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#709 2003 German Grand Prix

2023-01-12 23:00

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#2003, Fulvio Conti,

#709 2003 German Grand Prix

One year ago Michael Schumacher was celebrating. At Hockenheim he had arrived as World Champion, acclaimed by his public, crowned by Formula 1, entere

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One year ago Michael Schumacher was celebrating. At Hockenheim he had arrived as World Champion, acclaimed by his public, crowned by Formula 1, entered in the Guinness Book of All Records. Something has changed since then. The leader is still him, but on Sunday 3 August 2003 he will have to defend a trifle seven points lead over Kimi Raikkonen. 

 

"It is the general opinion that this track is not particularly suited to Ferrari,' admits Schumi. We will try to prove otherwise". 

 

Tuesday 29 July 2003, at Fiorano, Luca Badoer tests the three F2003-GAs that Ferrari will have at its disposal from Friday's pre-qualifying sessions. The German Grand Prix is the twelfth of the sixteen rounds of the season, crucial to understand the state of form of the protagonists. With testing banned until September, work is being done on the data collected in the first half of July. The Williams-Bmw dominated for three races, at Silverstone a super Ferrari was seen again. The McLaren-Mercedes are suffering, but it is still Kimi Raikkonen in second place, while Juan Pablo Montoya follows with a 14-point delay and Ralf Schumacher with 16 points. Many are racing at home: in addition to the Schumacher brothers, Sauber-Petronas drivers Nick Heidfeld and Heinz-Harald Frentzen, then BMW and Mercedes. What's new: Justin Wilson will replace Antonio Pizzonia at the wheel of the Jaguar and in his place in the Minardi will debut the Dane Nicolas Kiesa. The tyre question is always topical: in England Bridgestone is back in the lead, now Michelin's reaction is expected. For a year now Hockenheim is no longer the temple of speed and the constructors are turning to medium-soft compounds. Die Michael Schumacher:

 

"Last year I arrived in Germany with the feeling that I could really celebrate the title with my fans. I was very confident, which is rare for us at Hockenheim. The victory came after years of trying with Ferrari and on the podium I felt like the happiest man in the world. This year's race is going to be much tougher, we realise that, but it is not an impossible task: we have made considerable progress and feel well prepared. We expect a very close race". 

 

As usual, despite his lack of racing commitments, the driver from Kerpen did not rest in the last few days. During the weekend he had fun with his new Ferrari, the Enzo, and other racing cars. 

 

"My wife Corinna, Jean Todt, his son and I went to a mutual friend's birthday party, where we found a race track and two small go-kart tracks. It was great fun. Corinna also won a race". 

 

On Wednesday, 30 July 2003, in Mannheim, Cari Benz Stadium, the match of the heart is scheduled. 

 

"I care a lot about this match because the entire proceeds will go to Unesco. The match of the heart has been my prelude to Hockenheim for years". 

 

Precisely on Wednesday 30 July 2003, with this full-page headline, the Bild - a few days before the German Grand Prix - returned to the episode of the Irishman who had held everyone in suspense at Silverstone after he had run onto the track against the grain a few metres from the Formula 1 racing cars:

 

"Alarm at Hockenheim, who protects Schumacher from these madmen?"

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Next to the photo of the mad Irishman, the newspaper places the one of the German Grand Prix on Sunday 30 July 2000, also at Hockenheim, when an exalted Frenchman entered the race track in the middle of the race covered entirely by a white sheet. The man, recalls the Bild, wanted to protest against his dismissal from Mercedes. 

 

"The idiotic demonstration had narrowly missed costing the Frenchman his life. The cars were in fact racing past him at 340 km/k".

 

Bild writes. Michael Schumacher reads. and does not react. The German is too engrossed in this race that sees him as the favourite after all he is racing at home - but which could also benefit his rivals who are chasing him, he who this time arrives at Hockenheim with only 7 points ahead of Kimi Raikkonen, while last year he was able to celebrate the title here. What are his feelings on the eve of the German Grand Prix? 

 

"It is clear, I am looking forward to racing. The fact that I don't arrive at Hockenheim already World Champion doesn't change anything. Last year was an exception, I always knew that. This time I have a seven-point margin: that's fine. Let's expect an exciting race". 

 

Was Rubens Barrichello's victory at Silverstone proof that Ferrari once again has a slight advantage in the title race and that the two Bmw-Williams one-two wins at the Nurburgring and Magny-Cours were a parenthesis? 

 

"No, it was a demonstration that this year there is a very close fight between the three top teams and that some circuits favour one team for certain characteristics and others are better for another. This year the balance of power is much more linked to the specificity of the tracks. It has become much more difficult to make predictions, especially for those races that take place on circuits where there is no private practice. However, Silverstone has shown that we have overcome our brief moment of difficulty and that we are once again in full fight for the title". 

 

After Ralf Schumacher's two wins, many have again spoken of a fratricidal duel. Given your 16-point gap, do you think your brother still has a real chance of winning the title? 

 

"I would say that the Silverstone race was proof of how quickly things can change in Formula 1. On the eve of the race they were saying Ralf was one of the title aspirants, now they are already saying he is out of the running. If things have changed so quickly in one direction, they can do the same in the other direction. There are still five Grands Prix to go: a lot can still happen".

 

In November last year the Jaguar people had called him. Niki Lauda, before falling from grace, had told him to get ready to breathe Formula 1 air. He, Gianmaria Bruni, known as Gimmi, a twenty-two-year-old Roman, son of Filippo, Francesco De Gregori's historic manager, did not breathe a word. Neither in front of those heart-stopping promises nor, later, when the management of the English racing team controlled by Ford changed, and the smile turned to disappointment. In his heart he knew he deserved it, a world championship chance, and he held on. Just like his idol. Lance Armstrong, one who knows how to extract gold from difficulties, who knows how to wait for the right moment to place the decisive sprint. At the end of the day, it's better that way. It is more beautiful, more romantic if you prefer, that Bruni makes his debut in Formula 1 - which will take place on Friday 1 August 2003, as third driver and tester of the European Minardi, at Hockenheim, for now only in the free practice of the Grand Prix - resting his back on a seat that has a foreign owner - the Australian Paul Stoddart - but the hyper-dimensioned and very Italian heart of Giancarlo Minardi.

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Many Italians have passed through the nursery of the manager from Faenza since 1985: from Pierluigi Martini to Giancarlo Fisichella, from Luca Badoer to Alessandro Nannini, from Michele Alboreto to Gianni Morbidelli and Jarno Trulli. Not to mention foreign adoptions: the latest, those of Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber. For some time Minardi had had its eye on the talented Italian, who currently races in the Euro Tremila Series - where he won the first two races - one of the antechambers of Formula 1, but who has made his way up through the ranks by winning the European Formula Renault and impressing in the English Formula 3, the classic high school of racing. Battling, and often winning, with that very Antonio Pizzonia whose dismissal, by - as chance would have it - Jaguar, triggered the carambole that brought Bruni into Formula 1. 

 

"Driving in Formula 1 was my dream since childhood. Ever since I was ten years old, I raced karts and admired Ayrton Senna. My father also gave Fisichella a hand when he made his Formula 1 debut, and I remember well going to watch Giancarlo's tests, imagining what I would have done in his place".

 

Giancarlo Fisichella also lived at the Bruni house for a while, sharing a room with little Gianmaria, and legend has it that when the 20-year-old Giancarlo came home late at night, it was little Gimmi who reassured him: 

 

"Yes, Giancarlo, in Formula 1 you will get there. But turn off the light now, it's late". 

 

A controlled guy, Gimmi, but ambitious, who among other things likes to take care of his physical preparation to perfection and when he can he enjoys jet skis. For the time being he will be alongside the other Italian Matteo Bobbi, the Minardi tester who also races in the FIA Gt with Ferrari with a good chance of final victory. The goals, however, are others: 

 

"Like for all Italians, the forbidden dream is Ferrari, but now I look at the present. In today's Formula 1 the important thing is to be fast, but also to be able to give good indications to the technicians, to help the development of the car. That's what I will be doing before the German Grand Prix, regardless of time but testing solutions that will then be used in the race by Verstappen. I'm counting on working well this year to win an official driver's seat soon". 

 

Soon that means in 2004. Bruni knows he has the right numbers, and the group of Italian entrepreneurs who are aiming, apparently with Bernie Ecclestone's blessing, to replace Stoddart in the management of the team, also believe in his talents. The consortium, to listen to radio-paddock, would even be two: one from the Veneto-Friuli region, the other, it is rumoured, inspired by Roberto Colaninno. For now Gianmaria has only tasted the single-seater for a handful of laps, on Ferrari's home circuit at Fiorano. 

 

"I didn't find it difficult. In fact, it was less difficult to drive than my Lola in the Euro Three Thousand. Of course, though, you have to get used to the speed, and especially the very complicated software that is used in Formula 1". 

 

The public, meanwhile, will get used to seeing a little more of Italy inside the cockpits of Formula 1, spying on the other young talents hoping to imitate Gianmaria Bruni, from Giorgio Pantano to Vitantonio Liuzzi and Enrico Toccacelo. Giancarlo Minardi works for the Fatherland: 

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"Gianmaria now has to commit himself and work well. Of course it would be nice, one day, to be able to field Bruni and Bobbi together in the Minardi in the World Championship". 

 

Speaking, however, of the World Championship, the chemistry is perfect between the top five in Formula 1: 

 

"We will play for the World Championship at Suzuka, Japan, in the last Grand Prix of the season". 

 

On the track they face each other without sparing any energy, in front of notebooks and cameras they are a freeze-dried FairPlay. Who is most likely to succeed? 

 

"No one, I take one race at a time, it will be tough, the championship is very close and balanced". 

 

They all answer this way, the various Schumacher (Michael and Ralf), Montoya and Barrichello. Is it possible that the latter has the same chance as his team-mate who is twenty points ahead of him? No one is taking a chance, if only as a matter of superstition. Michael Schumacher ventures a ranking of the most insidious opponents: 

 

"The Williams have been strong in the last few races, but Raikkonen's McLaren is closer".

 

Overall, obvious. Less obvious when he adds that Ralf Schumacher is faster than his team-mate and Williams-Bmw faster than McLaren-Mercedes. And he even becomes venomous when he talks about Villeneuve: he is told that - according to market rumours - the Canadian driver would go to Ferrari. The German driver classifies the indiscretion as nonsense and adds a joke: 

 

"I think Ferrari's goal is to improve". 

 

No rival's repliea. It is said that Hockenheim is not a track suitable for Ferrari, which also won last year and in 2000, when Rubens Barrichello won the first success of his career and Formula 1 experienced the first track invasion on live television. 

 

"If I had to talk about it after the French Grand Prix, I would have confirmed that it is a difficult race for us here in Germany. Now I am optimistic. Compared to Magny-Cours we have made important progress: the aerodynamics have improved, the engine is more powerful, the tyres offer more grip". 

 

The triumph at Silverstone invigorated the good Rubens Barrichello. 

 

"I watched the footage three times, my father I think got to ten. It was lucky to come back to Brazil after such a day and to see those who usually speak ill of me forced to say all the good they could". 

 

The Brazilian driver says that his son Eduardo, just 22 months old, was also enthusiastic. 

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"He told me parabens, which means congratulations".

 

Will he be a pilot when he grows up? 

 

"I don't know. I'd certainly hate it if he didn't even once ask me for a lap around the track".

 

The little one already drives, reports his father. He has an electric model of the Ferrari Enzo, a gift from President Montezemolo. 

 

"For now he can only swerve to the left, but he will improve". 

 

Meanwhile, in the drivers' market, Giancarlo Fisichella's position is finally moving. Intrigued by the slowness of Jordan, the Italian driver dreams of a top team. The chink could even open at Williams-Bmw: Juan Montoya has signed with McLaren from 2005 and negotiations are open to bring forward the transfer to next year. The chances are good, because it is difficult for a team to retain a driver who has made a deal with the competition. Montoya would replace Coulthard, leaving his Williams seat vacant. Alternatively, Fisichella would end up at Sauber, while Jordan (which will almost certainly mount Mercedes engines in 2004) would bet on Heidfeld and Wurz. The position of the other Italian driver in the Renault seat is stable: Jarno Trulli will continue to team up with Fernando Alonso. Friday 1 August 2003 sees the start of practice for the German Grand Prix, and the topic of debate is the second gap between Rubens Barrichello and Michael Schumacher. Ferrari have never failed pre-qualifying, with the exception of Magny-Cours where it was the alternating rain and sun that decided the classification. 

 

"The Bridgestone tyres have a consistent performance, but lack single lap performance".

 

Is it serious? 

 

"It depends. We still have to improve the set-up. Pole position is difficult to achieve, but victory is within our reach". 

 

Opponents permitting. The ease with which the Williams-Bmw cars get ahead of everyone leaves little room for fantasy. Ralf Schumacher is very fast: 

 

"I am not thinking about the World Championship. The objectives are pole and victory here in Germany. My brother? I was surprised by his delay". 

 

Juan Pablo Montoya follows his teammate, and says: 

 

"Our tyres also last".

 

Behind them came, in order, Jarno Trulli (Renault), Mark Webber (Jaguar), Fernando Alonso (Renault), Kimi Raikkonen (McLaren-Mercedes), Justin Wilson (Jaguar). All on Michelin tyres, all faster than the Ferraris (P8 and P9 for Barrichello and Schumacher). Rubens Barrichello's watchword is to forget Silverstone. 

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"Let's not talk about Black Friday because nobody died. We have to improve the set-up and try to qualify not too far behind. Overtaking? In England they were difficult, yet it went well".

 

Reasonable targets are a fourth and fifth place on the grid and a podium at the end of the race. Free practice on Saturday morning will be decisive for finding the best set-up for qualifying and the race. Michael Schumacher reached the highest speed, 321 km/h, but complained of grip problems especially at Turn 8. Both drivers had warned on the eve of the race that the circuit of Hockenheim is not ideal for the characteristics of the F2003-GA (and neither is that of Budapest, where it will be raced on Sunday 24 August 2003). And the points to defend are few. Michael Schumacher does not have a precise diagnosis, and if he does he keeps it to himself. He reports that he has not made any serious mistakes, that he has found the track dirty, that he can improve the set up, that he remains optimistic because in the morning free practice with a full tank of petrol the behaviour of the car was positive. 

 

"Our opponents are strong on the single lap". 

 

And it is reminiscent of the Monaco weekend, when track conditions changed from pre-qualifying to the race, but to the advantage of the rivals. For Ferrari, in short, the important thing is not to take a beating in the last two unfavourable races, because at Monza, Indianapolis and Suzuka it traditionally boasts a good advantage. Between the rivals there will be the engine derby: BMW is ahead, Mercedes is paying for the lack of a good second driver, because David Coulthard, eleventh, is struggling to keep up with the Finn. And it is precisely this difference in performance that gives rise to a controversy. Michael Schumacher noted that a fortnight ago at Silverstone it was Coulthard who gave way to Raikkonen. 

 

"I do not intend to go into the subject of team orders (which are forbidden from this season, ed). What bothers me is the difference in treatment in the media. If the same thing had happened to us, who knows how much criticism would have rained down on us". 

 

Third wheel is Renault. Bad luck permitting, Jarno Trulli promises: 

 

"We can play it with Ferrari". 

 

The French team provided him with a new engine, which had broken down in free practice. Fernando Alonso, on the other hand, has so far used the old one and may decide to keep it in order not to risk retirement. Bad news finally for Giancarlo Fisichella, in P17: only Jos Verstappen did worse than him, while Jacques Villeneuve (spin) and Nicolas Kiesa (failure) were unable to complete their laps. Justin Wilson had so far stood out for two firsts: he is the tallest driver in Formula 1 (192 centimetres) and the only one who finances himself by selling shares in himself (he raised $1.800.000). Otherwise, his first season in Formula 1 at the wheel of the Minardi was punctuated by last places and retirements. But a driver's destiny changes quickly. The English driver replaced Antonio Pizzonia at Jaguar and his story changed: in pre-qualifying he set the seventh fastest time ahead of the Ferraris of Rubens Barrichello and Michael Schumacher. English, 25 years old on Thursday, Wilson had no size problems because the Jaguars are oversize, having to accommodate Mark Webber's 185 centimetres. 

 

"I spent the day learning new things, I have to believe more in the possibilities of my new single-seater". 

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For Nicolas Kiesa, a Dane and Wilson's contemporary, the debut in Formula 1 was one to forget: his Minardi stopped after not even one lap. 

 

"The anti-stall programme inserted itself and I didn't know how to unlock it". 

 

Williams-Bmw and again Williams-Bmw. Changing the order of the drivers, the product does not change: on Saturday 2 August 2003 Juan Pablo Montoya is in front, Ralf Schumacher chases by just 0.018 seconds. For the Colombian it is the first pole of the year and the eleventh of his career, as well as the third front row of the season alongside his teammate. Signs of redemption in Ferrari again come from Rubens Barrichello (third), while Michael Schumacher appears annoyed with his sixth time and worried by his rivals. Are the two Williams drivers unreachable? 

 

"Ross Brawn maintains that we still have hopes of victory". 

 

The stopwatch says Williams, but the outcome is not so obvious.

 

"I can become the referee of the World Championship".

 

He assures Jarno Trulli, who is on the grid alongside Rubens Barrichello. 

 

"Let me explain: if the Williams start at the front, nobody catches up with them. If I can overtake them, I will set the pace. Raikkonen and Schumacher will thank me".

 

The Italian driver counts on the excellent electronic starting system developed by Renault. 

 

"Barrichello should also shoot well because he has a light car. The gap to Schumacher can only be explained in this way: Rubens has less petrol". 

 

It is racing in Germany, yet it feels like Malaysia: 32 °C the air, 48 °C the asphalt. The tyres melt, the engines warm up, the drivers sweat an average of a couple of litres per hour. Sunday is to be repeated, according to the weather forecast. Not a cloud has been seen in the Hockenheim sky for weeks. Who is favoured by the high temperatures? First of all Michelin. The equation is not so obvious, but so far the hot circuits have helped the teams with French tyres, i.e. all of Ferrari's rivals: Williams, McLaren and Renault, as well as Jaguar and Toyota. At a distance something could change. The Maranello team engineers believe that the Bridgestones fitted by the F2003-GA perform consistently. They don't shine on a single lap, then redeem themselves. Let's move on to the engines. As well as having reached 900bhp, Ferrari's V10s have record reliability: zero failures in 2003. Bmw and Mercedes are more fragile and the extreme conditions suggest to the engineers to limit the maximum engine speed. Last year's experience helps to understand: nine arrived at the finish line (and the temperature was milder). As for the human factor, Michael Schumacher's physique is the best trained, while Kimi Raikkonen's is the most refractory to the scorching heat for obvious genetic reasons. At the time of the challenge with Mika Hakkinen, the German Ferrari driver was able to prevail a few times precisely because of his endurance, which allows him to keep his wits about him until the last kilometre. 

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"Of course it's tough this time because I start very far behind. I'm not surprised by the Williams' performance, but it was worse for me than I expected. We'll try to make the most of our chances and I'm sure we will. Pressure on me? There is as there always is. It's our opponents who have to worry, as I continue to be at the top of the World Championship standings. In the end I feel sorry for my brother Ralf, who missed out on pole by just a few thousandths".

 

Michael Schumacher confesses that he chose different tyres from Barrichello. 

 

"He is happy with his choices, I with mine. We'll see. Our strong point is consistency of performance". 

 

Does this mean that, in the distance, Bridgestones will perform better than Michelin? 

 

"I hope so, but I cannot be sure".

 

Meanwhile, however, something has changed in the head (or foot) of Rubens Barrichello. The Silverstone show did not remain an isolated case: regardless of the petrol load in the tank, at the end of practice Michael Schumacher was 0.4 seconds behind. Some speculate a team strategy allowing the Brazilian driver to get a better start and then slow down Kimi Raikkonen. But the Brazilian driver rejects this hypothesis:

 

"I am surprised. The other day you asked me if I still hope to win the World Championship and I said yes. Now you ask me if I will race to stop Raikkonen? I work for the team, but I didn't run qualifying to be in front of Kimi. I wanted to be in front of everyone". 

 

So what was missing to get pole position? 

 

"The Williams are going really strong. I had a good lap and I have no mistakes to reproach myself".

 

Does third place all in all satisfy Barichello? 

 

"That was our goal. In the morning free practice we lapped at a high pace for a long time, which was a good sign".

 

Odds of victory? 

 

"Good. Here at Hockenheim the fastest driver will not win, but the one who can keep a strong pace for a long time. You have to keep the car alive from start to finish and avoid overheating the brakes, tyres and engine".

 

Does the 0.4 second lead over Michael Schumacher depend on a particular strategy? 

 

"No. I certainly don't want to ruin the race to gain a couple of positions on Saturday. I chose petrol and tyres with the Grand Prix in mind, looking for the best possible compromise".

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A year ago at Zeltweg he gave way to Michael. This year, when the championship is in the balance, could the same thing happen again? 

 

"I hope not. Nobody told me about it. Ferrari has the ingredients to build two winning cars. It would be nice if we won once each. Ideally, the success would go to the strongest driver, because I think you enjoy it more by actually winning".

 

Is it a decisive race? 

 

"The ten points of first place are not as important as they used to be, but not winning even one would cost dearly. The championship is still very long. In fact, in my opinion, it hasn't even started yet". 

 

Remember Hockenheim 2000? A madman on the track, the rain, the first triumph of his career. 

 

"Yes, I remember. I brought another lunatic with me. I'll pick him up in prison after the race".

 

Meanwhile, the divorce between Juan Pablo Montoya and Williams receives new confirmation. Also according to the German newspaper Bild, the Colombian driver has already reached an agreement with McLaren as of 2005. Frank Williams neither confirms nor denies this: 

 

"We believe that Juan Pablo will be on the market after 2004. Until that date he is under contract with us. I don't care to comment on market rumours". 

 

However, the owner of the Anglo-German team denies an early break-up: 

 

"Juan Pablo will be with us again next year. There is no chance that he will leave early". 

 

Jacques Villeneuve's future at BAR-Honda is also tied by a thread. At Hockenheim the team manager, David Richards, issues him an ultimatum: 

 

"He still has five races to prove to me that he deserves a contract renewal. I have guaranteed him that he will have 100 per cent support from the team and Honda, but if he does not succeed, for me he can go wherever he wants".

 

Richards blames the Canadian World Champion for not being a true leader, despite being talented, and for not being able to take charge of the team in recent years: 

 

"He earns 22.000.000 euros gross per season: I offered to spread his contract over two seasons, promising him that I would invest the money saved in the development of the single-seater. He did not accept. Now you can't expect me to waste time on him". 

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On Sunday 3 August 2003, at the start of the German Grand Prix Juan Pablo Montoya makes a good start from pole position, holding the lead. Behind him, however, neither Ralf Schumacher nor Rubens Barrichello are the authors of a good start: the two are passed by Jarno Trulli, who enters in second position, while Kimi Räikkönen flanks the Brazilian Ferrari driver on the outside. Ralf Schumacher, in an attempt to defend his position, crosses the entire track, squeezing Rubens Barrichello between his own car and that of Kimi Räikkönen. The Brazilian, left without room, touches the German's Williams-Bmw, spinning out and hitting Kimi Räikkönen's car, who loses control of his McLaren-Mercedes and slams violently into the barriers. Rubens Barrichello is immediately forced to retire, while Ralf Schumacher, although managing to reach the pits, abandons the race due to damage to his car. The carambola in the first positions causes havoc and several collisions in the group: the one who is damaged by this situation is Heinz-Harald Frentzen, who is violently crashed into by Ralph Firman. Both are forced to retire, while Justin Wilson, who has in turn hit the Irishman's Jordan-Cosworth, returns to the pits to repair his Jaguar. To allow the marshals to clean the track the race officials decided to bring in the safety car, behind which lined up Juan Pablo Montoya, Jarno Trulli, Fernando Alonso, Michael Schumacher, Mark Webber, David Coulthard, Olivier Panis and Cristiano Da Matta. The race restarted at the end of lap four: Montoya managed to build up a good lead over his pursuers, while David Coulthard took fifth place from Mark Webber after a heated duel. Virtually nothing happens until the first series of pit stops, opened by Jarno Trulli on lap 15. Olivier Panis also refuelled on lap 15, while Michael Schumacher, Juan Pablo Montoya and Cristiano Da Matta pitted on lap 17. One lap later David Coulthard is the last of the leading drivers to refuel. After the first series of stops Juan Pablo Montoya begins to gain a very substantial margin over Jarno Trulli, even pulling away from his rival by almost two seconds per lap: the Colombian, in fact, has loaded up less petrol than the other drivers, having started with a three-stop strategy, like the Toyota drivers.

 

 The Italian Renault driver kept Fernando Alonso, Michael Schumacher and David Coulthard behind him, all quite close to each other but unable to overtake. The situation remained unchanged until lap 30, when thanks to a mistake by Fernando Alonso, Michael Schumacher gained third position. The first driver to come into the pits, on lap 32, is Juan Pablo Montoya, whose advantage over his pursuers is so large that he is back on track in first position. He was followed by the two Toyota drivers, who remained in sixth and seventh, while Michael Schumacher and Jarno Trulli pitted at the same time on lap 38, with the Ferrari driver remaining behind his rival. A lap later Fernando Alonso also pits, and the last driver to pit is again David Coulthard, who overtakes the Spaniard to take fourth place. Juan Pablo Montoya continued to increase his margin over his rivals, while Michael Schumacher had to turn his attention to David Coulthard, who made up the gap to the German driver and began to trail him. Juan Pablo Montoya, Olivier Panis and Cristiano Da Matta make their last pit stops between laps 49 and 50, holding first, sixth and seventh position respectively. In the meantime Jarno Trulli began to suffer a drop in engine power: the Italian was joined by the two drivers following him, thus beginning a long duel with Michael Schumacher. After several attempts repulsed by his rival, on lap 58 the German got the better of Jarno Trulli, overtaking him with a decisive manoeuvre and taking advantage of the outside of the track. A lap later David Coulthard also overtook the Renault driver, moving into third place. On lap 63, however, Michael Schumacher's Ferrari suffered a puncture in the left rear tyre, possibly due to the off-track excursion made to overtake Jarno Trulli. The German driver manages to reach the pits, but slips to seventh place. Juan Pablo Montoya wins the German Grand Prix and takes his second win of the season, crossing the line over a minute ahead of David Coulthard and Jarno Trulli, who returns to the podium for the first time since the 1999 European Grand Prix. Fernando Alonso finished fourth, followed by Olivier Panis, Cristiano Da Matta, Michael Schumacher and Jenson Button. 

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The most impressive data to emerge from the German Grand Prix, beyond the result and the episodes that have at least partly conditioned it, is chronometric. The Williams-Bmw of Juan Pablo Montoya inflicted a 1'05"459 gap on the second placed driver, namely David Coulthard in the McLaren-Mercedes. And the Colombian, who also made three pit stops, one more than his direct rivals, inflicted over a second a lap gap on Michael Schumacher. Also faster than the German were Jarno Trulli, Olivier Panis, David Coulthard, Cristiano Da Matta and Fernando Alonso. A growth, that of the Anglo-German team, which is frightening: from the mediocre placings of the first part of the season, to the extraordinary growth that led One to dominate the race, without ever being disturbed at all by those chasing him. In the final Juan Pablo Montoya even slowed down, perhaps he could have lapped everyone. The tyres and the heat certainly played a role, but there was no history, so much so that the winner was able to collect a hat-trick, i.e. conquer pole position, fastest lap in the race and overall success. Ferrari immediately lost Rubens Barrichello (just as Williams-Bmw had to do without Ralf Schumacher and McLaren-Mercedes could not exploit the great potential of Kimi Raikkonen). Michael Schumacher would have been able, albeit overcoming many difficulties, to achieve a very positive second place in terms of points, but there was also the bad luck that struck him in the final laps with a puncture that relegated him to seventh place. In the light of the facts it became clear what the World Champion's real current problem is. It is the new regulations. For the German, a driver who never leaves anything to chance, who takes care of even the smallest detail, having to prepare a car on Saturday that is good for lap qualifying and for the race does not work. 

 

It's a matter of looking for compromise set-up solutions, which certainly don't suit the driving style of the German, who until last year was changing set-ups a lot, mechanically and aerodynamically, between qualifying and the race. Now instead he is forced to put on a good face. Perhaps the F2003-GA, which is probably more sensitive than the F2002 and therefore needs sophisticated and accurate set-up every time, must also be included in the problem. The sporting regulations introduced since the start of the season have also had another effect on Michael Schumacher. This was clearly seen. Since the points are distributed differently than in the past, it is important to always arrive at the finish line and not to risk too much. With the advantage Michael had on the eve of this race it was important not to make any missteps. So some caution in qualifying with the choice of tyres, some hesitation in overtaking. Also because if you don't have the car to help you everything becomes more difficult. With a F2003-GA that was competitive at Silverstone, Rubens Barrichello had put on a show. Now there are four races to go in the World Championship. And until the eve of the Italian Grand Prix there will be no testing in August. But the first race will take place in Hungary in a fortnight' time. For the race in Budapest, Williams announces other technical innovations, some important ones, Ferrari will not stand idly by, but will have to look for new solutions to recover competitiveness. It will have to try to improve the starts (and here the tyres are involved again, as well as the electronic systems...) and at least find the front row in qualifying. When you start from the grid behind your rivals everything becomes more complicated. In Brazil it was worse: Rubens Barrichello out of petrol, Michael Schumacher against a barrier. But it was only the third Grand Prix of the season and there was time to make up for it. Now there are six points to defend and an opponent flying. The air is tense, technical director Ross Brawn calls for a group and a reaction. Barrichello has the conscience of someone who could have stood up for himself:

 

"If I hadn't been taken away immediately I would have been suspended". 

 

The race officials listened to his account of the accident and took it out on Ralf Schumacher, who was punished with a ten-place relegation on the grid in Hungary. 

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"Useless to ascertain now whose fault it is. We all lost out. I only know that I had nothing to do with it. I am humble, if I make a mistake I admit it. I have nothing to reproach myself for; I held the steering wheel straight and braked, what more could I do? I also saw myself in the footage: after the impact the car continued in the same direction". 

 

It is safe, Barrichello: 

 

"I was able to keep Montoya's pace. Williams likes the heat, that's why they were going fast. But I also had great tyres. In the distance it would have been a good duel. Unfortunately we'll never know how it would have turned out".

 

The World Championship stops for three weeks, he will take the opportunity for a holiday in Brazil with the emotions of Silverstone still in his heart and the conviction that this championship will be decided by the tyres. Other thoughts will agitate the mind of Michael Schumacher, who was about to reach the goal of the day, the second place. 

 

"Things that happen". 

 

Of course when it happens with four laps to go and you're fighting for the title it must bother you a lot. However, the German appears to be struggling with the set-up of the F2003-GA. The new regulations impose compromises between qualifying and the race that he, a perfectionist by nature, sometimes struggles to resolve. What did he think when he saw in the mirrors that the tyre was flat? 

 

"A German word beginning with sch (and in Italian with mer, ed.). One must resign oneself to it". 

 

Otherwise it would have been an almost perfect race? 

 

"I was held back a little by the two Renaults, but objectively I was not able to keep up with Montoya. Second place was the best possible result. All in all, the car and tyres worked".

 

Was it so difficult to pass Alonso and Trulli? 

 

"Yes, they were quite fast. Overtaking is difficult between two cars with similar performance. Then their tyres gave out, while ours held, so I was able to attack".

 

How do you drive with a flat tyre? 

 

"Very calmly and carefully, praying that nothing would break. Unfortunately I was a long way from the pits and lost over a minute". 

 

Will it be tough in Hungary too? 

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"We don't hope so, but we have to be realistic; in certain conditions, especially with very high temperatures, our tyres struggle and it is usually hot in Budapest. Then there will be three fast circuits, like Canada, where I think we will do well".

 

What did you make of the incident? 

 

"I didn't see it well because I was covered by Da Matta's Toyota and Alonso's Renault. At first I thought only Rubens and Kimi had gone out, then I realised there was only one Williams on the track and I wondered what had happened to my brother". 

 

Does the puncture have anything to do with overtaking? 

 

"It takes time to know. The same thing happened to me on Saturday during free practice. It's unusual: at Michelin it had already happened, not to us". 

 

Is it exaggerated to speak of a Ferrari crisis? 

 

"The diagnosis is not so simple. You cannot speak of absolute winners or losers. Ferrari won at Silverstone and we are still leading the World Championship". 

 

Doing the maths, you've only lost one point in the standings: you had a seven point lead over Raikkonen, now you have a six point lead over Montoya. Who do you fear most? 

 

"I fear Montoya more, because I have long maintained that Williams is a bit faster than McLaren. It's true that Raikkonen has also been unlucky, but in bad luck he can't complain too much, given what happened to me. The championship is wide open and the challenge is getting tougher and tougher". 

 

Will the defeat at Hockenheim make you lose sleep? 

 

"No, otherwise I wouldn't be here. Certain episodes are part of racing. They just happen".

 

As mentioned, Ralf Schumacher was found guilty of an avoidable accident at the start of the German Grand Prix. The stewards, after reviewing the pictures of the accident and listening to the drivers involved, decided to penalise Ralf Schumacher. He will lose ten places on the starting grid of the next World Championship race, the Hungarian Grand Prix scheduled for Sunday, 24 August 2003, in Budapest. Williams, who at first seemed inclined not to appeal, in extremis changes its mind. It decides, that is, to oppose it by lodging an appeal in the next seven days, through the MSA, the English sporting authority. The Grove-based team will be able to forward its reasoned complaint to the FIA, after which the international appeal tribunal will have to be convened in Paris. The last sensational case heard by the body was Ferrari's appeal against Irvine's disqualification in Malaysia in 1999. Plausibly the tribunal will have to meet before the Hungarian Grand Prix. If not, the race would take place sub judice, but without the application of the sanction against Ralf Schumacher (i.e. relegation by ten positions on the grid). In the meantime, Juan Pablo Montoya, who won the German Grand Prix, responding to questions regarding the possible World Championship victory, says:

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"The World Championship? I have already explained it, there are four races to go, it can go wrong for Michael or anyone else. Right now it's going well for me. I had a perfect car all weekend, except for lap 15: I accelerated and the engine didn't respond. I thought: no, another time. From the pits they advised me to keep pushing and it went well".

 

Juan Pablo, who was discovered by Frank Williams and launched in 2001, has only one goal: to beat Michael Schumacher. When? 

 

"We will see soon. In Hungary I can win. And if I am not able to win I will aim for second place".

 

At the end of the race, Jarno Trulli was forcibly pulled from the cockpit. Exhausted by the fever that had been tormenting him since Friday, tormented by the 34 °C temperature in Hockenheim, and committed to the bitter end by first Michael Schumacher and then David Coulthard, the Italian driver finished in third place, but at the finish line he arrived by a miracle. He had only enjoyed the party from the podium once before. It was Sunday, 26 September 1999: second with Prost in the European Grand Prix at the Nurburgring, so in Germany even then. Another combination: that was a difficult day for Ferrari, because at the pit stop the mechanics could not find Eddie Irvine's fourth tyre. To get him back on his feet, the Renault boys poured a small bottle of water into his overalls. He gets on the podium, then, completely dehydrated, ends up in the infirmary with a drip in his arm, then does not attend the press conference at the end of the race. 

 

"I was sick all weekend. I think it was a gust of air".

 

Destroyed but happy: 

 

"Keeping those two behind was tough. Our car has grown, it is still not up to the level of Ferrari and McLaren and yet we are starting to play for it. Third place? I was a bit lucky, but with everything that's happened to me this year I'm still owed some luck".

 

Helping to ward off bad luck was garlic suggested by Jean Alesi and given to him by Don Alfonso, chef of a well-known restaurant on the Sorrento coast. 

 

"I am not superstitious, but this is the second time this system has worked". 

 

With garlic on board, the French driver also reached the podium in Germany. The duel between Jarno Trulli and Michael Schumacher was one of the most exciting moments of the Hockenheim Grand Prix. And also one of the most talked about. The affair was archived by the race commissioners, but some controversy carried it with it. Who was at fault? Trulli has no doubt: 

 

"I didn't hold out too long, rather it was he who made an incorrect manoeuvre, because in order to pass me he ended up on the green zone of the escape route. We had decided before the race that you should not pass there. He did it". 

 

Flavio Briatore reiterates the point: 

 

"It ended well, but if Jarno had lost the podium because of that overtaking I would have appealed". 

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In fact, the race direction summoned the Italian driver, but in the guise of a suspected culprit, rather than a victim, for having widened the trajectory a little too much. The clarifications provided were nevertheless enough to close the affair. David Coulthard also redeemed himself after much criticism. His second place could be worth his reconfirmation in McLaren for 2004, put at risk by the possible arrival of Juan Pablo Montoya (the Colombian has been signed since 2005, but his arrival could be brought forward). 

 

"Speculation about my future? In the meantime I enjoy this second place. Tomo on the podium after the win in Australia. My problem this year is that I struggle to get good times in qualifying. In all the other sessions I do better. In the final I was close to Schumacher. I think he had tyre problems which then led to a puncture".

 

Ferrari loses but still leads the World Championship. The gap narrows but it is always the others who chase. Michael Schumacher had been penalised by the new points distribution system, now it is he who benefits. The two points conquered in Germany serve to keep Juan Pablo Montoya at a safe distance, the six-point advantage allows him to administer a season finale that promises to be terrible. Luca Montezemolo, speaking at the Monday briefing in Maranello (no holidays in August, the Hungarian Grand Prix looms), says: 

 

"We have to work with great determination in every area. We knew the season would be difficult, now we have to give it our all, we and our tyre suppliers. We will have to work together with a great spirit of cooperation". 

 

Jean Todt sees the glass as half full: 

 

"To be in the lead after twelve races is still nice". 

 

The head of Maranello's sporting management is delighted that the calendar includes sixteen races instead of seventeen, because responding to Williams' attacks is becoming increasingly difficult. Only one aspect of the revolution wanted by the FIA is penalising the World Champion: the ban on modifying the car after qualifying. Perfectionist and meticulous, Michael Schumacher is good at finding the best possible set-up. Now he is forced to make compromise choices: he has to decide whether to go faster on Saturday or Sunday. The answer is not so obvious, because having the right set-up for the race is of little use if you start on the third row. At Maranello they are already at work for the trip to Budapest. They are working in the laboratory. because track testing is forbidden until September, and you cannot think of revolutionary solutions in the next three weeks. Says Jean Todt:

 

"It is clear that in Budapest the car will be identical, except for small improvements, but the tyres and the track will be different. What we can do to improve we do, we have done and we will do".

 

On the other hand, there will be news on the F2003-GA for Monza (14 September 2003). In Hungary, Ferrari will race defensively. The same scorching temperatures that gave the Williams-Michelin package competitiveness at Hockenheim are expected. 

 

"Probability of victory in Budapest? We have to be realistic and hope that our opponents are not so strong again".

 

Admits Michael Schumacher at the end of the race. 

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"After Budapest come fast circuits where we should be the ones to go fast, like in Canada".

 

And Jean Todt adds:

 

"There is disappointment, of course. But it would be worse to be twenty points behind".

 

Bad luck took away from the German what it had given him at the start, after the accident between Rubens Barrichello, Ralf Schumacher and Kimi Raikkonen. The last three Grands Prix of the season (Italy, USA and Japan) will be on good tracks for the F2003-GA and Bridgestone tyres. 

 

"At Hockenheim, Montoya, the Bmw, Williams and Michelin were on another planet. I didn't expect such a big gap, but I don't know how Barrichello would have gone who had fitted a different tyre to Michael".

 

Did the choice of strategy (two pit stops for Schumacher, while Montoya opted for three stops) influence this? There is no counter-evidence for Barrichello, whereas for Schumacher, Todt points out:

 

"After the first 35 laps there was already more than twenty seconds difference. It's not just a tyre problem: we have always talked about the package". 

 

At Ferrari, optimism remains for this difficult end to the season as it was in 2000, when Mika Hakkinen came back but Michael Schumacher won by winning the last three races and becoming the first World Champion driver for Ferrari after twenty-one years. In conclusion, like the world in general and sport in particular, Formula 1 is going through a period of crisis, transformation and deep internal struggles. You can feel it in the air, you can sense it from many speeches, from the situation itself. Bernie Ecclestone, who has perfected the game by making it attractive at all levels, has so far benefited enormously. It is not for nothing that he has become one of the richest men in England and thus the globe, with capital valued at around 6.000.000 euros. But he evidently still wants to milk his cow. And so, the British manager sells 75 per cent of the company that manages the Grand Prix and everything around it to the former German tycoon Kirch. After the latter's bankruptcy, the banks took over. At the same time, the majority of the major car manufacturers involved in the World Championship are trying to reach an agreement to better distribute the proceeds from all the related activities: fees, television rights, advertising at the circuits, entry tickets, and the sale of Formula 1-related products. At the moment - as is well known - Slec (the company founded by Ecclestone), distributes only 47% of what it collects from television, more or less 400.000.000 Euro per year. Bmw, Ferrari, Ford, Mercedes and Renault are negotiating with the banks to find a solution for everyone, but the road seems long. Meanwhile the wily Bernie continues to hold all the power, divided, at least apparently, with the FIA, chaired by his former lawyer Max Mosley. The two Englishmen often seem to disagree, but theirs seems more like a game of sides. So much so that Ecclestone has paid the FIA a sum of more than $360.000.000 to set up a Foundation that has the right to manage the Formula 1 brand until the end of the century. It is unclear what this money is used for. The teams are suffering from the unbearable expenses they have to face (Minardi, Jordan and to some extent Sauber are in dire straits), the organisers are gripped by the throat with impossible demands: even 20.000.000 euros to have a Grand Prix, without being able to have other income from the annexes mentioned earlier. So ticket prices go up (410 euros at Hockenheim in the central grandstand) and people are forced to desert the races, with a drop in attendance this year averaging 30%. 

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In addition, there are threats to move elsewhere, to avoid restrictive tobacco advertising laws or because of debts weighing on the budgets of certain circuits no longer able to pay everything. Information about the possible reinstatement of the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa is recent, but it is also known that the races in Montreal, Silverstone, Imola, Magny-Cours and Budapest are at risk in the short or medium term. It's true: Bernie Ecclestone has found other locations: Bahrain (where the closest hotel to the new track is at least 100 kilometres away); Shanghai (the Minardi mechanics who went to the Chinese track for an exhibition were also robbed and often found themselves in unpleasant situations, also with regard to accommodation); a hypothetical circuit in Turkey; one in Russia. But still no certainties. It almost seems as if Ecclestone, if he were to walk away from the deal at the end of 2007, is inclined to have a nice empty box or, at any rate, a Formula 1 in complete chaos. Little, therefore, do market rumours count at the moment. After all, it seems that Juan Pablo Montoya will remain at Williams in 2004:

 

"I don't leave a winning team for money".

 

Says the Colombian who, by the way, is a big cheapskate, he is the only one who offers only 3% of the earnings to his manager, while Jacques Villeneuve negotiates to stay at BAR, also because he does not have many other chances. Jarno Trulli stays at Renault even if some Frenchmen would not like it, Rubens Barrichello stays at Ferrari as planned. However, there is talk of reducing salaries. Not for the technicians; Toyota reportedly offered $6.700.000 to designer Mike Gascoyne to wrest him from Renault.


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