Hungarian GP 2003
AUGUST 24, 2003
Hungarian GP, 2003
The Hungarian Grand Prix was just what Formula 1 needed. It was an entertaining race. Fernando Alonso was a new winner, the eighth this year, and it is 43 years since Bruce McLaren became the youngest ever Grand Prix winner with victory at the age of 22 years and 104 days. Now the record has come down to 22 years and 26 days. Renault has not won a race with its own car since 1983 and that has to be good to keep the suits in Paris happy. Alonso's victory gives the Spanish a reason to get excited about F1. It is a major market for the sport which has never been exploited and Alonso's success cannot do anyone any harm.
But perhaps the most important thing was that the event set up an amazing finish for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship. With three races to go there are three drivers covered by two points: Michael Schumacher has 72 points; Juan Pablo Montoya has 71 points and Kimi Raikkonen has 70 points. The Constructors' Championship is also finely balanced as Williams has 129 points to Ferrari's 121 and McLaren is still in touch as well...
You can say that Alonso did not have the fastest car and that he was lucky that the Williams-BMWs made such appalling starts; you can say that Mark Webber gave victory to Alonso on a plate by holding everyone up but none of that matters because it was Fernando who took the checkered flag. A win is a win and Alonso drove a brilliant and very mature race.
But don't make the mistake of thinking that this is going to happen on a regular basis...
When you look at the reams and reams of data that is available after a race these days, it is clear that the fastest cars were the Williams-BMWs. Alonso's Renault was half a second slower and even Kimi Raikkonen's McLaren was nearly three-tenths quicker than Alonso's Renault. The problem was that both Williams made terrible starts and then Raikkonen was held up along with all the other Alonso pursuers by Mark Webber. The Jaguar was fast enough to hold back the best of them because, changes or not, the Hungaroring is still a track where overtaking is very difficult.
"Obviously we are not fighting for races, for victories and for championships," said Alonso, "but the Renault car was fantastic here all weekend. We don't know why probably because the chassis was fantastic. The engine is maybe not very powerful but we have a very light engine, a very low center of gravity and for this type of corners it was fantastic."
And that just about said it all.
In the first 12 laps of the race Alonso built up a lead of 21 seconds. On the penultimate lap of the race his lead was 19.9 seconds.
"For the first two or three laps I had Mark Webber in the mirror," he said. "Then during the eighth or ninth lap I asked the team "Where are the others?" and they told me "15 seconds behind" and I thought "Oh my God, I am very fast now". Yeah, the first stint was very important for the result of the race and I pushed quite a lot but I did the race quite slowly after that."
The best moment for Alonso was probably a few laps from the finish when he came up and lapped not only Michael Schumacher also his own team mate Jarno Trulli. It does not get much better than that.
The fairytale was made possible by the impressive performance of Michelin tires. Up to now we have all been very polite about Michelin's current domination of F1 but it has now got to a point where questions need to be asked. It was hard for the Bridgestone people to find anything positive to say at the end of the Hungarian GP. The result was a press release which stressed that Michael Schumacher's one point was "vital" in the battle for the championship. It tended to gloss over the fact that Michelin cars finished in the top seven positions. If (and one is tempted to write when) Michael loses the World Championship the blame will almost certainly be laid at Bridgestone's door.
But Alonso's victory was as much to do with the state of the circuit as it was with the performance of the tires. The pole position in Hungary is on the racing line. Those who qualified on the right hand side of the road were at a huge disadvantage because the track was so dirty that they could not find any grip when the lights went out. Thus it was that the first four men to go into the first corner were those who qualified first, third, fifth and seventh on the grid. The man who arrived in fifth place was Jarno Trulli who was sixth on the grid and then came David Coulthard who had been ninth. The two big losers were the Williams-BMWs: Ralf went from second on the grid to somewhere in the midfield and Montoya went from fourth to eighth.
"Generally people on the right had a slower start than people on the left," said Juan later. "I did mention to Charlie (Whiting) yesterday that it was difficult because last year we had a warm up and people starting on the right would go there and clear it up a bit. This year you don't know where you are going to start until after qualifying and the next time you go through here is the start of the race. It was just horrendous and I think something is going to have to be done about that."
To make matters worse Ralf Schumacher then spun at Turn Two.
"He should have taken the 10 places on the grid penalty and saved himself $50,000," said the wags in the Press Office as Ralf set off with only Nicolas Kiesa behind him. He would spend the rest of the afternoon going through the field.
"It is easy to imagine how things could have gone if I'd had a better start," said Ralf.
"Well," said Patrick Head. "We made a solid recovery from a bad start but you don't win World Championships like this. We need to look at it."
But all that was in the future. The demise of the Williams challenge on the run down to the first corner, left the way open for Mark Webber to take second place.
"The first few laps were particularly difficult," said Mark. "The front tires grained as expected and Rubens was trying to pass me at the top chicane but he went straight on instead which was nice! I then tried to keep Kimi Raikkonen at bay and it was just a question of keeping up the pace. I pushed extremely hard and kept the qualifying laps rolling on one after another."
The car did not have the pace to mix it with the really fast guys and as the pit stops came and went so Mark slipped back. Raikkonen got him during the first pit stops, then the two Williams-BMW picked him off during the second stops or in the case of Ralf soon afterwards. At the third round of stops Webber fell victim to David Coulthard but he ended the day in sixth place which added three points to the Jaguar tally and dragged the team up to the same total as BAR. Justin Wilson did not make much of an impression after a poor start and retired with an engine problem after 43 laps.
Barrichello's early gaffe dropped him from third place to fifth as he was engulfed by both Raikkonen and Trulli. Rubens and Jarno then battled until the first stops but this made no difference and Rubens was still behind on lap 20 when his left rear suspension literally exploded as he braked for the first turn. It emerged later that the left rear top wishbone had broken and the forces involved tore the entire corner off the car. Rubens could not do much to slow the car not steer it and it speared off the track and head-on into the barriers. It was a big hit but fortunately Barrichello was unhurt, which he indicated by giving the thumbs up and getting out of the car unaided. As a result the Safety Car was not sent out although Rubens later said that he was not happy that he had not been given any medical attention.
With Rubens out Ferrari's hopes rested with Michael Schumacher and he was trolling around in sixth place, not really looking very threatening. Things were going so badly in fact that on lap 30 he was overtaken by Ralf Schumacher. Michael's second stint was designed to be much longer than those of his rivals and while it did mean he moved up to third place. He ran out of gas on lap 39 and crept into the pits losing a chunk of time as he did so.
In an effort to make up for lost time Michael did a very short stint and then came back in again. hoping to get clear road and so move back ahead of Coulthard.
It did not work and he ended the race stuck behind Trulli. He was lapped and collected only one point.
"All we can do now is work hard," he said.
The demise of the Ferrari challenge left Raikkonen and Coulthard as the men who were chasing Alonso but they had lost so much time in the early laps behind Webber that they faced an impossible task.
"I think I was about a second a lap quicker than Webber," he said. "But there was nothing I could do. Second place was the best we could do today. I am happy with that. Seventh to second is a good race."
Coulthard went for a two-stop strategy and it took him from ninth to fifth.
"The 70 laps were rather uneventful for me," he said. "I was just keeping the guys with less fuel behind me."
Trulli ended the day in seventh place, complaining that his tires lost grip at the beginning of each stint.
"The car was sliding all over the place," he said.
Of the rest there was little to report. Nick Heidfeld came home ninth and his Sauber team mate Heinz Harald Frentzen retired. Heidfeld felt that this confirmed the progress made with the car because it was better than the other direct rivals on Bridgestone tires.
"I think I did a good job," he said.
Frentzen did less well. He went for a two stop race and then failed to come in for fuel and retired when the tank ran dry.
"The team obviously instructed me to come into the pits but the radio did not work," explained HH. "When they indicated to me with the pitboard I was behind Kiesa and did not see it!"
Jenson Button came home in 10th place for BAR but it was nothing to get excited about. Button had a bad first lap but made up a few places early on but then the differential began to malfunction and it was a question of struggling home. Jacques Villeneuve was not as fortunate. He made a better start but then he ran into hydraulic problems which caused him to retire on lap 14.
Eleventh place went to Da Matta but that was not as classic result for a Michelin car. The Brazilian blotted his copybook at the start by stalling. He was pushed into the pitlane and the car was restarted but by the time that had been done he was way behind. He ended up with the fifth fastest lap of the race. Olivier Panis was running ninth when he suffered a gearbox failure.
The two Minardis were running at the finish in 12th and 13th places with no mechanical troubles and no major incidents but being three laps down at the end was an indication of the mountain that needs to be climbed.
Still, things are worse at Jordan with both cars going out with engine failure.
"Just when you think that things cannot get much worse they often do," said Gary Anderson.