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Hungarian GP 2003 - Alonso sweeps the field

24 August 2003


Fernando Alonso completed his rout of the Formula One record book by rewriting another few pages at the end of a Hungarian Grand Prix in which he proved to be the class of the field.

Having become the youngest polewinner in Malaysia, the Spaniard not only became the first of his race to win a grand prix, but also broke Bruce McLaren's 44-year old record of being the youngest man to do so. In addition, he also re-entered the name of Renault into the win column, following the twenty-year hiatus that followed Alain Prost's last victory for the regie.

Alonso made the most of his unexpected pole position, and starting from the 'clean' side of the track, to make a clean break as the lights went out, his Renault's launch control kicking in perfectly to carry him clear of any potential first corner accident. Behind him, Ralf Schumacher, from second on the grid, tried in vain to keep the baying pack behind him.

As the German's wheels spun on the Hungaroring's notorious layer of dust, Mark Webber and Kimi Raikkonen both shot past him, with Rubens Barrichello sandwiched between Jaguar and McLaren, all having taken advantage of their odd-numbered starting slots. Schumacher found himself pushed out wide at the reprofiled first corner, almost making contact with team-mate Juan Montoya, who had been similarly hampered from grid four.

Schumacher then compounded his poor getaway by out-braking himself into turn two, the Williams-BMW swapping ends in front of the midfield runners, and sending the German to the back of those still running. Only the luckless Cristiano da Matta, who had endured a difficult weekend, was further adrift having been restarted in pit-lane after failing to get away with the rest of the field.

At the end of the first lap, with the track surface having done its best to shake-up the pack, Alonso led with Webber, Barrichello and Raikkonen in his mirrors. The second Renault of Jarno Trulli was next up, with David Coulthard, Michael Schumacher - from a seasons-worst eighth on the grid - Montoya and Nick Heidfeld completing the top ten. Further back, Jenson Button had also had a startline nightmare, dropping to 18th, behind Hungarian newcomer Zsolt Baumgartner, and with just Schumacher Jr, Nicolas Kiesa and da Matta behind him.

It was clear that the leader had a speed advantage over second place and, as Webber did his best to fend off the attentions of those behind him, Alonso made hay. Three seconds to the good after two laps, the gap continued to grow as Barrichello, Raikkonen and Trulli all sought a way past the Jaguar.

Barrichello's best effort came to more than nought after he out-braked Webber, and then himself, into the tight chicane at the back of the circuit. Overshooting his turn-in point, the Brazilian courteously allowed Webber back ahead in order not to incur a penalty for gaining an illicit advantage, but slipped up as both Raikkonen and Trulli also dived through. The melee allowed Alonso to eke out another few seconds and, by the end of lap four with another fastest tour in his pocket, the Spaniard was already ten ticks to the good.

Renault's protégé continued to rattle off fastest lap after fastest lap, lowering the target time to 1min 23.0 by the time he made his first pit-stop on lap 13. McLaren boss Ron Dennis had ventured far enough to claim that the likes of Alonso and Webber had to have been running very light to have secured their respective grid positions, and the timing of the frontrunners various pit-stops was closely watched to see if their advantage was likely to be short-lived.

As it turned out, Alonso stopped but two laps ahead of Raikkonen, with Webber coming in at the same time as the Renault. There may have been a difference in qualifying fuel loads, but it was only to the tune of two laps, and Alonso had enough of an advantage to resume his position at the front of the field once the McLaren had stopped, despite a faltering getaway that threatened to ruin his early good work.

As usual, the Hungaroring had managed to produce a train of cars snaking around its more sinuous elements in the early stages, and the pit-stops therefore presented the first real opportunity to shake-up the order again. This time, the Williams crew proved to be the most adept, gaining Montoya several places, most crucially putting him ahead of championship leader Michael Schumacher. The pair stopped a lap apart but, when the German rejoined, he had to filter in behind his Colombian nemesis, setting the tone for his afternoon.

The track had been reworked over the winter in an effort to rid itself of the tag of 'an eastern Monaco', and one driver in particular found the new first corner to his liking when it came to nailing passing opportunities. Having all but thrown away his hopes of winning the race with his turn two spin, Schumacher Jr was now on a charge and, having dispensed with the backmarkers in double-quick fashion, was almost back up with his brother by the time their respective teams called them in for fuel and tyres.

If Alonso's progress at the front of the field was supreme, the Renault team would have had their hearts close to their mouths as lap twenty dawned. Although the Spaniard had gone through, now back in front after the first round of stops, an incident in turn one threatened to bring out the safety car, thereby negating the time advantage he had built up.

Barrichello, now back in fifth place after the stops had unravelled, was fending off Alonso's team-mate when his left rear corner exploded in a shower of twisted metal. What at first appeared to be a suspension breakage later transmuted into a possible transmission failure, as parts flew from under the bodywork. Its left rear wheel detached and making its own way into the now reduced run-off area, Barrichello was little more than a passenger as the Ferrari snaked, speed unabated, into the tyre wall. As with Ralph Firman on Saturday morning, it was a testimony to the strength of the modern F1 car that the Brazilian was able to step out unhurt.

Remarkably, the stewards decided that the safety car would not be necessary to help with the clean-up operation, and Alonso was able to continue romping away from the field. By the time of his second stop on lap 30, the Spaniard had re-established his 25secs margin over Raikkonen, who had passed Webber during the first round of stops, and was able to rejoin the race in front of the Finn.

With the leading trio spread out, attention began to focus on the scrap for fourth, where Trulli, unaffected by Barrichello's exit, was having to fend off Montoya. In the Colombian's mirrors, meanwhile, the Schumacher brothers were also enjoying a set-to - a battle that was eventually settled when a fired up Ralf finally put the move on Michael that his critics had predicted would never come.

Perhaps pre-occupied with the move Montoya was attempting to put on Trulli ahead of him, the world champion seemed momentarily oblivious to the fact that his brother was shaping up to the inside of the Ferrari entering turn one. Perhaps Michael, too, hadn't expected 'l'il bro' to make a move, but Ralf was so intent on recovering lost ground that Williams passed Ferrari cleanly, setting him up for a potential showdown with team-mate Montoya.

Trulli's second stop on lap 32 freed the Williams duo to try and open out a sufficient gap so that they would not be trapped behind the second Renault in the final half of the race, and the pair's determination was all to evident as Ralf chopped across the bows of a rejoining Raikkonen a lap later. When the German himself pitted, his hard work paid off, as he filtered back in between Webber and Trulli, but any hope he had of overhauling his Colombian partner was scuppered by Baumgartner, who held the Williams up for a couple of corners on its out lap. Montoya stopped at the end of the next lap, and was able to rejoin not only ahead of Schumacher, but also in front of Webber's stubborn Jaguar. To make matters worse for Schumacher, Baumgartner's engine expired at the same time....

The German quickly closed in on Webber, but the Jaguar driver proved to be a stern opponent, fending off the Williams for several laps before Schumacher finally made a move stick into his favourite first corner passing spot.

Several laps earlier, the world champion's chances of salvaging points as his title rivals headed for the podium took another hit when his engine cut out as he switched on the pit-lane limiter at his second stop. Restarting only took a second or so, but it was enough to ensure that the Ferrari would be stuck behind Trulli's Renault for the rest of the race.

That would mean that Schumacher was fighting for seventh spot, as David Coulthard moved firmly into contention for a top five spot. The Scot, along with his McLaren team, had taken the decision to add more fuel than most at his first stop, and a second ten-second top-up confirmed the suspicion that DC was switching to a two-stop strategy in order to steal a march on his rivals. The move appeared to be working, too, as Coulthard now mixed it with the lower point scorers - without another stop to make.

All this time, Alonso carried on his merry way, again establishing a near 26-second lead over Raikkonen in time for this third and final stop. Already out of the running, however, Jacques Villeneuve (hydraulics), Barrichello, Fisichella and Baumgartner (both engine) and Olivier Panis (gearbox) were about to be joined by Justin Wilson, whose Cosworth V10 let go in dramatic fashion as he exited the chicane. With Heinz-Harald Frentzen completing the list after apparently running out of fuel, there were just seven retirements, as the blue-and-yellow section of the pit-lane kept its fingers crossed that there would be no untoward dramas at the front of the field.

The closing stages looked like being a straightforward run to the flag, with just Schumacher Sr and Trulli staging anything resembling an on-track scrap - until Montoya decided to add a little spice to proceedings by spinning, unaided, at turn eleven. Although the Colombian kept his Williams out of the waiting gravel trap, the error allowed team-mate Schumacher Jr to close in, setting up an intriguing fight for position as the German attempted to free himself of potential team orders - in whatever legal form they would take - at the next round.

It wasn't to be for Schumacher, who came home a second adrift of the leading Williams which, in turn had lost any chance of challenging Raikkonen for second spot. Behind Schumacher, Coulthard got the better of Webber and Trulli as they made their third and final stops, claiming fifth place after a solid drive.

Michael Schumacher rounded out the point scorers, preventing the plucky Nick Heidfeld from adding to his meagre 2003 total, but having had to suffer the indignity of being lapped. The German has not led a grand prix since winning in Canada and, with the result going the way it did in Hungary, heads into the final three races with just a one-point championship advantage.

At the front, however, there was no question about the identity of the winner - even if he hadn't previously stood on the top step of the podium. Alonso rounded the last corner, resisted the temptation to floor the throttle in celebration, and crawled under the chequered flag in order to savour the moment.

It surely won't be the last.



Race result:

1. Fernando Alonso Spain Renault-Renault 70 laps 1hr 39.01.460secs
2. Kimi Raikkonen Finland McLaren-Mercedes +16.700secs
3. Juan Montoya Colombia Williams-BMW +34.500secs
4. Ralf Schumacher Germany Williams-BMW +35.600secs
5. David Coulthard Britain McLaren-Mercedes +56.500secs
6. Mark Webber Australia Jaguar-Cosworth +1min 12.600secs
7. Jarno Trulli Italy Renault-Renault +1 lap
8. Michael Schumacher Germany Ferrari-Ferrari +1 lap

9. Nick Heidfeld Germany Sauber-Petronas +1 lap
10. Jenson Button Britain BAR-Honda +1 lap
11. Cristiano da Matta Brazil Toyota-Toyota +2 laps
12. Jos Verstappen Holland Minardi-Cosworth +3 laps
13. Nicolas Kiesa Denmark Minardi-Cosworth +4 laps

Rtd Heinz-Harald Frentzen Germany Sauber-Petronas 47 laps completed
Rtd Justin Wilson Britain Jaguar-Cosworth 42 laps completed
Rtd Zsolt Baumgartner Hungary Jordan-Ford 34 laps completed
Rtd Olivier Panis France Toyota-Toyota 33 laps completed
Rtd Giancarlo Fisichella Italy Jordan-Ford 28 laps completed
Rtd Rubens Barrichello Brazil Ferrari-Ferrari 19 laps completed
Rtd Jacques Villeneuve Canada BAR-Honda 14 laps completed


Fastest lap:

Juan Montoya Williams-BMW 1min 22.095secs lap 37




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