Italian GP 2003 - Schumacher retakes initiative
14 September 2003
Michael Schumacher retook the initiative in the race for the 2003 Formula One world championship crowns today after an unchallenged performance atop the pile in front of the adoring tifosi at Monza.
After placing his Ferrari back on pole position on Saturday, and with his rival Michelin runners having had to contend with enforced tyre changes, Michael looked in command for the entire race, though it was by no means a walk in the park for the five time world champion.
At the start the Ferrari was under attack from all comers with Juan Pablo Montoya trying to set an early marker by attempting to go around the outside of the German. Ferrari's Ross Brawn will be happy, however, as both drivers showed class and rounded a number of corners along side each other without making contact, though the gap between the two front-running championship contenders was minimal. "We competed cleanly as neither of us could afford a DNF," explained Juan Pablo afterwards.
Renault's Jarno Trulli took advantage of Renault's superb launch control from his sixth place on the grid to be right with the action on these first corners, but Renault's avowed aim to take a risky approach to the rest of the season regarding strategy and technical upgrades meant that Trulli's race was over before the first tour was even complete with the Italian slowing and parking at the side of the track. "I was going through the second Lesmo when I felt that the power steering had failed," explained Trulli, "then the engine cut out. It's a real shame, because the car was good today."
Whilst Michael Schumacher was winning through in his battle at the front with Juan Pablo, the rear of the grid had been all action too. Justin Wilson had problems getting away from the line and former team-mate Jos Verstappen had to take avoiding action. Hungarian race winner Fernando Alonso got caught up in this and his front wing suffered. All three were to prove to be early visitors to the pits as a result.
Already having visited the pits after the formation lap was Giancarlo Fisichella, who experienced electrical problems. The Italian opted to take to the pits rather than risk a possible problem on the grid as the lights went off and in the same breath opted for a one stop strategy, meaning a heavy car for much of the race, but one, at least, that got to the end of the race.
Come the end of the first lap the field lined up Schumacher, Montoya, Barrichello, Raikkonen, Coulthard, Panis, Gene, Villeneuve, Button, Heidfeld and da Matta, but already space was opening up between the contenders; clearly this was to be no Hungary.
As the race settled it soon became clear that the two main front contenders would be Schumacher and Montoya as the pair traded fastest laps at the front of the field and made a gap between themselves and those behind. Schumacher worked on a gap from himself back to Montoya whilst the Colombian worked on keeping up with the German, but all the while left the pursuers, led by Rubens Barrichello, behind them.
Back in the pursuing group Cristiano da Matta found himself with his very own tyre issue, and one of a rather pressing nature, as he suffered a high-speed puncture as he came down towards the Parabolica. At this rather fast part of the circuit his rear left gave up in spectacular fashion and the 2002 CART champion was fortunate not to collect competitor or barrier as he spun his speed away to a halt; race over Cristiano.
By lap eight Rubens Barrichello was into his rhythm sufficiently to set the then fastest lap in a race that certainly had everything in its favour to be one of the fastest of all time. The Brazilian had lost out and then been caught out by Trulli's initial fast pace and then retirement and although a race win would be unlikely for him if his team-mate was in the offing for the biggest bottle of champagne, the second Ferrari driver certainly relished the opportunity to take points from Michael's championship rivals on Ferrari's home turf.
Come lap twelve pitstops were already upon us and David Coulthard and then Olivier Panis led the way to the pits for those who had not made enforced early visits. Soon most of the field were flooding in for a stop with the nine second mark seeming to represent the average time spent stationary. Jordan duo Giancarlo Fisichella and Zsolt Baumgartner were the last stoppers, Fisichella with his revised strategy.
On his second set of tyres Juan Pablo certainly had the bit between his teeth as he went to set four consecutive fastest laps in his bit to close back in on Michael Schumacher, but though he closed it was never enough, Montoya pitting before he could do anything about the German.
Come second stops Michael Schumacher, Ross Brawn and many observers did think the Colombian had pulled out a blinder however as Schumacher exited the pit-lane to find himself behind a Williams-BMW, but it was that of the yet-to-pit Marc Gene that he was behind.
After the second stops it was a relatively easy run for the reigning champ to the chequered flag. Backmarkers proved to be little trouble for him whilst Juan Pablo was slightly hindered, to the tune of a second or so, by Heinz Harald Frentzen and after that the Colombian seemed to decide that a safe run to second was better that pushing to catch Schumacher then possibly risking throwing it all away either in his pursuit, or trying to catch the German.
Elsewhere troubles for Justin Wilson had meant the Jaguar driving Brit was the second retirement from the race, whilst former team-mate Jos Verstappen notched up 4 stops before his retirement at the half-way mark. BAR's Jenson Button had already retired at this time suffering from gear selection problems.
Olivier Panis rounded off a solid start at a circuit which should have suited the Toyota chassis with retirement with eighteen laps to go after his brake pedal decided to go to the floor without the appropriate speed retarding reaction, whilst David Coulthard's engine opted out with a mere eight laps to go in what hasn't been the best of seasons from any viewpoint for the Scot.
Fernando Alonso, hero in Hungary, managed what was almost as impressive a performance by working his way up to an eventual eighth place.
At Jordan, although Fisichella had his first lap visit to the pits, it wasn't all bad news for the Jordan driving Italian however, as he and team-mate Zsolt Baumgartner both made it to the chequered flag which certainly counts as a good showing for the Jordan equip these days.
Marc Gene, in his first F1 start for quite a number of years went back a number of places at the start, which after his fine qualifying performance was a shame for the Spaniard. Indeed, his early stint proved to be his most disappointing, although he was to more than put this to rights by settling down to a mighty impressive finale to an eventual fifth place come the chequered flag. "This is the best result in my Formula One career, and I am really happy," he said post-race before cannily adding "I think a good performance was to be expected, as I had one of the best cars on the grid."
Over at Minardi it wasn't the best of days. Jos Verstappen had been poised for a good showing after a fine qualifying performance and was declaring himself as happy with the car as he'd ever been but his reliability and collision woes put pay to that, whilst Nicolas Kiesa drove solidly in his third race for the team to come home in twelfth place, ahead of Heinz Harald Frentzen who had problems in the closing laps to drop from seventh place. Sauber Team-mate Nick Heidfeld also saw points taken away from his and Fernando Alonso took eighth from him in the final lap.
Mark Webber upheld Jaguar pride by coming home in the points in seventh place, despite the Australian making an uncharacteristic mistake and starting the race by forgetting to turn on his traction control system – something he soon realised when tackling the first corner! Wilson's retirement meanwhile marks his third with the team and makes you wonder why Jaguar bothered drafting in the Brit, anyone could sit in the car if all it's going to do is fail to finish through no fault of the driver...
Tyres were always going to be an issue in this race. In the Saturday press conference WilliamsF1's Patrick Head argued that the late rule change where tread wide will be measured after the race as opposed to before the race as previously hadn't provided much of a setback, whilst McLaren's Ron Dennis argued that the change had cost the Michelin runners vital set-up time at the Monza test.
On the evidence of today's results it looks like Bridgestone has benefited. Not only has Ferrari taken the win and third place but the other Bridgestone runners managed better performances than of late. Jacques Villeneuve came home in sixth place, Heidfeld took ninth, whilst the Michelin runners weren't quite where you'd have thought they should be.
Rubens Barrichello came home in third, and the Brazilian summed up his performance nicely when he said "I am quite happy to be third. It is better than being in the wall, like the last race!" Mid-race it had looked like third championship contender Kimi Raikkonen might be able to do something about the Brazilian as he closed in on him for a time but post-race Kimi confessed "I was close to Rubens but not enough to really have a go." Now seven points down from Michael Schumacher, Kimi has everything to do, but can still take the title.
Michael Schumacher was understandably happy after his win, though the German's reckoning that "I think this is the greatest day in my career," probably doesn't bare the greatest scrutiny. That said the finishing margins were close. After One and a quarter hours Michael Schumacher came home a mere five seconds from Juan Pablo Montoya, with Rubens Barrichello just six seconds behind the Colombian. F1 returnee Marc Gene finished his first race in many years just 27 seconds down on the race winner.
This now leaves the championship very open for the final two races; Ferrari has its car very much back on form after the humiliation of Hungary so Ferrari, Williams and McLaren head to Indianapolis all with chances to have their drivers take the crown.
Michael Schumacher's main rival Juan Pablo Montoya was pretty happy with his race, and he now has the added bonus that team-mate Ralf Schumacher is truly out of the title race after his withdrawal from race activity this weekend. "Unfortunately in the third part of the race I was caught in traffic and I made the decision to pace myself," Montoya explained about the end of his race. "We were expecting Ferrari to be strong here, so to only lose two points to Michael and be only three points behind with two races to go is okay."
So what Monza means is Michael Schumacher extends his championship lead, but with Juan Pablo Montoya fight behind him and relishing the fight. "Ferrari had a good top speed compared to us at this low downforce circuit, quite unlike the next two tracks, where I think we will figure strongly," concluded the Columbian. The title race is all set for a thrilling conclusion...
1. Michael Schumacher Germany Ferrari-Ferrari 53 laps 1hr 14.19.838secs
2. Juan Montoya Colombia Williams-BMW +5.294secs
3. Rubens Barrichello Brazil Ferrari-Ferrari +11.835secs
4. Kimi Raikkonen Finland McLaren-Mercedes +12.834secs
5. Marc Gene Germany Williams-BMW +27.891secs
6. Jacques Villeneuve Canada BAR-Honda +1 lap
7. Mark Webber Australia Jaguar-Cosworth +1 lap
8. Fernando Alonso Spain Renault-Renault +1 lap
9. Nick Heidfeld Germany Sauber-Petronas +1 lap
10. Giancarlo Fisichella Italy Jordan-Ford +1 lap
11. Zsolt Baumgartner Hungary Jordan-Ford +2 laps
12. Nicolas Kiesa Denmark Minardi-Cosworth +2 laps
13. Heinz-Harald Frentzen Germany Sauber-Petronas +3 laps
Rtd. David Coulthard Britain McLaren-Mercedes +8 laps
Rtd. Olivier Panis France Toyota-Toyota +18 laps
Rtd. Jos Verstappen Holland Minardi-Cosworth +26 laps
Rtd. Jenson Button Britain BAR-Honda +29 laps
Rtd. Cristiano da Matta Brazil Toyota-Toyota +50 laps
Rtd Justin Wilson Britain Jaguar-Cosworth +51 laps
Rtd. Jarno Trulli Italy Renault-Renault +53 laps
Michael Schumacher Ferrari-Ferrari 1min 21.832secs lap 14