JULY 21, 2003
BRITISH GP - SUNDAY - RACE REPORT
Rubens sails through the chaos...
The British Grand Prix was an interesting and unusual affair but it is hard to know whether or not it was a true picture of the relative competitiveness of the top teams in F1 at the moment. There were simply too many variables involved. Did Rubens Barrichello win because he had the best car and did the best job, or did he win because all his major rivals ran into trouble of one sort or another. Did the lunatic in the kilt really make a difference to the outcome of the race or was the pattern of the race the same after the incident as it was beforehand.
The British GP of 2003 will be remembered for the man in the kilt who single-handedly invaded the circuit. He was clearly not an entirely rational person because running towards Formula 1 cars which are doing 160mph is not something that any normal balanced human being will do. If people wish to kill themselves that is up to them but it is not fair and it is not right to do so at a Grand Prix. If he had been hit he would have been dead in an instant and perhaps he would have killed a driver as well. These things cannot and must not be allowed to happen. Anyone with a long enough memory will remember back to the South African Grand Prix of 1977 when Tom Pryce was killed when he hit a fire marshal who was running across the track. The man was killed instantly (it was not pleasant) but worse than that Pryce too was killed in the impact and Jacques Laffite was fortunate to emerge unhurt when Pryce's car, with a dead man at the wheel, crashed into his car at the end of the straight.
Race tracks can be made safe against such people and they must be.
The Race Director had no choice but to send out a Safety Car and because of the timing that was to have a marked effect upon the race because the first pit stops were coming up and everyone wanted to grab an advantage. And so 14 cars came into pitlane at the same moment and there were inevitable delay for teams which had two drivers in at the same moment. And thus it was that Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso, Juan Pablo Montoya, Jenson Button and Heinz-Harald Frentzen were dumped down the order. Because of an earlier Safety Car the field was still running closely together and so every second counted. If one came out ahead of the midfield "snake" one was all right but if one was at the back it was then a story of fighting through the pack.
But if the truth be told the story was not much different when things settled down. Jarno Trulli had been leading from the start but we suspected that the Renault was running light and when it picked up more fuel it went quickly backwards, unable to compete. And that left the battle for the lead between Kimi Raikkonen and poleman Rubens Barrichello, as it had been before the two Safety Cars. Of the other likely contenders David Coulthard was really too far back on the grid but he made a good start and was working his way up when the cockpit restraint system flew out and landed in the middle of the track. This caused the first Safety Car and David had to pit. He was joined by the two Toyotas and Ralph Firman and that meant when the kilted clown appeared these four were bale to emerge in the lead. It looked good for Toyota to be running 1-2 but it was just a matter of time before they would disappear and the race return to normal.
And so it did. Just before the disruptions began Barrichello had taken second place from Raikkonen but in all the confusion the positions were reversed again and then Rubens had to do it all again. On lap 42 Barrichello pressured Raikkonen into a mistake at Bridge and took the lead. And that was the end of that. Barrichello drew away and went on to win. Raikkonen was clearly finding the car a bit of a handful and could not hold it all together all day. This was seen again in the closing laps when he ran wide for a second time and allowed Montoya to snatch second place.
Montoya might perhaps have won this race had it not been for the pit stop mess and for an off-track moment which lost him time at a crucial moment in the race. We will never know of course but his comeback showed great speed and daring. After the restart he overtook five cars in three laps and was able to get right up with the leaders again. If he had been up at the front might be have beaten both Raikkonen and Barrichello? It could have been.
Ralf Schumacher too might have done more but he went off soon after the two Safety Cars and damaged bits of his car. Bits and pieces were ingested into the sidepods and so the temperatures of the BMW rose to such a point that Ralf had to be called in to have the problem fixed. By the time he was back out on the track he was too far back to make much of an impression and he did not seem to be very fired up. He ended the day in ninth place and said it was bad luck.
He did not sound like a man who is in the running for the World Championship.
It was very odd.
Alonso also tried to make up for lost time and drove well, holding off Michael Schumacher but progress through the field was slow for both men and in the end Alonso's hopes went up in smoke when his car stalled during his second pit stop. By the time he rejoined he was at the back again and had serious electrical problems which put him out of the race when his battery power ran out and the gearbox would no longer function. Another potential winner sidelined.
Jarno Trulli, the early leader, faded away once the car had been fuelled up and he dropped back to seventh. In the end he was sixth but it was nothing to write home about.
The other man who might have figured (indeed should have figured) was World Champion Michael Schumacher. He was dumped down the back because of the pit stop delay. He had to work his way through the screaming banshees of the midfield and by the time he done that he was half a minute behind what was left of the frontrunning group. He closed the gap but at the end he was still only fourth although he took comfort in the fact that Raikkonen was third and so the damage in the World Championship was the absolute minimum. Kimi gained one point. Earlier in the year Ferrari was complaining about the new scoring system, now it is protecting them...
Barrichello went through the race with no problems. But is this being unkind to Rubens? Is it being unfair to Ferrari and to Bridgestone? Was it just that the cars were better-suited to Silverstone than to other tracks? We cannot answer these questions but it will be interesting to see how the red cars do at Hockenheim and in Hungary. Then we will be able to tell.
In the end it matters not a jot for the winner is the winner and Barrichello is always popular in the F1 paddock. He drove a splendid race and he deserved the rewards. Behind Rubens, Montoya, Raikkonen and Michael was Coulthard who had been thrust on to a three-stop strategy by the demise of his cockpit safety collar. The second Safety Car meant that the disadvantage he had suffered was taken away but the three-stop strategy then put paid to hiss chances. He had to fight his way through the midfield before being able to pick off the places at the front end. After his third stop he was seventh and was able to charge up and make up two more to finish fifth. It had been a very strong race but one flawed by the bad qualifying and by bad luck.
The two Toyotas looked good in the middle of the race because of what had happened with the Safety Cars and Cristiano da Matta led for 18 laps. For a while Olivier Panis was behind him but he was soon picked off by Raikkonen and then when the second pit stops came the Toyotas disappeared. Da Matta was luckier because he got out before the midfield brawl came round. Panis did not. Cristiano finished seventh, Panis 11th.
One of the better performances of the day came from Jenson Button who drove from last on the grid after his qualifying disaster to finish eighth. He lost a lot of time in the pit stop because Villeneuve arrived first and had to be sorted before the team could deal with Jenson but he buckled down to the task and drove through the field. He tried to deal with Villeneuve and got a mighty chop but he then put paid to his team mate in the second round of pit stops.
"I don't think I could have done much better than that," he said. "That was one of the best performances of my career. The car felt great and I had a lot of fun carving my way through the field."
Villeneuve was ahead of Jenson much of the way but Button was clearly quicker and in the end got ahead. Jacques was then ninth but in the last laps he spun and so fell back to 10th behind Ralf Schumacher.
The only other man unlapped was Heinz-Harald Frentzen in his Sauber and his was a strong race too because he was left on the grid at the start and so came round at the tail of the field. He caught up with the backmarkers and worked his way through them only to get screwed again in the pit stop when he arrived to find Nick Heidfeld being fettled. So it was a question of doing it all again, which he duly did. He finished 12th. Heidfeld was ahead early on but a puncture gave him an extra stop and he tumbled to the back of the field and there he stayed too far back to do very much. He finished 17th.
Firman was 13th after running a three-stop strategy but while this was a solid performance it was about all he could do given the equipment available. Worryingly Giancarlo Fisichella had a rear suspension failure at Becketts and went spinning out in spectacular fashion.
Jaguar was struggling all weekend with tires and although Antonio Pizzonia looked very feisty early on in the race something went wrong with his steering wheel and he had to pit early. He did not pit during the second Safety Car and so ended up about level with where he had been originally although behind his team mate Mark Webber. Pizzonia was in no mood to sit behind the Australia and the two cars actually touched when Pizzaman thrust his way ahead. But it was a waste of time because his engine had "an issue" on lap 33 and Antonio was out. Jaguars never have problems or failures. They always have "issues".
The issue for Webber was tires and so a three-stop strategy. It was not a good choice and he finished 14th. A very dull result.
And down at the back it was a dull story for Minardi with Jos Verstappen 15th and Justin Wilson 16th. The two men had a brush with one another on the first lap and then Justin did not get enough fuel in his pit stop and so had to pit again. This meant that the team gave him extra fuel told him to run for home, which was tough. In comparison Verstappen's race was rather conventional but he finished only four seconds ahead of Wilson.
It had been a fascinating race with lots of overtaking but the real question was whether or not it was significant.
And only time will tell us that...