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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Panis Keeps Cool in Monaco's Slippery Race

MONTE CARLO, Monaco -- In a wet and wild race, where top drivers slipped and dropped out of the lead, Olivier Panis of France gave Ligier its first win in 15 years by taking the Monaco Grand Prix.


It was a race of attrition on the slick surface that had only three cars running at the finish.


Sunday's race ended after 75 laps due to the two-hour time limit for Formula One races. The wet track slowed times by more than 20 seconds a lap for most of the first 25 laps of the scheduled 78.


A lot of potential winners weren't around by that time.


Pole winner and two-time defending champion Michael Schumacher crashed on the first lap, less than 50 seconds after the start.


Damon Hill, winner of four of the first five races this season, also went out of the race when his Williams-Renault blew an engine. Jean Alesi dropped out with tire troubles while also seemingly on the way to victory.


That left the way open for the first Formula One victory for Panis and the first for Ligier since 1981 when Jacques Laffite of France won the Canadian Grand Prix, a race also stopped in the rain after two hours.


"I 'm delighted to win for Ligier," Panis said. "That's what I am here for, and that's what they wanted."


"It's my first win in 2 1/2 years since I was in Formula 3000," Panis said. "And it was starting to tickle me a little."


Panis said that the team plans worked out well.


"We did a bold strategy at the start, running with a full tank," Panis said. "That means when I went in we didn't put in fuel, just for tires."


David Coulthard in a McLaren-Mercedes was 4.4 seconds behind Panis, with Johnny Herbert of Britain in a Sauber-Ford third.


Heinz-Harald Frentzen of Germany in a Sauber-Ford was fourth. Two Finns followed. Mika Salo in a Tyrrell-Yamaha was classified fifth, and Mika Hakkinen sixth in a McLaren-Mercedes, although both were involved in accidents late in the race.


Schumacher's race lasted less than a minute. On the hill down from the famed Loews curve, his Ferrari slid into the left rail, crunching his left tire against the rail. His race ended along with his chances to end the Ferrari victory drought.


"It was stupidity. It was a driving mistake, I am also capable of making mistakes," Schumacher said.


In contrast to Schumacher's, Hill's race lasted more than an hour, leading from the start except for a brief pit stop. At the time he went out of the race, with his engine smoking coming out of the Loews tunnel, he had a 26-second lead.


"I had a warning light for a lap before the engine blew. The engine seized up, and I don't know what caused it to fail," Hill said. "I thought I had a grip on the race. We had fuel to go to the end of the race, and I knew I could hold Alesi with that gap. We're all very disappointed."


Panis avoided trouble right behind when his car slipped on the oil, and Panis did a quick 360-degree turn but righted the car quickly and continued on, losing just a few seconds.


With Hill out of the race, Alesi took over the lead. He went in for a routine tire change after 56 laps but had to come back in three laps later, complaining of trouble with his rear suspension. He tried it for a lap, then stopped.


That gave the lead to Panis, who had Coulthard less than three seconds behind with 16 minutes left in the allotted time.


"There was a lot of pressure at the end from David," Panis said. "Over the last few laps I kept saying 'Careful, Careful' and tried to stay concentrated."


"I could only hope that he would make a mistake for me to overtake on this circuit," Coulthard said. "Having raced against him in F3000, I knew he doesn't make mistakes."


In drivers' standings, Hill has a healthy lead with 43 points compared to teammate Jacques Villeneuve's 22.


The next race is the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona on June 2.