|Dates 10 Mar 1996 – 13 Oct 1996|
|Similar 1997 Formula One seas, 1995 Formula One seas, 1998 Formula One seas, 1999 Formula One seas, 1994 Formula One seas|
The 1996 Formula One season was the 47th season of FIA Formula One motor racing. It featured the 1996 FIA Formula One World Championship, which commenced on 10 March 1996, and ended on 13 October after sixteen races. Two World Championship titles were awarded, one for Drivers and one for Constructors.
Damon Hill won the Drivers' Championship two years after being beaten by a point by Michael Schumacher, making him the first son of a World Champion (his father Graham having won the title in 1962 and 1968) to have won the title himself. Hill, who had finished runner-up for the past two seasons, was seriously threatened only by his teammate, newcomer Jacques Villeneuve, the 1995 IndyCar and Indianapolis 500 champion. Williams Renault easily won the Constructors' title, as there was no other competitor strong enough to post a consistent challenge throughout the championship. This was also the beginning of the end of Williams' 1990s dominance, as it was announced that Hill and designer Adrian Newey would depart at the conclusion of the season, with engine manufacturer Renault also leaving after 1997.
Two-time defending Drivers' title holder Michael Schumacher had moved to Ferrari and despite numerous reliability problems, they had gradually developed into a front-running team by the end of the season. Defending Constructors' champions Benetton Renault began their decline towards the middle of the grid, having lost key personnel due to Schumacher's departure, and failed to win a race. Olivier Panis took the only victory of his career at the Monaco Grand Prix.
Teams and drivers
The numbering system used since 1974 was dropped. Ferrari was given the numbers 1 and 2 after hiring the defending champion Michael Schumacher, despite finishing the previous year's Constructors' Championship in third. Benetton received numbers 3 and 4 for winning the Constructors' Championship. Williams got numbers 5 and 6 for finishing second, McLaren got 7 and 8 for finishing fourth, Ligier and 9 and 10 for finishing fifth, and so on. The defending Constructors' champion Benetton officially became an Italian constructor, though continued to be based in Britain.
The following teams and drivers competed in the 1996 FIA Formula One World Championship.
Forti Grand Prix were declared bankrupt after the British Grand Prix and took no further part in the championship.
The race weekend schedule was changed for the 1996 season compared to 1995. The number of free practice sessions was increased from the two to three with the number of laps allocated for each day increased from 23 to 30. Also, to increase the spectacle, the Friday qualifying session was dropped, with the FIA World Motor Sport Council opting to have only one qualifying session, held on Saturday afternoon.
The previous system of having a red and green light to start the race was replaced by the current system of five red lights turning on sequentially, then all going out simultaneously after an indeterminate period of time to start the race.
This year saw the introduction of the "107% rule", which meant all cars had to be within 107% of the pole position time in order to qualify for the race.
A new numbering system for cars was adopted for 1996 and remained in place until the end of 2013, when a new system was introduced. Previously, the reigning Drivers' Champion's team had simply swapped car numbers with the previous Drivers' Champion's team to carry numbers 1 and 2, with all other teams retaining their existing numbers. For 1996 the reigning Drivers' Champion was given number 1 and his team-mate number 2 with the rest of the teams numbered in the order of their finishing position in the previous year's Constructors' Championship. Any new teams were allocated the following numbers.
In 1995, the cars' cockpit opening was made larger and the sides were raised in order to provide better head protection for the driver; these sides were raised even higher (to mid-helmet height) for 1996, along with a wraparound head restraint made of foam to prevent head injuries such as those suffered by Mika Häkkinen during qualifying for the 1995 Australian Grand Prix. Needle-like nosecone designs with a sharp point, such as the 1995 McLaren MP4/10, were also banned in favour of more blunt nose sections.
† Drivers did not finish the Grand Prix, but were classified as they completed over 90% of the race distance.
Drivers' Championship points were awarded on a 10–6–4–3–2–1 basis to the top six finishers in each race.
Constructors' Championship points were awarded on a 10–6–4–3–2–1 basis to the top six finishers in each race.