AUGUST 4, 2003
GERMAN GP - SUNDAY - RACE REPORT
The tortoise flies...
Some months ago, BMW engineers suggested in a cartoon that the Williams FW25 was a tortoise. Some tortoise! One can only suppose that down in Munich they have forgotten that now as on Sunday the Williams tortoise finished 65 seconds ahead of the rest of the field after 67 laps of racing. And that was achieved using only 93% throttle for most of the race. The Michelin tires helped, of course, but one cannot help but think that the Williams chassis made some small contribution on a day when Mercedes-Benz's only moment in the spotlight was when the Safety Car came out...
After the race the Colombian was asked whether or not he thought that the first corner accident had made things easier for him.
"If Ralf hadn't gone out it would have been a bit harder race than that," he admitted, "but I think the team would have dominated the race anyway. They told me to back off and I was still pulling away from the others. I could do a really hard lap and record a low 1m15s. If I took it easy I could do a high 1m15s. Everyone else was running in the 1m17s. I couldn't believe it."
By the end Montoya had lapped everyone up to fourth place.
The really frightening thing however was not the margin of victory but rather the fact that it had been achieved with the BMW only getting 93% of the throttle after the 15th lap. Just prior to that Montoya had set the fastest lap of the race, a 1m14.917s, a lap which was better than his pole position on Saturday. If ever there was an indication that the Michelin tires were doing the job it was this because although he had a low fuel load, the tires should have been coming to the end of their competitive life.
"The throttle wasn't a big issue," said Montoya. "Even with the problem we had the pace to pull away."
The result was a big bonus for Montoya for it lifted him ahead of Kimi Raikkonen in the World Championship. He is now well clear of his team mate Ralf Schumacher and within just six points of title leader Michael Schumacher. Bridgestone has again been routed by the Michelin men and it is going to take a lot to turn the tables in the four remaining races of the year.
Ralf Schumacher may in the years to come look back on the first corner at Hockenheim as the moment he lost the World Championship. He made a bad start and then caused an accident and after the race the FIA Stewards decided that Ralf needed to learn a lesson and so decreed that he will lose 10 grid positions after qualifying in Hungary. In effect this means that Ralf has no chance of winning in Budapest. More importantly, however, it means that Williams cannot hope to get as many points in the Constructors' Championship as they need to keep up the pressure on Ferrari. At the moment the two teams are separated by two points.
When you stop to think about it, the logical thing for Williams to do would be to put test driver Marc Gene into Ralf's car. He has completed 38,000 km of testing for the team in the last 18 months and has often been as quick or even quicker than the men racing for Williams. There is no reason that Gene cannot do the job... For the moment Williams has appealed the decision but if it is confirmed by the FIA, there will be a dilemma.
The important question therefore was whether or not Ralf was to blame for the first corner smash which took him out along with championship challenger Kimi Raikkonen and Silverstone race winner Rubens Barrichello.
Before the race we wondered if there might be some action at Turn 1 for it has often happened before. The weather was stiflingly hot and the huge crowd (down 17,000 on last year but still over 100,000 people) wanted to see Michael Schumacher do something special. He has won from sixth on the grid before but back then he was not struggling to make his Ferrari work on Bridgestone rubber.
The start of the race did not see Michael power away into the lead. Montoya the pole man took off well but Ralf Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello (second and third on the grid) did not do as well. This meant that Jarno Trulli was able to sneak up behind Montoya as they went down towards the first corner and on the other side of the track Raikkonen tried to go around the outside of Barrichello. Rubens moved slightly to the left to make things as difficult as possible for Kimi but the Finn had the momentum. At the same moment Ralf decided to move to the left to protect himself and the result was that Rubens found himself trapped between the McLaren on the outside and the Williams on the inside. He had nowhere to go. The first impact was between the Williams and the Ferrari and then Rubens was punted into Raikkonen. The McLaren was sent into spin and a big impact with the barriers.
Raikkonen said that he did not know who was to blame.
"It doesn't really matter," he said. "There is nothing I can do about it. I am just happy that I am OK. I feel a bit sore."
Rubens was not sure whether he should blame Ralf or Kimi but reckoned that both had taken a few too many risks.
"Kimi went very wide to get past me," he said. "Ralf moved to the left and I had nowhere to go. I braked but then I was hit."
The Stewards felt that Ralf had been "paying no intention to the position of the other cars" when he moved across to get a better racing line for the corner. This, they concluded, was what had caused the crash.
"You cannot think about what people around you are doing," Ralf said. "I was just trying to defend my position I and I didn't make any sudden move or anything. There was all the time in the world for the other cars to move away from me."
The fun and games between these three were to be the cause of a number of other incidents in the midfield as those who could see what was going on were busy jumping on their brake pedals.
"Everyone hit the brakes," related Heinz Harald Frentzen, "but behind me someone obviously didn't realize there was an accident and drove into me."
The Jordan press release quoted Firman as saying that he "ended up tapping the back of Frentzen". The tap was sufficient to send the front wing of the Jordan about 50ft into the air, while bits and pieces of Sauber rear wing rained down.
"I didn't see anything," said Firman. "Suddenly everyone slowed in front of me and I ran into the back of Frentzen. I thought it might be all right and I was trying to go around the outside of everything when Justin Wilson came straight into the side of me."
Wilson had had a similar problem to Firman.
"Everyone was on the brakes trying to slow down and Jacques Villeneuve came right across in front of me as we arrived in the corner. All the stopping area I had had disappeared and I hit him."
This spun Villeneuve around and he ended up moving backwards across the track. Wilson tried to avoid another impact and so really had nothing he could do except drive into the side of Firman.
"The crash damaged a track rod and I had to pit," said Wilson.
The Safety Car had come up by that point and cars were heading for pitlane for repairs, checks or changes of strategy.
Ralf Schumacher was out. Frentzen's rear was a mess and he too was not going anywhere. Villeneuve's car seemed OK and so the team topped it up with fuel and sent him off, aiming for a one-stop strategy for the rest of the afternoon. Verstappen had flat-spotted his tires avoiding an impact and so came in too and he received some extra fuel. And then Kiesa was brought in as well.
While all this was going on Montoya was cruising around behind the Safety Car with Trulli, Alonso, Michael Schumacher, Webber, Coulthard and Panis behind him. This was the order at the restart and thus it remained when the race started again after three laps under caution. Montoya did not pull away as he had hoped but then his tires began to react as they should be doing and suddenly the others began to fall away. Further back Coulthard was in no mood to be held up by Webber and on lap seven went around the outside of the Australian in the hairpin, a very stylish move. He was around five seconds behind the Renaults and Schumacher but he set his sights on the men ahead and began chipping away at the gap. In the end Coulthard would emerge as the man on the second step of the podium.
In an effort to catch up, McLaren chose to run a longer second stint than his rivals. This put him ahead of Alonso. Trulli was his next target and he elbowed his way ahead on lap 60 and began looking for a way to oust Michael Schumacher from second position. Then Michael had a puncture and David was saved the trouble.
"It is nice to be back on the podium," he said. "It's been a long hard season for me."
Schumacher's problem gave third and fourth places to Renault and while the team seemed to think that this was a pretty good result, there is no doubt that it was not easy to achieve. The cars may have been quick in qualifying but in race trim they were no match for the fast men. Trulli was in trouble too because he was not 100% fit, having had a fever for a couple of days. He was worn out at the end of the race. So were his tires. Alonso too struggled, his cause not being helped when he went bouncing off the track early in the second stint. This let Schumacher pass him and on lap 59 Michael was able to fight his way past Trulli as well. Michael was struggling with his tires as well and was under serious threat from Coulthard when his puncture occurred. Why it happened will probably not be known because there was not much left of the tire by the time Michael got to the pits. There was a lot of debris on the track and the way in which the tire went down suggested a puncture but working out the details will probably be impossible. Whatever the case it meant that Michael fell back behind Coulthard, the two Renaults and the two Toyotas. He was still seventh by the finish and that meant two points on the board, which was two points more than Raikkonen was able to score. But now Montoya is Michael's biggest threat.
Olivier Panis and Cristiano da Matta had pretty dull races in their Toyotas but when dull races bring in seven points and take the team to sixth in the Constructors' title, just a point behind BAR-Honda the Japanese had good reason to rejoice. Toyota and Honda are rather competitive...
The last World Championship point of the day went to BAR thanks to the efforts of Jenson Button who managed to avoid all the chaos at the start and spent the afternoon battling with Mark Webber, both men having chosen more or less the same strategy, a two-stop race with a longish first stint. This did not work very well because Webber was originally ahead of Coulthard, the Toyotas and Button. On the last lap Webber just went for it.
"I had nothing to lose," he said. "I had the choice between a no-points ninth place or a stab at passing Jenson for a point. I went for the point and I spun off. I have no regrets about trying it."
At the time Button was struggling with a diff problem. It had been a hard race and one which Button felt could have been avoided if he had done better in qualifying.
Villeneuve's race was ruined at the first corner but he drove hard with his heavy fuel loads but came home ninth. There was not much reward for a lot of work.
It was a similar story at Sauber. Frentzen was gone at the first corner and Heidfeld was fighting his car all afternoon. He was 10th but that was no cause for celebration."
Minardi lost Verstappen quite early on with a gearbox problem but Kiesa did a good job on his F1 debut. The tires made his car a real handful but despite one off he managed to get to the flag in 12th place. He was the last man running.
Jordan lost Firman at the first corner and Fisichella had every problem known to man, culminating in a water leak which caused the engine to overheat.
It was not a memorable weekend for Jordan nor indeed for anyone else really... except perhaps Mr. Montoya.