29 June 2003
Europe GP 2003 - Schu towers as lord of the 'Ring.
They say that the Nurburgring crowd is only happy if a Schumacher wins, and it left the 2003 European Grand Prix happy even if it was Ralf, rather than Michael, that took the chequered flag after an eventful race.
The two 'local boys', were in the heart of the action from the off and, even when Mercedes-powered Kimi Raikkonen led by the proverbial country mile, most of the support was for the cars in second and third place.
The Schumachers started from second and third on the grid, with Michael ahead of Ralf, but it was the younger brother who led the pursuit of Raikkonen in the early stages, having got the better of the world champion off the line. Neither could do much about the McLaren ahead of them, however, as Raikkonen took off smartly from his maiden F1 pole position and disappeared into the distance.
A surprisingly clean getaway shuffled the order only slightly by the end of the opening lap, with Jacques Villeneuve coming off worst of all by dropping to the tail of the field behind both Minardis and only just ahead of Nick Heidfeld, who opted to start from the pit-lane after being unable to record a qualifying time on Saturday.
Ahead of what was to become a frantic scrap for 16th, the order looked much as it had on the grid, with only Jenson Button getting the better of a baulked Mark Webber and Ralph Firman climbing several places showing much difference.
By the end of the opening lap, Raikkonen had opened out a gap of 1.2secs back to the Schumachers, who headed Rubens Barrichello, making use of the clean side of the track to pass Juan Montoya for fourth, the two Renaults, Olivier Panis and David Coulthard. Three laps later, the gap had grown to three seconds, as Raikkonen banged in successive fastest laps, and extended further still to over five seconds by lap seven.
With the lead group strung out and unable to pass one another, the attention switched back to the battle between Villeneuve, Heidfeld and the Minardis, which raged over 14 laps as the luckless Canadian yo-yo'd up through the quartet. Having made a poor start, which saw him on the outside of turn one and passed by both Jos Verstappen and Justin Wilson by turn three, the 1997 world champion passed both Italian cars by lap nine, only to spin at turn two in his haste to rejoin the disappearing group ahead of him.
Rejoining last of all, Villeneuve managed to repass Verstappen - who, along with his team-mate had fallen prey to Heidfeld's Sauber - but then whacked another BAR front wing on the unforgiving marker cones at the revised chicane and had to pit for a replacement - having first had to crawl around a full lap as the offending item only broke after he had passed pit entrance!
By the time Villeneuve made his stop, the earliest of the regular pit-callers had begun to take on fuel and tyres as the race distilled into a battle between the two-and three-stoppers. The Jordans and Heinz-Harald Frentzen were among the first to stop, while most of the field began to stream in, earlier than expected, around lap 16.
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