Crash.Net F1 News
Canadian GP 2003 - Schumacher seizes initiative
15 June 2003
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.
Already gone by this point were Heinz-Harald Frentzen, out with a mechanical failure after just six laps, and the ever-unlucky Jacques Villeneuve, who had risen as high as ninth before pulling out with cooked brakes, his Montreal jinx intact. They would soon be joined by both Jordans, who retired simultaneously with equally smoky EJ13s.
The shake-up created by the pit-stops not only reversed the order of the two Schumachers, but also allowed the surprising Alonso to lead. The Spaniard had come to Canada knowing that his Renault would not necessarily be a force, but showed just how impressive his fourth place qualifying lap had been by stretching his fuel load over 26 laps, five more even than the world champion.
The stop dropped the Spaniard back to fourth place, where he had been since being re-passed by Montoya in the early stages, but kept him well ahead of the growing battle for fifth involving the recovering Barrichello, the charging Raikkonen and the second McLaren of David Coulthard. Behind them, Mark Webber was running in the points with both Toyotas.
The gap between the new leader and Montoya in third had grown to 13secs by this stage, making the Colombian's error look increasingly costly, but the two frontrunners were seldom more than a second apart, although Ralf was never close enough on the road to make a lunge. Any interference from Raikkonen, however, disappeared on lap 35, when another Michelin carcass went spinning across the road, narrowly avoiding Barrichello's pursuing Ferrari and sending the Finn pit-bound earlier than his strategy had determined. Raikkonen rejoined back in tenth, with work ahead of him if he was to restrict Schumacher's likely points gain.
Behind the leading quartet, there continued to be problems for those chasing the minor points. Following Raikkonen's puncture, Barrichello finally lost a bargeboard that had been hanging precariously since his nose job, while Coulthard appeared to be slowing out on the track, sufficiently for Webber to close in and pass the Scot for fifth on lap 44. DC's race would not last much longer, as he was instructed to bring the ailing MP4-17D in for the last time, another victim of an increasing number of gearbox-related problems.
The arrival of the final round of pit-stops presented Ralf with his best chance of re-passing his brother and, again, the younger German opted to change just his rear tyres, just as he had first time around. However, catching and passing 'backmarkers' - including Raikkonen - at just the wrong place allowed the Ferrari to open out a valuable gap - enough to keep it ahead as it exited the pit-lane.
The closing stages were enlivened not just by Ralf's final attempts to overhaul his brother, but also by the pace of the two men immediately astern of them. Montoya's speed showed that, given the chance, it could have been him heading the field, while Alonso had again led the field during the pit calls and inexorably closed on Montoya - and thus the leading duo - as the clocked ticked down. By the final few laps, the quartet were running almost nose-to-tail, giving the crowd the anticipation of a last ditch move, but it was not to be as the world champion moved, not only into the points lead, but also within one mark of a thousand in his career and one win of a half century.
The Williams drivers both gained ground in the championship, while Alonso regained third overall, as Raikkonen could do no better than a subdued sixth, slowed in the final stages as he attempted to safeguard his brakes and gearbox. Between them, Barrichello came home fifth to help extend Ferrari's constructors' championship advantage, while Webber secured another couple of points after a solid, if unspectacular drive.
The final point went, perhaps deservedly, to the frequently unlucky Olivier Panis, and the irony of the situation would not have been lost on the Frenchman as it took a retirement for Toyota team-mate Cristiano da Matta to give him the place.
It would have taken one more retirement, however, for the weekend's fairytale story to occur, and the thought of Paul Stoddart sticking pins in a replica of Raikkonen's McLaren would have brought a smile to all who value the role of the minnows in Formula One. After a heated press conference on Friday, and news of Bernie Ecclestone's new involvement in Minardi, a point for Jos Verstappen would have raptly rounded out the weekend.
1. Michael Schumacher Germany Ferrari-Ferrari 70 laps 1hr 31min 13.591secs
2. Ralf Schumacher Germany Williams-BMW +00.784secs
3. Juan Montoya Colombia Williams-BMW +01.355secs
4. Fernando Alonso Spain Renault-Renault +04.481secs
5. Rubens Barrichello Brazil Ferrari-Ferrari +1min 04.261secs
6. Kimi Raikkonen Finland McLaren-Mercedes +1min 10.502secs
7. Mark Webber Australia Jaguar-Cosworth +1 lap
8. Olivier Panis France Toyota-Toyota +1 lap
9. Jos Verstappen Holland Minardi-Cosworth +2 laps
10. Antonio Pizzonia Brazil Jaguar-Cosworth +4 laps
Rtd Cristiano da Matta Brazil Toyota-Toyota 64 laps completed
Rtd Justin Wilson Britain Minardi-Cosworth 60 laps completed
Rtd Jenson Button Britain BAR-Honda 51 laps completed
Rtd David Coulthard Britain McLaren-Mercedes 47 laps completed
Rtd Nick Heidfeld Germany Sauber-Petronas 47 laps completed
Rtd Jarno Trulli Italy Renault-Renault 22 laps completed
Rtd Giancarlo Fisichella Italy Jordan-Ford 20 laps completed
Rtd Ralph Firman Britain Jordan-Ford 20 laps completed
Rtd Jacques Villeneuve Canada BAR-Honda 14 laps completed
Rtd Heinz-Harald Frentzen Germany Sauber-Petronas 6 laps completed
Fernando Alonso Renault-Renault 1min 16.040secs lap 49