Race of firsts: Remembering the 1996 Australian GP

The field heads away for the start of the Australian GP on March 10, 1996.

Michael Cooper/Getty Images

The 1996 Formula One World Championship opened on March 10, 1996 in Australia.

Significant on its own given that, in 1995, the Formula One World Championship had ended in Australia.

However, from 1989-1995, the Australian Grand Prix had taken place on the streets of Adelaide as the closing race of the World Championship, which leads us to our first first:

First Formula One race in Melbourne

An aerial view of the Albert Park street circuit taken on March 12, 1996.

The Melbourne street circuit at Albert Park was a new challenge for the teams as they prepared themselves for the historic street race. However, before they could race, they had to qualify:

First F1 race ran with a single qualifying session

Since 1996, Formula One races have begun with a five-light starting system.

Prior to 1996, the Formula One field had ran two separate qualifying sessions on Friday and Saturday and taken the best time for each driver to set the grid for Sunday’s race. Now, they had just one one-hour Saturday session to get the job done and, in the end, pole honors went to F1 rookie Jacques Villeneuve who lined up first on the grid on Sunday, leading to:

First F1 race to use the five-light starting system

Prior to 1996, one red light had come on and then switched turned off to start the race. Now, we had five – and we still have today. Fortunately the run down to the first turn was clean. The run down to Turn 3, however, was not:

Martin Brundle’s Jordon-Peugeot breaks in half after colliding with Johnny Herbert’s Sauber-Ford on the first lap of the 1996 Australian Formula One Grand Prix. Brundle walked away from the crash and restarted the race in the spare car.

The field restarted, and was then treated to a thrilling race between the two Williams-Renault teammates:

During Jacques Villeneuve’s off-track excursion, he had damaged his car and was beginning to leak oil. The Williams team ordered Villeneuve to let his teammate Damon Hill by in order to prevent the Brit’s car from spinning off or catching fire.

Joining Hill and Villeneuve on the podium was Eddie Irvine in the Ferrari, who had been paired with two-time champion Michael Schumacher for the 1996 season. That’s right, the 1996 Australian Grand Prix was also the:

Michael Schumacher of Germany and Ferrari in action during the 1996 Formula One Grand Prix of Australia.

First race for Michael Schumacher in a Ferrari

Unfortunately the German suffered issues with his brakes during the race and was forced to retire, but there were still plenty of great drives left to come.

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