The one thing which I didn't consider was the question of reliability; it's never really been an issue at Rothmans Williams-Renault. On lap 41 it cost me the race. The engine had an oil problem and blew up.
A warning light had come on during the previous lap. I got on the radio and asked what it was all about. They were checking it out when I was suddenly in no doubt about the cause of the problem. I had come out of the tunnel on the fastest part of the circuit and I was approaching the chicane when the engine seized and oil spewed everywhere. The only good thing I can say is that it didn't happen a few seconds earlier. The tunnel is actually a curve taken at 160mph and had the failure occurred in there, it could have been a major incident since there is absolutely nowhere to go in the event of an emergency. As it was, I was able to keep pointing in a straight line and head into the escape road at the chicane.
Having got over the minor trauma of maintaining control of the car and bringing it to a halt, I knew that was it; the race was well and truly over for me. I had to shrug it off as quickly as possible. My immediate feelings were that it's no good lingering over what might have been. However, I wasn't so sure I would feel the same way later in the week.
To be perfectly honest, it was no consolation to know the cause of the breakdown or that my championship lead remained effectively undiminished by the result. I wanted to win that race pure and simple. I had been enjoying every single second while I was in the lead.
I had firmly stamped my authority right from the start even though Schumacher had taken pole. Qualifying had been a bit of a disappointment because, although the car had felt good at the start of practice, we didn't really make enough progress with the set-up to win pole position. It meant I had to think long and hard about how to handle the start because of the problems unique to Monaco.
I knew that even if I made a moderately good start and got alongside Michael then he could squeeze me out at the first corner. Past experience with Mika Hakkinen in 1994 had taught me that getting alongside is not enough. The track is too narrow and the barrier too close. A collision of sorts is almost inevitable. There was no way I could make it into the first corner in the lead unless I made an absolutely perfect start.
I think Schumacher got a bit of wheel spin and that helped me move completely ahead of the Ferrari before the first corner. To take the lead at that stage was perfect. As we rushed down to Mirabeau half-way round the first lap, I looked in my mirrors and couldn't see Schumacher. I had no idea what had happened to him and, certainly, I was not to know that he would hit the barrier a few seconds later and put himself out before the race was barely a minute old.
I couldn't afford to spend too long thinking about any problems Michael might have. The message was clear: "While I've got an advantage, let's get going and make the most of it." To my great satisfaction. I was pulling out a good amount over Jean Alesi every lap and I wanted to build-up a big enough gap in case I needed an extra pit stop.
In actual fact, our strategy was perfect. We had chosen the right time to go on to slick tyres and I was immediately able to run at a quicker pace on the circuit.
Proof of that came after I rejoined in second place. I caught Alesi (who was still on rain tyres) and I was able to pass him on acceleration up the hill. We ran side-by-side but he didn't do anything silly. It would have been very easy for us to tangle because I was back in the lead and Jean had yet to stop for slicks.
It was tricky after that because the track was still extremely slippery. I won't deny that I had two or three moments when I thought I was going to hit the barrier. On one occasion at Tabac corner, I got a bit sideways and I was drifting all the way towards the barrier, my foot off the throttle, just waiting for the tyres to grip.
Apart from the need to be aware of the constant hazards presented by Monaco, I felt I had everything under control.Then the warning light appeared 10 laps later. The 1996 Monaco Grand Prix was history. Now we must press on. I look forward to better luck in Spain in two weeks' time.Reuse content