SEPTEMBER 15, 2003
ITALIAN GP - SUNDAY - RACE REPORT
Ferrari magic at Monza...
Formula 1 went to Monza not quite sure what was going to happen and came away from the Autodromo Nazionale three days later having witnessed a comeback of which the late Frank Sinatra would have been proud. In fact there were some in the paddock who felt that what we had seen was a comeback worthy of the dead Sinatra...
In Hungary three weeks beforehand Michael Schumacher had been lapped and yet here at Monza he had beaten the mighty Williams-BMWs and left the McLaren-Mercedes for dead.
As the beautiful people rushed off to their helicopters normal F1 folk were left standing the paddock, scratching their heads, and thinking "How the Hell did they do that?"
The local Archbishop and his flunkies had visited the paddock during the weekend and we wondered if perhaps he had said a little prayer or sprinkled a little holy water on car number one and we went to the rule books to see if holy water is banned...
Down at Michelin Pierre Dupasquier seemed to have rationalized the whole business.
"We came to Monza knowing that Ferrari would be very strong because the circuit suited its car," he said. "For us today was a case of effective damage limitation. I am optimistic that we will regain the upper hand in the final two Grands Prix."
Montoya said the same.
Down at Ferrari they were not worrying about next week.
"After the pain comes the pleasure," said Ross Brawn.
It had been an enthralling rather than an exciting race. The kind of race where you don't want to go off and make the tea in case you miss something and end up thirsty by the end and wondering why you did not have a cuppa in your hand.
And then we realized that we had just witnessed the fastest Grand Prix in the history of the sport, a race run at an average speed (including pit stops) of 153.814mph, which blew away Peter Gethin's record which was set back in 1971.
"Was I alive then?" said Michael Schumacher showing his usual respect for history.
The tire issue which has dominated the life of F1 in recent weeks was forgotten when the engines revved up for the start. The crowds, smaller than usual, were in a state of high excitement. There may have been a few non-Ferrari fans out there but the grandstands seemed rather red. And then the lights went out and the madmen set off towards the first corner leaving the relatively sane Justin Wilson sitting on the grid, betrayed once again by his untrustworthy Jaguar machinery.
"We are very frustrated," said the team's head of vehicle technology Mark Gillan. "We haven't been able to give him reliable machinery in any of the last three races."
Wilson's was a sorry tale of woe.
"I had no choice but to start the race in second gear," he said. "During the formation lap I had trouble engaging first. As we have long gears here at Monza I did not even make it off the line."
The Jaguar stayed exactly where it was and this was unfortunate for those behind him. Jos Verstappen, a well-known demon when he sees no red lights, swerved massively to get around the sleeping Jaguar. The only problem was that Fernando Alonso was using his brilliant Nissan-developed traction-control system to swerve in the other direction as he felt that sitting behind Zsolt Baumgartner was not something he wanted to do for the afternoon. The two men thus met in the middle and Alonso being behind found himself staring straight at the back of the Minardi and in an instant was riding into, up and over the rear wheel. For a moment (if his eyes were open) Fernando indulged in a little bird-watching and then Isaac Newton's theories became reality and the Renault thumped down to earth. There was a wheel at each corner and so Alonso drove it and as nothing fell off he then drove it a little quicker and then quicker still. He did not have a front wing but the pit crew at Renault had one waiting. Down at Minardi they had a new right rear for Jos and they had a good look at the suspension to make sure it was still there before sending him off to war again. The only person who was not going anywhere (still) was Justin Wilson.
Meanwhile down at the first corner the screaming crowd of cars had arrived with Michael Schumacher hanging on just long enough to make sure that Montoya did not sneak ahead.
"I had a lock-up into the first corner and I almost didn't make the chicane," Michael admitted later. "I had the option to go straight on or making the chicane in a not very good way and I thought it was better to do the chicane."
Montoya was all over him but Michael has a way of putting his Ferrari in places where others do not wish to see it and so Montoya was still behind as they accelerated away towards the Curva Grande. But Montoya had the momentum and they were side by side with Montoya on the outside as they went down to the second chicane.
The world ducked and waited for the loud bang.
As they turned in Monty seemed to have the advantage but left room for Michael. He kept his foot to the floor and so they emerged still side by side with the Ferrari going faster. Montoya tucked in behind him as they went down to the first Lesmo. As he did so Jarno Trulli came out and behind them and tired to dive down the inside of Montoya but Juan was having none of that and swept ahead.
Jarno had taken advantage of his Nissan-developed traction-control system to get right up with Rubens Barrichello at the first corner and he had gone down through the Curva Grande side by side with the second Ferrari. He had emerged from the second chicane ahead.
But his race would last just a few moments more before suddenly an hydraulic failure shut the car down. Barrichello nearly rammed him but jinked right and missed and the others followed like cyclists in the peleton on the Tour de France. The Renault rolled to a stop down the road towards the tunnel under the old banking.
Up ahead the Michael and Monty Show was clear of the rest but it was clear that the Ferrari was not going to hang about. Michael began to pull away and after a few laps Rubens began to close in on the Williams.
"My pace was not good," said Montoya. It was a tire thing... By the time they got to the first pit stops Michael was five seconds ahead. Montoya's new set of tires were better than the originals and suddenly the tables were turned and Schumacher was the man under pressure.
"He seemed to be able to close the gap and I was not able to respond," he said.
But as the fuel load came down so Michael was able to hold him. It was still close when they came in for the second stops. Monty was first, hoping to get some clear track when he rejoined to get ahead. Two laps later in came the Ferrari. It was the critical moment.
As Michael accelerated away up the pitlane Ferrari got into a panic.
"The team was not exactly aware of who was who at the moment and initially they said: 'You should be fine' and then suddenly they screamed down the radio 'Watch out. He's coming' and suddenly I saw a Williams come by and I thought: 'How did he do that?' I nearly went off in one of the corners because I was pushing so hard to get a go at him."
And then they all realized that it was Marc Gene rather than Montoya. JPM was sitting behind Michael. He was able to stay there for a while but then the backmarkers finished off any chance we had of a race.
Monty lost a second lapping Frentzen on lap 41 and three laps later had to bundle his way ahead of new boy Zsolt Baumgartner for the second time.
"I am going down the straight and the only thing I see is like 10 or 12 blue flags down the straight. It was like a parade! The Jordan guy suddenly stood on the brakes in the middle of a corner to let me by and I nearly ran into the back of him. It was just crazy."
Michael Schumacher was gone and Montoya knew that his chance had gone. he decided he would live to fight another day. He backed off and Michael did the same. The Ferrari star increased his championship lead from one point to three and both men pulled away from Kimi Raikkonen who could do no better than fourth at Monza and so drops to seven points behind Schumacher.
Barrichello came in third having faded as each set of tires was left productive than the last
"After I put on my second set of tires the car was not as competitive," Rubens said. "The third set was even worse."
By the end of the race he was fighting to hold off Raikkonen. But Kimi could not do much.
"We did what we could today," he said. "We were not quick enough to fight for the podium. I was close to Rubens but not enough to really have a go. I am now seven points behind in the championship so it is more difficult but you never know what will happen in the next two races. We knew Monza would be difficult but we expect Indianapolis and Suzuka to suit us much more. It is not over yet."
It is worth noting, incidentally, that when the car was running quickly Kimi was able to set the second fastest lap of the race, just two tenths slower than Michael's best and a fraction faster than Montoya.
For much of the afternoon Kimi had Coulthard is his mirrors as David made another demon start and jumped from eighth on the grid to fifth by the end of the first lap. Passing Button and Gene and gaining the third position thanks to Trulli's retirement. He had been running a light car and so pitted early but it made no difference to his position and he was running in fifth after the first pit stops and again after the second. But in the closing laps of the race the engine began to sound rough and David fell back towards Gene. And then the engine simply stopped and DC parked the car at the pitlane exit and walked back to the McLaren garage.
That put Gene up to fifth and a very fine effort it was too.
"The true winner for me today was Marc Gene," said BMW boss Gerhard Berger. "He made the most of his chance and did an excellent job for the team. What was very important was to bring both cars home in the points."
Gene's hope for more points was disrupted in the first lap when he had to avoid the flying Trulli and so lost out and fell from fifth on the grid to seventh place. On the second lap he overtook Panis's Toyota but he then spent the rest of the afternoon chasing after the McLarens although during the second pit stop sequence he enjoyed the opportunity of holding the lead for a lap. The difference to Montoya was because the pair had opted for different strategies. He had less wing and was faster down the straight but struggled more in the corners and so put more pressure on the tyres.
"I think my decision was probably better," said Montoya.
But Gene was happy.
"My main priority was to avoid making mistakes and I think that the team is happy to have the points I scored."
The fastest man behind the three big teams was Jacques Villeneuve and he ended the race in sixth place. At the start he was able to take advantage of a clean run through the Curva Grande while his rivals Jenson Button and Mark Webber were squabbling. This took him up to the tail of Olivier Panis's Toyota and Jacques and Jenson then shadowed Panis until the first stops when Jacques was able to get ahead as Panis pitted early. But from then on it was a fairly quiet afternoon for Jacques as Panis could not keep up. When Panis eventually disappeared Villeneuve was able to stroke his way home to pick up three much-needed points which lift BAR a point clear of Jaguar in the fight for fifth place in the Constructors' Championship. The demise of Button with a deteriorating gearbox and ultimately gearbox failure on lap 24 deprived the team of a good chance for more points.
"I lost second gear early on in the race," said Jenson. "Then first, sixth and seventh disappeared in quick succession. It is a shame because we could have easily achieved a points finish today."
The problem for BAR-Honda was that Jaguar got points as well thanks to the efforts of Mark Webber.
"I made a good start and I was up with Gene at the first corner when I had a big moment and realized that I had not turned the traction-control back on after the start. It was my fault. I sorted myself out and to have been able to salvage two points from what was a very tough weekend is a big, big result, especially in the light of Villeneuve's sixth place. We had to compromise on straightline speed to look after the tires."
For much of the race Webber was behind Frentzen but in the closing laps HH went out with a transmission failure. This promoted Webber and Heidfeld into the points but in the closing laps Nick came under pressure from Alonso, after losing time behind Baumgartner. On the last lap the Sauber driver pulled over to let Gene lap him and Alonso took advantage of the situation and nipped through to take the last point after a strong race with a one-stop strategy after his crash-repair visit.
For Sauber a good opportunity had been wasted.
It was a similar story for Toyota.
Panis was sixth at the end of the first lap but then was overtaken by Gene on lap two. He stopped early and took on a lot of fuel for the second stint which dropped him behind Villeneuve during the middle part of the race. Soon after his second stop the brake pedal went to the floor and Olivier had to retire. Cristiano da Matta's race had ended on the fourth lap when he suffered a left rear puncture at the Parabolica, having presumably run over something on the start-finish straight. The failure tossed him into a spin which ended in the sand trap.
"A missed opportunity," he said.
Down at the back the Jordan team had a dull afternoon.
Fisichella had an electronic problem at the start of the formation lap and so was going to have to start from the back. The team changed the strategy and so he went into the pits refuelled and set off for a long heavy first stint. He drove as hard as he could and 10th was no great reward. Baumgartner finished 11th and came in for quite a lot of stick from others over his use of mirrors.
"I think I did a good job," he said.
Minardi's efforts were dulled by the crash at the start which dumped Verstappen to the back. He stayed there until a split oil radiator made life too dangerous even for the Dutchman.
"There was smoke and oil was getting on to the rear tires and it was just too dangerous," he said. "For me and for the other drivers."
Nicolas Kiesa had no real dramas and made quite a good start but he gradually fell back and ended the race in 12th place two laps behind.
The checkered flag came out. And it was time for tea...