A sad day for Michael

Michael Schumacher, Ralf Schumacher, San Marino GP 2003

Michael Schumacher, Ralf Schumacher, San Marino GP 2003 

 © The Cahier Archive

There have been four winners in four races in Formula 1 this year. And each race has been a good story. The story of Imola was a sad one, for the race was won by Michael Schumacher on the day his mother died. And to add to the poignancy of it all his only rival was his brother Ralf. The two men had spent the night in Cologne but flew back to Italy on Sunday morning. They agreed that they would just get on with the job and the two men did exactly that. At the end of the race Michael was dignified on the podium and then set off to go back to his family in Germany.

For Ferrari there ought to have been rejoicing but everything was rather muted in the circumstances although one could feel the satisfaction that the team felt having finally won a race this year.

But Michael is going to have to do a lot more winning in the months ahead because behind him on the road was Kimi Raikkonen, the World Championship leader, and so all that Michael won back was a couple of points. Kimi still leads the world title by 14 points with a quarter of the race already gone...

Ferrari had shown on Friday that the F2002 was still the car to beat and although Williams was much closer than was the case in the first three races the most likely winner was always going to be Michael Schumacher, even if Ralf felt that he had a realistic chance of success. It was all going to be about tire wear and strategies, and with the new rules being as they are it was no surprise that the three-stop strategy played a bigger role than it has in the past. It was a question of Ferrari and Williams running three stops and McLaren running two.

Although Michael would eventually win by a comfortable margin he had to work at it because he failed to turn his pole position into the lead at the first corner. Exploding from second place on the grid was Ralf and it was the Williams-BMW star who went into Tamburello ahead, with Rubens Barrichello, Juan Pablo Montoya and the rest in hot pursuit. Behind these four it was all a bit messy because Mark Webber's Jaguar had a software glitch and went slowly off the line, causing those behind to have a few interesting moments. David Coulthard and Jacques Villeneuve almost had a very big crash and DC ended up on the grass on the outside with his foot flat to the board. As a result he went into the corner in eighth place having started out 12th on the grid. Raikkonen was also able to take advantage and was fifth, having jinked ahead of Webber. Behind Kimi there was Fernando Alonso in the Renault, Olivier Panis in the Toyota, Coulthard and Nick Heidfeld's Sauber. The top 10 was completed by Jenson Button's BAR which had been delayed by Webber. The Australian was 11th ahead of Cristiano da Matta and the much-delayed Villeneuve.

It was obvious from quite early on that Michael had the legs on Ralf but Ralf fought like a tiger and the two men put on a great show for the first 16 laps and then Ralf hurtled into the pitlane and Michael opened up the throttles of the F2002 and sank the lap times by a full second. A couple of laps of this and he came rushing into the pits to emerge more than two and a half seconds ahead of Ralf. After that he pulled away at around a second each lap.

Ralf soon had to forget his brother and worry about keeping Barrichello behind him but fate would play a hand here for each time Barrichello went into the pits and seemed set to emerge ahead, something went wrong and Ralf was still there. After the third such happening Rubens showed that he was getting bored with the back of the BMW engine and on lap 52 of 62 he set Ralf up in the bottom chicane, just before the pits and, having better momentum through it, the car was able to get the power down first and overtook Ralf as they went off towards Tamburello. The problem by then was that Raikkonen's two-stop strategy had put him ahead of both men. Once Rubens was clear of Ralf he closed in on Kimi but getting there was one thing, passing quite another. And so they finished in that order. Ralf Schumacher followed them home and he was followed by Coulthard who had used the same two-stop strategy to get himself ahead of Alonso and Panis. He had a go at Ralf in the closing laps but a pass never really looked very likely and so David trailed home fifth.

Behind him was Alonso, who had driven a very good race. If things had been as they should have been Montoya would have had the sixth spot but his race was ruined by poor pit stops. At the first he lost a few seconds when he arrived a bit too quickly. At the second the fuel rig malfunctioned and so he had to come back to the pits three laps later. By the time he had done all that he was behind Alonso and there he stayed.

Alonso said he was happy, but finishing three quarters of a minute behind the winner was not really the kind of result that Renault was looking for this year. Still it was better than Trulli who was in the spare in qualifying and had to use the same car in the race. He never got to grips with it and finished 13th.

The thing that was outstanding about the race was its lack of overtaking. This is a problem which so often inflicts itself on a race at this circuit. The only decent conclusion one can reach is that if Imola is really serious about keeping a race in the future it needs to send in the bulldozers and create some potential for passing. Expectation is all very well but three passes in an afternoon is not that interesting. Barrichello's was a lovely move, admittedly, but the other two were decidedly scrappy as Fisichella scrambled ahead of Da Matta in 14th place on lap 32. Fisichella was in a hurry and soon afterwards tried to get past Trulli. The two cars clonked into one another at Rivazza and as Fisichella slowed, collecting it all together, Da Matta overtook him. That was it for overtaking after the first lap.

Everyone else trolled around behind one another, passing in the pits, if it was possible. Button ended the day with the final World Championship point, having used a two-stop strategy to get the better of Heidfeld and Panis. Villeneuve's race was pretty nondescript after the delays at the start and he was tied up dealing with Da Matta. Soon after the first pit stop (when Da Matta was still ahead) Jacques BAR ground to a halt with a small fire in the back end. That was the end of his day.

Button was chased to the flag by Panis who had raced hard all day with a three-stop strategy which just did not work. He was seventh at the end of the first lap and ninth at the finish. Da Matta was 12th at the end of the first lap and 12th at the finish. Still, the team was encouraged because it managed to get two cars home...

Sauber did the same but it was a really dull day for the Swiss wunder wagons: They went their separate ways on strategy and although Heidfeld finished ahead of Frentzen he had made up more ground because of a bad first lap. In other words Heidfeld's three-stop race was not as good as Heinz's two-stopper.

Apart from Villeneuve all the non-finishers had Ford engines, indeed the only Ford driver still running was Antonio Pizzonia in the second Jaguar which failed to get off the start line and was started a lap behind from the pits. His was a drab performance but at least he finally got some miles in the car. The lap times were not great.

The high hopes that had existed for Webber evaporated at the start as the Jaguar went off the line like a lazy cat rather than a flashing, muscular Jaguar. It was something in the software, so they said. Mark did his best to make up time, lapping quickly when he could but there was never much hope of progress and things went from bad to worse when he was given a drive-through penalty for speeding in pitlane.

Both Jordan broke down. Fisichella tried hard but lost time in the pits, and then had the incident with Trulli and finally went out with a large and smoky engine failure. Ralph Firman was on a different strategy but lost time behind the Minardis and eventually went out of 16th place with an engine failure.

The Minardi home race was a dismal affair. Both cars started from the pitlane so that they could have bigger fuel loads but Verstappen went out with an electrical failure when he was running 17th and the refuelling machine failed to work to such an extent that Wilson had to retire as no fuel would come out of the silly box on wheels. So even if Verstappen had kept going he would have ended his day at his second pit stop.

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Stories: APRIL 21, 2003