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San Marino GP 2003 - Schumacher's sad victory

20 April 2003


Michael Schumacher finally broke the victory duck that has hung over both himself and Ferrari since the start of the 2003 Formula One season, but felt unable to celebrate at Imola following the death of his mother overnight.

In a poignant counterpoint to the tragic events of the weekend, the world champion shared the front row of the grid for the San Marino Grand Prix with brother Ralf, and it was the younger man who made the better start to lead the 20-strong field into Tamburello for the first time. Michael got marginally the better getaway, but it was BMW power which won the race to turn one.

Behind the two brothers, Rubens Barrichello managed to hold off Juan Montoya over the same stretch of tarmac, but there was a brief moment of chaos behind them as Mark Webber's Jaguar made a tardy start, forcing Jacques Villeneuve to take evasive action and seeing four cars run abreast as David Coulthard took to the grass after a good getaway. By the time the midfield had sorted itself out,Kimi Raikkonen had moved into fifth from sixth, with Fernando Alonso, Olivier Panis, Coulthard and Nick Heidfeld all also gaining places. Webber was down to eleventh, while Villeneuve was two places further back after being baulked.

Starting from the pits after crashing out of qualifying on Saturday, Jos Verstappen took full advantage to fuel his Minardi up for a longer first stint, and was joined by team-mate Justin Wilson and Jordan's Ralph Firman. With the Dutchman and Firman opting for the move before the rolling lap, Wilson appeared to be set for another 'last slot' start despite qualifying a career best 18th, but then ducked into the pits for his own top-up as the grid formed in front of the lights. Antonio Pizzonia, meanwhile, compounded Jaguar's problems by stalling on the grid and having to be pushed into the pit-lane, from where he later restarted.

At the front, the two Schumachers could not be separated, a situation that became even more tense when the traditional Michelin tyre drop-off kicked in after a few laps. Right on his brother's tail, Michael sought a way through approaching the start and finish of each lap, but was rebuffed in firm fashion as the Williams driver held on to his slim advantage.

The French rubber soon proved its worth, however, with Montoya trading fastest laps with the world champion, and both Alonso and the leader joining in, before the first round of pit-stops got under way with Panis' early call on lap eleven.

Williams' hopes of victory appeared to be dented when Schumacher stopped just five laps later, suggesting that the German had had to run light to compete with his brother and Ferrari in qualifying. The first of the front runners to stop for fuel and tyres, Schumacher was stationary for just 6.4secs - suggesting a short second stint - but compounded his situation with a slow restart when it appeared that he couldn't select first gear.

The situation changed again just one tour later, however, when Montoya was joined in pit-lane by Barrichello, confirming that the early leaders were running comparable fuel loads after all. With Ralf's problem dropping him to sixth on the road when he rejoined, an opportunity presented itself for Ferrari to increase its presence at the front of the field, but the Scuderia opted to add more fuel to the Brazilian's car, leaving him and Montoya to slot in behind the German as the order re-established itself.

The new leader stopped on the next lap - number 18 - with an identical refuelling time dropping him to third behind the two McLarens when he rejoined. The 'silver arrows' had only started sixth and twelfth, but were now clearly running heavier than their rivals and heading for a comparatively rare two-stop strategy as they gained ground. Raikkonen assumed the advantage on Schumacher's stop, with Coulthard running several seconds behind him.

With one third-distance approaching and almost all the field having made their first stop - only McLaren and those who had topped up before the start had still to return to the pits - the race was already looking more to be a fight between Ferrari and McLaren than between the Italian giant and Williams, despite Schumacher Jr's presence in fourth on the road. This was confirmed when Coulthard and Raikkonen finally stopped - on laps 21 and 22 respectively - and returned to the fray by sandwiching Montoya in fifth. The Finn had only just failed to beat Barrichello to turn one when he rejoined

The retirement list had also begun to form, with Jacques Villeneuve maintaining BAR's poor race record at Imola by pulling off with a hydraulic problem just over a lap after he made his first stop. Justin Wilson was soon to join the Canadian, after his first stop yielded no fuel and a second attempt led to his Minardi overheating with terminal consequences.

With the order having shaken itself out after the first round of stops, Schumacher's Ferrari assumed control, leading his brother's Williams by a shade under eight seconds, with Barrichello, Raikkonen and Montoya completing the top five. With the leading positions occupied - unusually for the 2003 season - by the 'big three', Fernando Alonso led the chase for Renault, overshadowing team-mate Jarno Trulli on a track where the Anglo-French team often fails to shine.

Panis was hanging onto a point-scoring place despite his early stop, with Jenson Button and Nick Heidfeld rounding out the top ten. The day had got worse for Webber, however, with the Australian's pit-lane speed limiter failing to engage properly on his first stop and forcing him to take a drive-thru' penalty that restricted him to twelfth place, behind Cristiano da Matta's Toyota. Still further back, Brazilian GP winner Giancarlo Fisichella was struggling to make an impression, running behind Jordan team-mate Firman until the Briton made his belated first stop.

Panis again kicked off the second round of stops, visiting the Toyota bay on lap 27 of 62, with Montoya heading the 'big boys' in three tours later. Once again, there was misfortune for the unlucky Colombian, with a slow stop dictated by a fuel filler problem. To make matters worse, he was then radioed with the bad news that no fuel had gone into the FW25, and that he would have to make another stop, effectively ruling him out of a fight for the podium.

Between Montoya's second and third stops, team-mate Schumacher made a trouble-free call, rejoining fourth on the road. He was then able to press on sufficiently quickly to ensure that Barrichello, when he made his stop, rejoined with another face full of Williams rear wing.

The Brazilian had been stationary from 8.2secs, but Ferrari managed to turn his team-mate around almost a second quicker, allowing Schumacher Sr to rejoin with a slim advantage over Raikkonen, albeit with one stop - the same as the Finn - still to make. As a result, the race began to distil into a straight fight between the current world champion and the immediate heir apparent, with a supporting cast of Barrichello, Ralf and DC likely to feature in the other leading positions. For the first time in an unreal season, pure race strategy began to take effect, leaving Ferrari and McLaren to resume their recent battle of wits on the pit-wall.

Alonso continued to head the rest of the field, with Heinz-Harald Frentzen briefly featuring in the top eight as Sauber attempted to overcome its lack of pace with an alternative strategy. Button chased the German in the remaining BAR, with Panis, Heidfeld and the unfortunate Webber duelling amongst themselves for the final top ten places. Jos Verstappen would soon complete a miserable day for local team Minardi, and add to a sparse retirement list, by cruising to a halt out on the circuit with an electrical problem

The race drew to a close under overcast skies, but with no sign of the forecast rain to interrupt - or perhaps spice up - the lead battle. Heading into the final twenty laps, however, the pace began to hot up, with the Ralf-Barrichello-Coulthard battle getting closer as the trio encountered traffic, and Raikkonen keeping the leader honest as he hunted down a second career victory.

Already being given the 'push' signal from pit-wall, the Finn was the first of the top five to stop but, having narrowed the gap the Schumacher, saw it extend again when he was slow away from the refuelling bay. The leader, however, was also showing signs of strain, both on track and from the thoughts and memories undoubtedly filling his head, as he put a wheel on the dirt at Piratella while attempting to capitalise on Raikkonen's final stop.

Little damage was done, however, and the German was soon lapping faster - up to three seconds faster - than his main rival. The cushion created in this brief spell was enough to guarantee the world champion time to take on his final load of fuel and tyres, with Raikkonen needing Barrichello, Ralf and Coulthard to pit before he had an open road to restart his pursuit.

DC was swiftly dealt with, as the Scot pitted one lap after Raikkonen, but Barrichello and Schumacher Jr both ran longer than the two erstwhile leaders, with the Brazilian holding on long enough to assume second spot as the world champion rejoined for the final time. Knowing that he had both a heavier fuel load and no need to race his team-mate, Schumacher duly allowed Barrichello by - to the fleeting dismay of the tifosi - resuming in front when the Brazilian pitted at the end of the lap.

The gesture was a good one for the Scuderia, however, for, as Schumacher raced away at the front, his team-mate was able to take the fight to his younger brother for third. Reeling in the Williams after their third and final stops, Barrichello finally pounced when Ralf made a rare mistake at Rivazza and out-braked himself. Pulling alongside on the run through the Variante Bassa, Barrichello was ideally placed to take the final podium spot.... and begin the pursuit of Raikkonen.

The Finn's late race performance was not confined to the odd lap three seconds shy of the leader's pace, and Barrichello began to visibly reel in the best of the McLarens. While the pair slowly caught Schumacher, who by now was coasting to his first victory of the year, the Brazilian was clearly the fastest of the rostrum trio. His bid to make it a Ferrari 1-2 for the home crowd came up 0.4secs short, however, as Raikkonen held his nerve in a fight to the line.

Behind them, Schumacher Jr was coming under gentle pressure from Coulthard, but held on to take fourth, with the Scot comfortably ahead of the rest of the field. Some 34secs separated him from the nearest challenger, with Alonso taking full advantage of Montoya's myriad problems - the Colombian also suffered tyre wear gremlins in addition to his refuelling woes - to beat the second Williams-BMW to sixth. Jenson Button completed the point scorers for BAR.

Olivier Panis came close to opening Toyota's account, but ninth was not good enough for the under-pressure Japanese marque. The French veteran was separated from team-mate da Matta in a show of Toyota reliability if not pace, by the two Saubers of Heidfeld and Frentzen. Jarno Trulli followed after a low key run in the Renault T-car, which was not set up for him, heading final finisher Pizzonia by a lap.

The Brazilian rookie had earlier surprised his pit-crew by appearing ahead of schedule for his final stop, but his luck was stronger than that of otherwise impressive team-mate Webber, who eventually capped a disappointing day by retiring with a suspected driveshaft problem. After a slow day for retirements, the list doubled in size to six, with the Australian being sandwiched by the two Jordans, which both suffered late race engine problems on a sad for the Cosworth runners.

The engine builder's grief was nothing to compare with that of the winner, however, but, despite dispensation from the FIA not to appear on the podium, a subdued Michael Schumacher duly acknowledged the cheers of the tifosi. There was no traditional leap of joy, no smile and no champagne shower, merely a wave of a black banded sleeve on a difficult day for the world champion and his family.




Race Result:

1. Michael Schumacher Germany Ferrari-Ferrari 62 laps 1hr 28min 12.058secs
2. Kimi Raikkonen Finland McLaren-Mercedes +1.882secs
3. Rubens Barrichello Brazil Ferrari-Ferrari +2.291secs
4. Ralf Schumacher Germany Williams-BMW +8.803secs
5. David Coulthard Britain McLaren-Mercedes +9.411secs
6. Fernando Alonso Spain Renault-Renault +43.689secs
7. Juan Montoya Colombia Williams-BMW +45.271secs
8. Jenson Button Britain BAR-Honda +1 lap

9. Olivier Panis France Toyota-Toyota +1 lap
10. Nick Heidfeld Germany Sauber-Petronas +1 lap
11. Heinz-Harald Frentzen Germany Sauber-Petronas +1 lap
12. Cristiano da Matta Brazil Toyota-Toyota +1 lap
13. Jarno Trulli Italy Renault-Renault +1 lap
14. Antonio Pizzonia Brazil Jaguar-Cosworth +2 laps

Rtd Giancarlo Fisichella Italy Jordan-Ford 57 laps completed
Rtd Mark Webber Australia Jaguar-Cosworth 54 laps completed
Rtd Ralph Firman Britain Jordan-Ford 51 laps completed
Rtd Jos Verstappen Holland Minardi-Cosworth 38 laps completed
Rtd Justin Wilson Britain Minardi-Cosworth 23 laps completed
Rtd Jacques Villeneuve Canada BAR-Honda 19 laps completed

Fastest lap:

Michael Schumacher Ferrari-Ferrari 1min 22.491secs lap 17




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