F1 » 6 July 2003
French GP 2003 - Williams give rivals French stick
Ralf Schumacher marked himself out as a genuine world championship challenger with a second grand prix victory in as many weeks, leading home Williams-BMW team-mate Juan Montoya to a second successive 1-2 result in the French Grand Prix.
The result, following just seven days after the German led home his team-mate at the Nurburgring, reduced both the gap between himself and his points-leading brother Michael, and that between Williams and Ferrari in the constructors' championship. as the world champion finished only a distant third.
Having secured the front row in Saturday's qualifying session, the Williams duo made no mistake at the start, with Schumacher romping away from Montoya over the course of the opening few laps. Almost two seconds up at the end of the second tour, the German extended his advantage to almost four seconds by lap nine, whereupon the gap plateau'd out. Montoya, for his part, had made a slightly sluggish getaway, but tucked straight in behind his team-mate to protect their 1-2 from Michael Schumacher.
He need not have worried, however, as the elder German had his hands - and mirrors - full of blue and silver, as a muffed second gear change dropped the Ferrari back into the clutches of the Renaults and McLarens that started immediately behind him. The error benefited title rival Kimi Raikkonen most, allowing the Finn to jump from fourth to third, while Schumacher eventually saw off the concerted pressure of David Coulthard by holding the right line around Estoril. Behind them, Jarno Trulli gave team-mate Fernando Alonso a rude brush, sending the Spaniard onto the verges of the gravel, before both cars settled into sixth and seventh.
Despite the opening corner's reputation for causing the odd skirmish or two, there was no contact this time around, with only Giancarlo Fisichella's slide up the inside of Jordan team-mate Ralph Firman at Adelaide looking likely to rate as an incident on the opening lap. Of all people, however, Rubens Barrichello salvaged the count by spinning backwards across the start-finish line, having grabbed a handful of kerb exiting the revised section of track, and dropping himself to the very tail of the field.
The order remained pretty static throughout the opening quarter of the race, but it quickly became apparent that most cars were on three-stop strategies as they began to filter into the pits. Coulthard was among the earliest pit callers, but the move appeared to come at just the right point as the Scot was becoming bottled up behind the world champion's Ferrari. DC was turned around in seven seconds flat, which was good enough to vault him in behind tem-mate Raikkonen as the cycle played out.
Montoya and Michael Schumacher stopped together three laps later, but the race leader went a full tour further before receiving a 6.4secs service to confirm his advantage at the head of the field.
Where Coulthard was able to get ahead of Schumacher Sr, however, the Renaults were unable to take any such advantage, despite being in close contact with the Ferrari in the run-up to the stops. The 'home' team also opted only to change rear tyres during the stop, but immediately regretted the decision as their performance dropped away during the second stint.
Barrichello had not stopped by the start of lap twenty, marking himself out as an oddity among the field by going for a two-stop strategy, but had climbed as far up the field as eighth by the time he had to call in for more fuel. It had not been an easy passage for the Brazilian, however, with Jos Verstappen and both BARs making life difficult for him as he attempted to make up for his first lap error, and would have to do some of it again as his top dropped him back five places in a still full field.
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