GRAND PRIX NEWSYour monthly source for racing news, stories and rumors | Wednesday 6th November, 19961996 Season Review
The 1996 Formula One season has come to an end and teams and drivers are either relaxing or already preparing for yet another exciting new season. Grand Prix News takes one last look at the previous season, presenting you all the facts you need to know and our interpretation of them.Remarkable fact
Only McLaren scored more points in 1988 than Williams did this year.GPN's opinions
Williams had an absolutely dominant season in 1996. Although the Benetton was sometimes close on pace, the FW18 was the fastest car over a full season. What was at least as important, is that this year's Williams was a lot more reliable than the Benettons and the Ferraris.
Damon Hill enjoyed an extremely successful year. Although his rookie teammate drew quite a lot of attention, the Briton usually had the measure of him. It all resulted in nine race wins, equalling Nigel Mansell's record for most wins in a season.
Jacques Villeneuve was expected to become rookie of the year and he did not disappoint from the word go. He was in a dominant car, but the numbers of his maiden F1 season are impressive nonetheless: he never qualified outside the top 5 and he never finished outside the top 3. Especially in the races he was usually close to Hill or he even beat him.Remarkable fact
Benetton was the only team other than Williams to claim pole position or to win a race in 1996.GPN's opinions
Benetton was the reigning constructors' champion going into this season, but it was always going to be a difficult season after the departure of Michael Schumacher and Rory Byrne. Nevertheless, the team showed flashed of speed and still won three races, but they wasted a lot of points by driver errors and many mechanical failures.
Jean Alesi had a decent season, winning his first two races and coming out on top in the qualifying battle with his teammate. However, it was once again a year with high highs and low lows. If the Frenchman wants to really challenge for the championship at some point, he will need to become more consistent.
Johnny Herbert once again was pretty evenly matched to his teammate. Some silly mistakes did not make him look any better, but much like Alesi, Herbert did also have some very strong showings. His weekend at the Hockenheimring was excellent and showed what the Briton can do when he feels good in a car.Remarkable fact
Together with Williams, McLaren had the most reliable car of 1996, only retiring from a race seven times.GPN's opinions
McLaren had a bit of an unremarkable season. The car was a lot more reliable than in 1995, but it was not fast enough to ever challenge for race wins. In the end it did bring the Woking-based team a lot more points, but they will need to take big steps forward to really get back at the front.
Mika Hakkinen truly was McLaren's leader this year, despite the arrival of a talented teammate. The Finn's run of 11 consecutive races in the points was very impressive and that kind of consistency made the difference for his team's third place in the championship.
David Coulthard's 1996 was perhaps a little bit underwhelming. He had been very close to Hill last year and was a genuine title contender, but he did not finish on the podium even once this year. Hakkinen clearly beat him in both qualifyings and races, so DC will need to improve - just like his car - if he wants to fight for the championship again.Remarkable fact
Ferrari saw a car finish only three times in the first half of the season, while they only retired from a race four times in the second half.GPN's opinions
Ferrari had a disastrous start to the season, which meant they would never be able to really challenge for the championship. The team did improve the reliability in particular, for which they deserve a lot of credit. Only Williams scored more points in the second half of the season, but the improvements came just too late to give them 3rd in the constructors' championship. Race wins were the target, but the Williams dominance meant they simply did not yet stand a chance this year.
Michael Schumacher lost his world title in 1996, but he did show he is still arguably the best driver in the field. Some aggressive battles with drivers in superior cars made him stand out and he deserved to win in Silverstone. If Ferrari can make the promised steps forward in the next years, it seems certain that the German can win more championships.
Eddie Irvine was destined to be in Schumacher's shadow this year. Nevertheless, the Ulsterman had some solid and sensible drives to score a decent haul of points. Although he rarely even came close to his teammate, he stayed out of trouble and contributed to his team's championship position. Irvine might be an ideal number 2 for the next years.Remarkable fact
Jordan scored less points in 1996 than they did in 1995, when they already fell a point short of their 1994 tally.GPN's opinions
Jordan have been one of F1's most ambitious teams in recent years, making it no secret that they want to make the step towards a world championship challenge. Despite having one of the best engines in the field, they once again fell significantly short, despite Barrichello's excellent podium finishes early in the season. Something will need to change at Jordan, or they may lose their works engine and lucrative sponsorships.
Rubens Barrichello seemed to once again extract the absolute maximum from the car. The Brazilian was often able to mix it with the top teams, unlike his teammate. Barrichello is rumored to move to the new Stewart team next year, which will be interesting to see. If Sir Jackie gives him a good package, Rubens may well be the surprise of 1997.
Gianni Morbidelli drove only one race this year, but his performance was more than solid. It might just have put him back into the picture for a race seat next year.
Martin Brundle's season was not as impressive as the experienced Briton would have hoped. Brundle did occasionally score points, but he was often outqualified and outraced by his younger teammate. It seems unlikely that Jordan will extend his contract and other options are very limited. Remarkable fact
Both Panis and Badoer finished on the podium once in 1996.GPN's opinions
Ligier had a rather solid season on track, despite the uncertainties about its ownership behind the scenes. Through a combination of reliability, a surprisingly strong Mugen engine and a bit of luck, they even managed to improve their ranking in the constructors' championship compared to 1995. The team will likely be sold this winter and it does not look too senseless to buy it.
Olivier Panis had another characteristically consistent, but largely unnoticed season. The Frenchman is one of the most reliable drivers and always manages to secure some good results. He generally had the measure of Badoer, although the margins were quite small.
Luca Badoer's season was his most successful in F1 so far. The Italian finally got a relatively competitive machine and showed what he can do with it. Rumor has it that he will lose his personal Roces sponsorship though, so he will need to keep performing well to remain an interesting option for midfield teams.Remarkable fact
1996 was Sauber's fourth season in F1 without finishing on the podium.GPN's opinions
Sauber was rather unlucky in 1996. Although their reliability was not much worse than Ligier's, Sauber's retirements usually came just at the moments when they could have scored a lot of points. The new Ford V10 engine proved to be a good engine and Frentzen in particular was able to compete close to the front. All in all it was a season of what could have been, but the result again was unspectacular.
Gerhard Berger was solid and consistent this year. He proved he can still be of good value for a team, but he never finished in the points in the second half of the season anymore. The experienced Austrian will probably continue to prove his worth next year, but after that it might be time for fresh blood.
Heinz-Harald Frentzen's championship ranking does not tell the whole story. Again the German managed to occasionally surprise with strong qualifyings and races, until his car failed. He will have big shoes to fill when his big break comes in 1997 at Williams, but it is not unlikely that he will be able to do so.Remarkable fact
DFC qualified with both cars in the top 20 in every race, while they never managed to do so last year.GPN's opinions
DFC was arguably the most improved team of 1996. The new car and the better engine proved themselves from the first race, in which Van Dijk already scored a point. Occasional points finishes followed, proving that they did not get outdeveloped by the competition, but also proving that they could not really catch up further. Another step forward is needed to become a consistent points scorer in 1997.
Pedro Diniz exceeded many expectations in his rookie season. He was particularly strong in qualifying, but in the races he had a tendency to drop slightly back, unlike his teammate. It remains to be seen how much he can progress in the future, but at least his maiden F1 season was better than his maiden F3000 season was.
Nathan van Dijk showed he can be a decent driver in the midfield. He did get outqualified by Diniz, which is disappointing, but in the races he was usually the better driver. Van Dijk took some chances to shine in nice battles on track and he had an excellent race in Portugal, just when a deal with a new team had to be found.Remarkable fact
Minardi scored the only point with a V8 engine in 1996.GPN's opinions
Minardi once again made the most of their minimal resources this year. A crucial point in the French GP meant they could finish 9th in the constructors' championship, which may have saved their very existence for another while. It has to be admired how they managed to build a pretty reliable and stable car with probably the smallest budget in the paddock.
Pedro Lamy was the one who scored the point, but that does not tell the whole story. Fisichella was consistently faster in the first half of the season, even though he had barely even tested the car and he was a rookie. Minardi might be looking for drivers who either are faster or bring a bigger sponsor budget in 1997.
Tarso Marques was a cheap option to do a couple of races and he did an adequate job. He was close to the more experienced Lamy and if he can arrange some sponsorship, he might be a good option for a race seat next year.
Giovanni Lavaggi brought some much needed money to the team, but that was about his only contribution. He consistently qualified last and drove in the back. It made sense for Minardi to give him some races and to enable the team's survival, but the risk will probably be too big next year, with 30 cars competing for only 26 grid slots in the race.Remarkable fact
1996 was Arrows' second consecutive season without scoring points.GPN's opinions
Arrows' focus shifted to 1997 very early in the year, which meant that this season was given up rather quickly. The car arguably had the potential to score points, but not enough effort was put in to fulfill that potential. A very disappointing debut season for Rosset also did not help to improve their chances.
Ricardo Rosset had a tough start to his F1 career. The 1995 F3000 runner-up barely ever showed why he had been reasonably good in the junior categories. He was usually worryingly close to the back of the field, while his teammate did not drop out of the midfield.
Jos Verstappen had probably expected more of 1996. As it was, his season was unremarkable. He convincingly beat another teammate, but his car lacked the speed and reliability and Verstappen himself lacked the luck to score any points. He is still looking for a seat for next year, which proves to be quite a challenge.Remarkable fact
Despite missing the last six races, Simtek is still ranked above Tyrrell and Larrousse DAMS on countback.GPN's opinions
Simtek's story ended halfway through the 1996 season. Financial troubles proved to be too big for Nick Wirth's team and after the Irish Shannon Group bought their assets, it has gone quiet. It is quite a shame, because once again Simtek performed actually pretty well. Through all issues behind the scenes, they kept on beating the occasional Larrousse DAMS, Minardi and Arrows and the potential was there to grow to a decent team.
Andrea Montermini was going to be the experienced leader of the team, but his teammate actually had a slight edge on him in terms of performance. His most remarkable moment was probably the reason he received a race ban after blocking the leaders in Monaco. Montermini was the one to finish 7th in France though: very close to the points once again.
David Brabham was Montermini's stand in during the latter's race ban. He stayed off the back row, which was impressive given his very limited preparation.
Tom Kristensen showed some flashes of promise in 1996. His excellent qualifying in Monaco of all places was a particular highlight. Had Simtek continued to exist, than he would have probably been certain of another season in F1. Now, he is one of many drivers fighting for those precious few remaining seats.Remarkable fact
Katayama did not finish a single race in the first half of the season, Salo did not finish once in the second half.GPN's opinions
Tyrrell was the biggest disappointment of 1996. The car was not even that slow: usually both Salo and Katayama qualified in the midfield. Reliability was the issue that robbed the team of any opportunity to score points. More and more sponsors are leaving the team, putting them in a difficult situation for next year.
Ukyo Katayama used to be a bit of a rising star quite recently, but he looked stale this year. He was convincingly outqualified by his younger teammate and there were very few opportunities to shine in the races. His Japanese sponsor money still might make him an interesting candidate for some teams, though.
Mika Salo is still a promise for the future. He was strong in both qualifying and races this year, but he does not have the results to back it up. Another year at Tyrrell in 1997 might put him in a better position on the driver market, but the car will need to be better than this year.Remarkable fact
Larrousse DAMS had the worst reliability in 1996: they only recorded six race finishes.GPN's opinions
Larrousse DAMS had a difficult return to Formula One in 1996. It was soon apparent that the Reynard chassis was nothing more than a stopgap solution to at least enable them to compete this year. A newly developed chassis could bring them improvements in 1997.
Emmanuel Collard had to make his debut in tricky circumstances, but he proved capable. He was a solid qualifier in 1996 and his race pace was pretty decent too. He would have probably benefitted greatly from an experienced teammate but as it was, he did enough to be a good option for another year with the team.
Hiro Matsushita's season was rather similar to Giovanni Lavaggi's, albeit slightly better. The former IndyCar driver is at the French team for his money, that is no secret. He did slightly improve over the season and managed to get off the last row on the grid some times, so perhaps he might have a decent 1997 with Larrousse DAMS.Short but Sweet
Arrows in advanced talks with Yamaha • Satoru Nakajima joins Tyrrell board of directors • F1 cars to get accident recorders • Ford V8s for Tyrrell in 1997 • Fisichella to Jordan? • Stewart to reveal car and line-up very soon