German GP 2003 - Montoya blazes trail to victory
3 August 2003
The temperatures at Hockenheim frequently touched Malaysian proportions but, if anything was hotter on race day, it was surely Juan Montoya, who scorched away from what remained of the field and burnt his name firmly into the championship reckoning.
If anyone thought that Silverstone two weeks ago had perhaps provided the highlight of the season, the German Grand Prix tried hard to disagree, with drama packed into either end of the 67-lap event. The middle may have been a little quiet, as teams adjusted their strategies to cater for the unforeseen circumstances of the opening lap, but it hotted up again in the closing stages with a three-car scrap for the honour of being 'best of the rest' behind the runaway leader.
No-one expected to pose too much of a threat to a Williams-BMW team which had dominated practice and qualifying, but any thoughts of a blue-and-white one-two were dashed before the first corner had even been reached.
While Montoya made a quick getaway from the clean side of the grid to slot in ahead of team-mate Ralf Schumacher, while, behind them, third-place starter Rubens Barrichello made a tardy start and instantly came under threat from Kimi Raikkonen.
Schumacher, perhaps unaware that there was little threat to his position from behind moved left to defend the spot, only to find that, by not going forward and pulling away, he was leaving Barrichello in an awkward situation. The Brazilian's start had been poor enough to give Raikkonen a glimpse of third heading into turn one, and the Finn thrust his McLaren to the left of the Ferrari, with two wheels almost on the grass verge. Barrichello, though, was rapidly running out of road and, as Schumacher put the final pinch on him, clipped the rear of the McLaren.
This served to pitch Raikkonen across the Ferrari's bows, his nosecone puncturing Schumacher's left sidepod before being sent down the road and into heavy contact with the Nordkurve tyre barrier. With one wheel hanging off the battered chassis, Raikkonen was given a bumpy ride once initial contact with the barrier had been established, and it was with relief that his team learnt that he was not badly hurt.
Barrichello, meanwhile, slithered to a halt without too much further contact, and Schumacher limped back to the pits having been passed by the remains of the field. However, there was still more excitement for the turn one crowd as, in their haste to avoid the melee, several midfield runners also made contact. Ralph Firman was the main perpetrator, unsighted until the last minute, where upon his ran into the back of Heinz-Harald Frentzen's Sauber, ending the German's race once he had made it back to the pits without his rear wing.
To the right of that impact, Justin Wilson learnt the penalty of qualifying down the grid - ironically given his previous employment by Minardi - as he jinked right to avoid the Firman incident only to find Jacques Villeneuve opting for the same route. Jaguar tipped BAR into a spin, but appeared to have got away with the impact until the hapless Firman arrived and collected his fellow Briton.
While the Jordan was finally rendered hors de combat, Wilson made it back to the pits, where his crew endeavoured to change the entire front suspension unit in order to give him valuable track time in his new mount. Their work was to be in vain, however, as the car retired just a handful of laps later with gearbox gremlins.
With debris scattered across the width of the main straight, the safety car was scrambled, and held the field in check for two further laps before unleashing it again. Montoya was on the case straight away, immediately pulling out a gap over the chasing pack, which was now headed by the Renaults of Jarno Trulli and Fernando Alonso. Michael Schumacher, have escaped getting caught up in the accident, was fourth, with the top eight completed by Mark Webber, David Coulthard and the two Toyotas.
With the exception of Coulthard passing Webber for fifth - both men having gained copious places in the confusion at turn one - the order at the front remained pretty static until the first round of pit-stops. At the back, Giancarlo Fisichella's torrid season appeared to be getting worse as he toured into the pits for a long investigation into a power loss, while both rookie Nicolas Kiesa and Villeneuve made early stops that dropped them to the tail of the field. With both Fisichella and Wilson rejoining, however, the running entry remained at 15.
Montoya was already rattling off fastest laps and, by lap 14, had a ten second advantage over Schumacher, who was hassling Alonso as Trulli pulled slowly away. Had it not been for the safety car period, the leader probably would have pulled away at the rate of a second a lap - something which it became obvious he could, and would, do for much of the race.
Trulli was the first to stop for more fuel and a change of tyres, signalling a wave of pit visits that showed that most of the field had gone to the grid intending to make three stops.
The leader was in three laps late - at the end of his 17th tour - and Ferrari responded by pulling its remaining driver in at the same time. The difference in time between the length of the stops suggested that the Scuderia was attempting to change its ploy in an effort to affect the result, and Schumacher rejoined another second or so adrift of the Colombian.
The order remained largely unchanged through the pit window, save for Webber, who was among the last to stop - suggesting a two-stopper strategy from the off - falling further behind as the two Toyotas, Villeneuve, Nick Heidfeld and Jenson Button all found a way past the Jaguar. Behind the Australian, Kiesa continued to run his own race, determined not to get in the way of the leaders, and Fisichella plodded on, hoping for a high rate of attrition in search of points.
Schumacher eventually broke free of one of the Renaults when Alonso, possibly distracted by the sight of Kiesa slowing ahead of him, ran out of road entering the stadium section and grasstracked his way along the first of the tribunes. Once unleashed, Schumi quickly closed down on Trulli, the Italian giving his rival a helping hand by making a mistake of his own to let the two cars run nose-to-tail.
Despite the German's increased pace, Montoya's lead was now such that he would rejoin well in front after his second pit-stop. Trulli and Schumacher pitted at exactly the same time, five laps later than the Colombian, and added a bit of tension to the otherwise slow mid-race proceedings by both opting to fuel to the finish. Trulli was stationary for a second less than his rival, and duly rejoined still ahead, but questions were already being raised about the viability of each man's decision to try and cover the remaining 29 laps on one set of tyres.
Largely undetected among the scorching pace of Montoya and the increasing heat of competition for second place, David Coulthard inched closer to a possible first podium since Melbourne as he sought to cut team-mate Raikkonen's losses in the championship race. The Scot had benefited from the skirmish at turn one, but had applied himself to recording regular laps thereafter and, despite the best efforts of his fuel hose to slow him up at his first stop, was within touching distance of the second place battle with just over ten laps remaining.
Barring misfortune in the remaining 18 tours - or at his final pit-stop - Montoya was home and hoping to be hosed, allowing the large and partisan crowd to switch its attention to the three-way scrap forming in his wake. Coulthard closed down on Schumacher at the rate of half a second a lap, with McLaren team boss Ron Dennis insisting that the Scot's tyres were holding up better than those of either of his rivals, despite also only having stopped twice.
Battle was really joined on lap 55, when Trulli made enough of an error to allow Schumacher and Coulthard right on to his tail. With his rear Michelins showing clear signs of blistering in the heat, Trulli was little more than a sitting duck, and it was only the unintentional presence of a lapped Jenson Button that prevented the world champion diving to his inside at turn two three laps later.
Schumacher was not to be denied and, just one corner later, made his move to the outside of the new hairpin. Trulli, aware that he had little left with which to defend, opted to run the Ferrari out to the edge of the track and beyond, but Schumacher kept his foot in and was ahead of the Renault by the first part of the Mercedes stand complex.
Coulthard was not able to benefit from the move, having been held up by Button as the trio exited the second corner, but was in place to try and replicate Schumi's move a lap later. Trulli, this time, was wise to the trick, and held DC out for longer, the Scot unable to make the pass until the Renault slid wide at the following combination of corners.
Schumacher's one lap headstart appeared to have put the issue of podium places beyond doubt, however, and attention switched to seeing whether the hobbled Trulli could indeed hold on to fourth place, as team-mate Alonso began a late-race charge and the two Toyotas battled among themselves for the right to finish fifth. Even the right to a single point was being debated, with Webber having closed on to the back of Button, after the pair had swapped places with Heidfeld and Villeneuve during each round of pit-stops.
The battle for eighth was resolved in Button's favour when Webber went off the road and into the barriers with a few laps to run, but the Briton quickly became a possibility for seventh as the early race drama returned to grace the final few laps.
Seemingly certain of second and eight further points to put between himself and Raikkonen, Schumacher suddenly slowed to a crawl, his left rear tyre down to the rim. as he crawled the half lap back to the pits, the world champion was passed by both Renaults and the two Toyotas, and only had his massive lead over Button to thank for being able to emerge in front of the Briton after stopping for a change of rubber.
To add insult to injury, the Ferrari was put a lap down by the leader, whose serene progress had gone on as backdrop to the drama behind him. Only when Kiesa got a little sideways coming off the last corner kerb did Williams and BMW hearts jump, but Montoya rattled off the remaining miles to take his second win of the year.
The Colombian is now Schumacher's main challenger for the title, having racked up 50 points in the last six races.
That is a one hot streak.....
1. Juan Montoya Colombia Williams-BMW 67 laps 1hr 28min 48.769secs
2. David Coulthard Britain McLaren-Mercedes +1min 05.400secs
3. Jarno Trulli Italy Renault-Renault +1min 09.000secs
4. Fernando Alonso Spain Renault-Renault +1min 09.300secs
5. Olivier Panis France Toyota-Toyota +1 lap
6. Cristiano da Matta Brazil Toyota-Toyota +1 lap
7. Michael Schumacher Germany Ferrari-Ferrari +1 lap
8. Jenson Button Britain BAR-Honda +1 lap
9. Jacques Villeneuve Canada BAR-Honda +2 laps
10. Nick Heidfeld Germany Sauber-Petronas +2 laps
11. Mark Webber Australia Jaguar-Cosworth +3 laps
12. Nicolas Kiesa Denmark Minardi-Cosworth +5 laps
Rtd Giancarlo Fisichella Italy Jordan-Ford 60 laps completed
Rtd Jos Verstappen Holland Minardi-Cosworth 23 laps completed
Rtd Justin Wilson Britain Jaguar-Cosworth 6 laps completed
Rtd Ralf Schumacher Germany Williams-BMW 1 lap completed
Rtd Heinz-Harald Frentzen Germany Sauber-Petronas 1 lap completed
Rtd Kimi Raikkonen Finland McLaren-Mercedes 0 laps completed
Rtd Rubens Barrichello Brazil Ferrari-Ferrari 0 laps completed
Rtd Ralph Firman Britain Jordan-Ford 0 laps completed
Juan Montoya Williams-BMW 1min 14.917secs lap 14