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Magic Melbourne Moments: What a great place for the race in 1996

23/03/22

F1® had finally descended on Melbourne.

Formula 1® had finally descended on Melbourne, putting the Albert Park Grand Prix Circuit on the world stage in front of millions of viewers. On 10 March 1996, the first Formula One World Championship round took place around the 5.3 km lakeside circuit, sparking a new era for the Formula 1® Australian Grand Prix that has evolved into the fantastic event we have today.

The 1996 race in Melbourne opened the Formula 1® season, with Jacques Villeneuve and Giancarlo Fisichella making their F1® debuts with Williams and Minardi respectively.

Villeneuve sensationally claimed pole position on his first attempt, pipping teammate Damon Hill by just over one-tenth of a second. A Williams front-row lockout led an all-Ferrari second row, with Eddie Irvine ahead of Michael Schumacher.

Making its debut at Albert Park, the five-light start system we see today readied the drivers, and it would only take 30 seconds for the drama to unfold. A concertina effect formed into the tight right-hander of Turn 3, catching out the Jordan of Martin Brundle, who propelled himself into the air in spectacular fashion over David Coulthard’s car before rolling into the gravel trap.

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The red flag was quickly shown, while Brundle escaped from the car without injury and remarkably ran back to the spare car to make the race restart.

While a cautious restart unfolded, a surprising confident Brundle attempted an ambitious move down the inside of Ligier’s Pedro Diniz, sending himself into a spin towards the same gravel trap he went off half an hour earlier.

At the front, Williams dominated the lead with Villeneuve heading Hill. The Canadian was the first of the duo to enter Pit Lane, coming in for his first Grand Prix pit stop. But a delayed tyre change disrupted the 25-year-old, re-joining the track over 30 seconds behind Hill – still in second position thanks to their dominant race pace.

Shortly after, Hill took his one and only stop, but he also became stuck in the Pit Lane as his Williams mechanics suffered another botched tyre change. The Briton luckily was not held up as long as his young teammate, returning to track just ahead of Villeneuve, who was on his tail ready to make a move. The F1®rookie would not settle for second, lining up a spectacular move on the experienced Brit around the outside of Turn 4.

While the battle for the lead raged on at the front, the duo was increasing its gap over to the rest of the field until a sudden oil leak compromised Villeneuve’s pace. The Canadian ambitiously tried to carry on in the lead, but his performance started to slow down both himself and Hill, as he wisely handed control of the race back over to his teammate.

The result was therefore settled, with Williams taking a dominant one-two finish to start the season as Hill crossed the line for his 14th race victory. Despite finishing second, Villeneuve was the star of the show, recording the best debut finish in Formula 1® since 1966.

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