15 June 2003
Canadian GP 2003 - Schumacher seizes initiative.
If the race had been wet, he would likely have dominated it but, with dry weather gracing Montreal for the Canadian GP, paddock wisdom said that the Michelin runners - and particularly the Williams-BMWs - should have the upper hand. Michael Schumacher does not listen to wisdom...
The German was not on the front row at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, having lost out to the two Williams in dry qualifying, but was never far away from the front in the race, eventually taking the lead at the first round of stops and remaining unheaded from there on in.
His main opposition came from his polewinning brother, who led from the start until those first pit-stops and then stuck to the Ferrari's tail to the chequered flag. The biggest threat to Michael's victory, however, should have come from the second Williams-BMW, of Juan Montoya, but the Colombian threw away his chance of back-to-back wins as early as the second lap.
Aside from possible consecutive victories for the Grove team, the biggest talking point of the weekend was the probable handover of the points lead from Kimi Raikkonen to the reigning world champion. The Finn stood proudly atop the standing from round two in Malaysia, but his lead had shrunk considerably in recent weeks, despite a brief blip in Monaco when he headed Schumacher home from second place. In Montreal, however, Raikkonen was again right at the back of the grid, having messed up his qualifying lap and left himself with a sheepish walk back to the pit-lane.
Which was exactly where he would start the race, too, having opted not to try his luck from row ten, bearing in mind the short-lived effort he managed in Barcelona earlier in the year. As a result, the McLaren was filled up and fitted with new tyres, giving Raikkonen the chance to run deeper into the race in the hope of getting on terms with the Ferrari and Williams entries.
As the lights went out, Ralf made the most of his pole position to lead into the tight first corner complex - and received invaluable, if unexpected, assistance from his team-mate, who appeared more pre-occupied with fending off Michael's inevitable charge from the inside of row two. Late braking on the outside into turn one, the Colombia succeeded in his mission, and Williams appeared well placed to control the opening portion of the race from a 1-2 position.
Until Montoya wrecked the plan - and his own chances - with a spin at the chicane at the end of lap two. Replicating Jacques Villeneuve's Friday qualifying rotation, the Colombian was lucky not to collect either the outer or pit walls, but was able to resume the chase having dropped to fifth place. Montoya was not the only one in the wars either, as Antonio Pizzonia narrowly avoided spearing the tyre wall at the final hairpin following a clash with the rear of Jarno Trulli's Renault, and Rubens Barrichello completed the lap with a deranged front wing following a touch at the opening corner. Both were able to resume, as was Trulli, who made numerous pit-stops in the opening stages to try and discover the cause of an ill-handling Renault that had already shed the tread from one tyre.
The gap left by the second Williams was quickly filled by the lead Ferrari, as Schumacher closed on Schumacher at the front of the field. Such was the pace the two brothers were running that a gap of nine seconds had opened up to third placed Fernando Alonso by the seventh lap. From that moment, on there were only two likely winners.
The perennial question of fuel loads hovered over the leaders until the first round of pit-stops dawned, but the perceived heavier Ferrari ran just one lap further than the Williams, rather than the three or four that had been expected after qualifying. That one tour was enough to change the face of the race, however, as Michael emerged from his stop with just enough in hand to inch in front of his brother as they headed into turn two.
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