Damon Hill took his World Championship two years after being pipped by a point by Michael Schumacher, making him the only son of a World Champion to win the title himself. Hill who had finished runner-up for the past couple of seasons was not seriously threatened this year, though near the end, teammate and newcomer Jacques Villeneuve mounted a title challenge going into the final race of the season. Williams easily locked up the constructors title as well, as there was no other team strong enough to post a consistent challenge throughout the schedule. 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 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 champion Benetton 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.
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 Grands Prix.
The season also saw the car numbering system change. Previously teams had kept the same two numbers from season to season, only exchanging with the previous champion's team. Now the numbers were based on the teams' performance in the previous Constructor's Championship.
Forti went bankrupt after the British Grand Prix.
Drivers and constructors
Formula One 1996 race schedule
The race weekend schedule was changed for the 1996 season compared to the 1995 season. The amount of free practice sessions was increased from the two in 1995 to three in 1996 with the amount of laps allocated for each day increased from 23 to thirty. 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 old system of having a red and green light to start the race was replaced by the current system of five red lights coming on individually and then all going out to start the race.
1996 Constructors Championship final standings
1996 Drivers Championship final standings
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