a model that has worked historically,” Bratches said.