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Monaco GP 2003 - Montoya ends drought
1 June 2003
Juan Montoya followed Williams-BMW team-mate Ralf Schumacher's timely Monaco pole position with an assured victory to end, not only his own personal win drought, but break the jinx of a team that had not won in the Principality for two decades.
The Colombian used a combination of scintillating mid-race speed and the good work of his pit crew to come out on top of a race that was high on tension if not on-track action. Running second to his team-mate in the early going, Montoya then used the clear track presented by Schumacher's first pit-stop to good effect, putting in several near-qualifying style laps to open out enough of an advantage that he was able to assume the lead before half-distance.
The race had got off to a respectable start, with no-one making contact as the field filed through the remodelled Ste Devote. With advice - rather than direct warnings - not to cut the corner where the old roundabout used to stand, all 19 competing cars - following Jenson Button's injury-related withdrawal - made it around turn one cleanly, with Schumacher Jr already building a considerable lead over Montoya - who had squeezed past Kimi Raikkonen - by the time they reached the Swimming Pool section.
It was here that the field was reduced to 18, as Heinz-Harald Frentzen misjudged his speed through the second section, launching his Sauber off the kerb and into the barrier on the opposite side of the road. Remarkably, no-one else became involved in the incident, which produced sufficient debris that the safety car needed to be deployed for several laps while the wreck was craned away.
The other first lap 'losers' included David Coulthard and Rubens Barrichello, who both dropped behind the fast-starting Fernando Alonso, and Michael Schumacher, who could not muster enough speed off the line to vault past the other Renault of Jarno Trulli - results that affected all three men's afternoon long-term.
When the safety car cleared after four laps, the two blue-and-white Williams-BMWs sprinted away again, with Schumacher initially opening up a two-second advantage over his team-mate before being reeled in again. Within two laps of the restart, Schumacher's elder brother was some eight seconds adrift, underlining the superiority of the Michelin runners while the weather was at its warmest.
Mark Webber led the chase of the four leading teams - which occupied all eight point-scoring places - but was destined not to fulfil the potential many believed he possessed to gain a good result in Monaco. Stopping earlier than most expected, Webber later revealed that an engine problem was hobbling the Jaguar and, with a second stop following soon afterwards, his afternoon was done as early as lap 16. On a bad day for the squad, the Australian joined team-mate Antonio Pizzonia on the sidelines, after the Brazilian had been forced to retire with an electrical problem just four laps earlier.
The big question going into the race surrounded the usual subject of fuel loads and who was carrying what. Despite being restricted to fifth and seventh on the grid, Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello were satisfied that they were carrying more fuel than the cars ahead of them - and so it proved, with the world champion stretching his first stint out well beyond anyone else.
The leader pitted as early as lap 21, having seen his advantage over Montoya reduced to a fraction of a second in the two laps immediately prior to calling in for fuel and tyres. To add to Schumacher Jr's woes, he locked a wheel under breaking for the Grand Hotel hairpin and then crawled down pit-lane, effectively handing the race to his Colombian colleague.
When he rejoined, Schumacher was back in eighth place - such was the difference in pace between the top four teams and the rest - with Montoya pushing for all he was worth to open up enough of a gap over his pursuers to ensure he emerged in front when the stagger unwound.
His stop, on lap 23, was preceded by two laps in the 1min 15secs bracket, the latter a 1min 15.166 that bordered on the best the midfield could muster in either qualifying session. That, combined with Raikkonen losing valuable time in traffic before his top, allowed Montoya to come out in front of both the Finn and the second Williams, with just the question over Ferrari's tactics to be solved.
Despite Ross Brawn having told journalists that he 'fancied trying a really bold strategy' in Monaco, neither Ferrari stretched its fuel out to half-distance, although both revealed that they had been carrying at least 50 per cent more fuel than their main rivals by stopping on laps 30 and 31 respectively. With Montoya shuffled down the order, Trulli had assumed the lead, benefiting from the Renault's lack of horsepower to eke out his fuel load until lap 27 - the same as Coulthard.
Their disappearance into pit-lane then left the world champion out in front, and he duly began lapping faster than any of his heavier rivals in an attempt to bridge the gap that had opened up in the first portion of the race. The plan worked, if only partially, as, when he returned, Schumacher was ahead of not only the two Renaults and Coulthard, but also his brother, who was by now struggling with wayward handling on his second set of tyres.
Restored to the front as the pit-stops unwound, Montoya set about trying to recreate the sort of advantage he had enjoyed earlier, gradually pulling out four seconds on Raikkonen, who was able to press on without worrying about Schumacher's Ferrari looming in his mirrors. Like his younger brother, the Ferrari driver's pace dropped away in the middle section, with 15 seconds opening out between McLaren and Williams as the second round of stops - for the early stoppers at least - on the horizon.
Again, Schumacher Jr was the first of the frontrunners to stop, as the Williams team took the earliest opportunity to haul him and try to cure the handling problems that had seen him drop away to fourth. A respectable stop saw him rejoin back in eighth place once more, but the problem still appeared to be present, not least when the German slid wide at Rascasse and had to use reverse to get himself back in the race.
Montoya stopped just one lap after his team-mate, but a swift 6.7secs turnaround saw him rejoin in third place and with one hand on the winner's trophy. Cautious on his first lap out with new rubber, the Colombian nevertheless maintained enough pace to keep in touch with Raikkonen - who set a new lap record on the lap preceding his own stop - and managed to pull ahead as the McLaren trundled out of pit-lane.
Both were once again behind Schumacher's Ferrari, but the Scuderia had spurned the opportunity at his first stop to fill the German up for a run to the finish, and both pursuers knew that they were in the box seat to battle for victory.
Contrary to expectation, the race did not feature the usual rash of accidents and close shaves, with only Frentzen going out as a result of contact with anything solid. Joining the German and the two Jaguars on the sidelines, neither Minardi was around long enough to properly entertain the new and improved sponsors Paul Stoddart has trumpeted over the weekend, while Jacques Villeneuve's hopes of capitalising on unreliability in the top eight literally went up in smoke as his Honda engine blew at the same spot where team-mate Button crashed so spectacularly on Saturday.
It would be some comfort to the already frustrated Canadian, therefore, to see that none of the top four teams suffered a reliability problem in the race, ensuring that two representatives each from Williams, McLaren, Ferrari and Renault filled the top eight places.
The closing stages were characterised by two main focuses, with Raikkonen keeping the McLaren close on Montoya's tail and Schumacher homing in on both cars having shaken off the attentions of his little brother, and the ensuing scrap between Coulthard and the two Renaults. Neither Ralf Schumacher nor Rubens Barrichello could do much to influence either battle as they ran solitary races to points finishes.
Coulthard, like Schumacher Sr in the early stages, found Trulli a somewhat immovable object, resolute in his defence without exhibiting the sort of pace necessary to take the pair closer to the podium. Indeed, it turned out that the game of cat-and-mouse in which Trulli and DC were indulging would actually cost them places, as Alonso strung together a collection of quick laps that allowed him to make up two spots on the road courtesy of a quick second pit-stop.
Out front, there was no such opportunity, with each of the three likely podium finishers having completed their two-stop strategy and heading for a formation finish. Whether or not Montoya intentionally back Raikkonen towards the clutches of the world champion may not be known, but the Colombian looked completely in control as he reeled off the laps necessary to take only his second F1 victory, despite the presence of Raikkonen's silver-grey McLaren in his mirrors. Six-tenths separated the pair at the line, with Schumacher a further second back.
The elation and relief were apparent in equal amounts as Montoya made the most of completing the most famous slowing down lap in motorsport. Back on the traditional podium parc ferme in front of the royal box, he indulged in undiluted celebrations with a team that had not won since last year's Malaysian GP - and had not triumphed at Monaco, despite six pole positions, since reigning world champion Keke Rosberg romped to a wet-dry win in 1983.
It was both well-timed and well-deserved.
1. Juan Montoya Colombia Williams-BMW 78 laps 1hr 42min 19.012secs
2. Kimi Raikkonen Finland McLaren-Mercedes +00.600secs
3. Michael Schumacher Germany Ferrari-Ferrari +01.700secs
4. Ralf Schumacher Germany Williams-BMW +28.500secs
5. Fernando Alonso Spain Renault-Renault +36.200secs
6. Jarno Trulli Italy Renault-Renault +40.900secs
7. David Coulthard Britain McLaren-Mercedes +41.200secs
8. Rubens Barrichello Brazil Ferrari-Ferrari +53.200secs
9. Cristiano da Matta Brazil Toyota-Toyota +1 lap
10. Giancarlo Fisichella Italy Jordan-Ford +1 lap
11. Nick Heidfeld Germany Sauber-Petronas +2 laps
12. Ralph Firman Britain Jordan-Ford +2 laps
13. Olivier Panis France Toyota-Toyota +4 laps
Rtd Jacques Villeneuve Canada BAR-Honda 63 laps completed
Rtd Justin Wilson Britain Minardi-Cosworth 29 laps completed
Rtd Jos Verstappen Holland Minardi-Cosworth 28 laps completed
Rtd Mark Webber Australia Jaguar-Cosworth 16 laps completed
Rtd Antonio Pizzonia Brazil Jaguar-Cosworth 10 laps completed
Rtd Heinz-Harald Frentzen Germany Sauber-Petronas 0 laps completed
Dns Jenson Button Britain BAR-Honda
Kimi Raikkonen McLaren-Mercedes 1min 14.545secs lap 49