#700 2003 Brazilian Grand Prix

2023-01-21 23:00

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#2003, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Livia Alegi,

#700 2003 Brazilian Grand Prix

Keep this up and you will soon lose your Schumacher. German newspaper Bild believes that the Ferrari driver did not like the Italian press’ criticism


Keep this up and you will soon lose your Schumacher. German newspaper Bild believes that the Ferrari driver did not like the Italian press’ criticism and is thinking about leaving the ungrateful Belpaese when his contract expires at the end of 2004. 


"These things hurt, especially after the three splendid world championships won with Ferrari".


This is what the German newspaper writes, referring to Italian headlines that read:


"Schumacher betrayed Ferrari".


Yet, the driver himself had admitted to his mistakes, both in Australia and Malaysia. Regarding the collision with Jarno Trulli, he had said: 


"I did a stupid thing".


And he had apologized to his colleague. It doesn’t matter: the incident proves that:


“When Schumacher wins, Italy accepts him; but woe if he loses, because then the Italians immediately attack him. If they keep doing that, they will soon lose him".


Pronounces the Bild, which traditionally defends the World Champion in difficult times. Willi Weber, the Schumacher brothers' manager, is quoted in support of this argument: 


"Michael has not instructed me to negotiate a contract extension with Ferrari yet. It is possible that he will hang up his helmet if he is no longer enjoying himself".


Weber makes no reference to the criticism, but repeats what his driver has already claimed during unsuspecting times. But Bild goes further, going so far as to imagine the Maranello team without its champion. 


"It would be a great loss for the Italian team".


Argues former driver Hans Stuck, the expert quoted by the newspaper. 


"We are vaccinated against these things".


That is Ferrari's only comment. Schumacher, too, does not respond for now. His thoughts are on the next race, the Brazilian Grand Prix, and his second sporting passion, soccer. When in São Paulo, he may do a training session with Santos, the legendary team where Pelé played. On Thursday, March 27, 2003, he will take to the track in Barcelona for the third day of testing with both the old and new single-seaters. 


The day before, Rubens Barrichello drives the 2002 car, while Luca Badoer continues the development of the F2003-GA, which once again proves to be faster: Rubens runs 87 laps to test the tires, the fastest being a 1'17"964, while the test driver is down to 1'17"571 after 35 laps. Barrichello, who will have the opportunity to drive the F2003-GA for the first time, will return to the track along with Schumacher. On Monday, March 31, 2003, British betting agencies offer only one favorite for the Brazilian Grand Prix: Michael Schumacher, paid 1 to 1. That is, one euro won for every euro wagered. The others are distant. The odds for Rubens Barrichello are 9 to 2, for Kimi Räikkönen and David Coulthard 11 to 2. This is a weighted bet, based on sure elements. The World Champion won at Interlagos last year and boasts a series of records among the current drivers: starting with the 10 podiums obtained, to the 4 fastest laps, and up to the points won (70). What is most likely tipping the scales in the German's favor is his car, the old Ferrari F2002. The Maranello single-seater debuted last year in Brazil, winning on its first race, to begin a triumphant season that brought the two world titles and numerous records, both absolute and relative, to the Maranello team. Fourteen wins out of fifteen races held (having lost only at Monte-Carlo), then all the limits of pole positions and fastest race laps. In fact, the F2002 was Ferrari’s most successful F1 car. And it has often inflicted searing – if not humiliating – defeats on its opponents, with abysmal gaps in both qualifying and Grand Prix races. Bookmakers’ calculated predictions would not be justified, however, if one looked solely at the F2002’s results in Australia and Malaysia. A second place with Barrichello (in Sepang), a fourth and a sixth with Schumacher in the two respective races. As far as performance is concerned, however, the old single-seater always did very well. Pole position in Melbourne and best overall time (with a circuit record!) on Friday at the Malaysian track, where it also achieved the fastest lap in the race. Schumacher, however, is cautious:


"We will not have an easy time in Brazil either. Last year we surprised everyone, no one expected us to win at Interlagos. The race had ended in our favor, but by a small margin and we had not been the fastest. In a way the situation is now the same: it will be tough, no doubt about it, but we can repeat ourselves. In any case, our old single-seater still has the potential to put us at the top, we saw that in Australia, where we dominated qualifying. And we shouldn’t forget that Rubens and I were the fastest in the race but had to settle for two places because of my mistake at the start. We will do everything we can to get on the top step of the podium and maybe for both of us to be there, me and Rubens".


On the eve of his home Grand Prix, the Brazilian driver feels confident: 


"Every morning I get up and see a determined and confident driver in the mirror. I am sure that this will be my best year. And I am happy that Ferrari has decided to bring the F2002 to São Paulo. The new F2003 GA is faster but still needs to be developed to the maximum, which we will do before Imola. Now we think with the old car and I am calm, we will be able to our rivals give a lot of trouble, some of whom think we are in a crisis. We will prove them wrong".


As always, tires will be decisive in the third round of the World Championship. In the first two races Michelin shows a small advantage in terms of performance continuity. Bridgestone works hard to prepare for the rematch, preparing new tires. With these tyres, Schumacher scores the overall track record at Fiorano on Saturday, March 29, 2003, driving the F2003-GA, but the same tires can be fitted at Interlagos. And Ferrari deliberates the latest version of the 051 engine, which will then be left to Sauber. Slightly more horsepower to greet the F2002 with a victory that would complete the extraordinary cycle of the best single-seater ever produced in Maranello. Meanwhile, McLaren-Mercedes driver-tester Alexander Wutz emerges unharmed not from a terrible accident, but an illness - probably a strong flu - that struck during his return from Malaysia. 


Extremely high fever, difficulty breathing, and many pains hinted at the symptoms of the abnormal pneumonia that is raising epidemic alarms around the world. As soon as he returned to the Principality of Monaco, Alex was hospitalized and placed in isolation as a precaution from Monday, March 24 to Friday, March 28, 2003, until doctors could ascertain there was no danger and discharged him. Now Wurz is feeling debilitated and is not expected to leave for Brazil to fill his role as backup for David Coulthard and Kimi Räikkönen. The spot could be taken by Spaniard Pedro de la Rosa. 


"I got scared, because I was sick and there were all those reports around about a potentially fatal illness. Fortunately, it wasn't serious and I’m okay. I hope to recover soon".


Perhaps out of superstition, but more likely to spend a few days with his family, Rubens Barrichello arrives in Brazil ahead of Michael Schumacher on Tuesday, April 1, 2003. Rubens has always achieved little in front of his fans: not a single podium in his entire career and - most importantly - not a single point in three years with Ferrari.


"The public expects me to have a good race. I make no promises, but I feel in good shape. I know that one day or another I will win here in Brazil".


The challenge issued by Juan Pablo Montoya is on a very different level:


"For Schumacher it will be tough. I have a lot of chances to win, he doesn't".


The Williams-Bmw driver is also taking advantage of the trip to South America to visit relatives. On Tuesday he is in Colombia and will move to São Paulo on Wednesday. He is looking for revenge: a year ago, when he started on pole position, he was passed at turn two by his rival and damaged his front wing in an attempt to recover. Over the weekend Montoya will wear a helmet with a new livery. The design was made by a 16-year-old girl who won the contest announced by the driver. As a prize, she will be a guest at the circuit from Friday to Sunday, along with another 11-year-old student who took second place. And on Monday, the precious helmet will be auctioned off for charity. Schumacher is taking up the challenge. He, too, is seeking redemption after finishing the initial two races far from the podium, P4 in Australia and P6 in Malaysia. The conundrum concerns the F2002’s performance, a car which may run its last Grand Prix at the very track where it made its victorious debut 12 months ago. 


"It will be another difficult race for us. Even last year no one expected us to win at Interlagos. The situation now is the same: we can do it. The track is uneven in places and because of that the car often has a nervous grip. You have to correct the line all the time, and that makes for exciting racing. Reliability will be a very important strength. Plus, with Rubens on the team, we are guaranteed to have the Brazilian public cheering us on".


São Paulo is a very challenging circuit for both drivers and cars, with many left-hand turns and points where the lateral g-force is felt very strongly. 


"I have very good memories".


Concludes Schumacher, who has won four times at Interlagos. Regarding the new rules, which have also been criticized by Bernie Ecclestone, the Ferrari driver avoids controversy: 


"If there were ten Bernie Ecclestones there would be ten different opinions. The problem is that the result to be achieved is still not very clear. I grew up with the old system and I am fond of it. For rookie drivers the discourse could be the opposite. Electronics? I like it, because it allows uncompromising exploitation of the car's potential. That said, you can drive without it. However, I think it is reasonable that the ban has now been postponed until next season".


Schumacher leaves his palace-home in Switzerland on Tuesday night and on Wednesday, in Santos, will play for Unicef in the stadium where Pelé played. It is an event that excites him at least as much as the Brazilian Grand Prix. The Interlagos track is counterclockwise, the asphalt uneven, the altitude over 800 meters, the temperature high. In São Paulo there is something for everyone, both man and machine. The third round of the Formula 1 World Championship, the Brazilian Grand Prix, is one of the most demanding of the season. Drivers are forced into specific physical preparation that develops neck and back muscles, typically used the least. The track is 4309 meters long, to be repeated 71 times, for a total of 305,909 kilometers. The altitude robs the engines of up to 8% of their power (about fifty horsepower). Named after José Carlos Pace, the current Interlagos circuit is the heir to the one built in 1938. The first race, with virtually no spectators, took place on May 12, 1940, in a facility with no garages and on a dirt track far from the heart of São Paulo. The metropolis has since grown to encompass the facility, which hosted the first Grand Prix (won by home idol Emerson Fittipaldi) in 1973 and replaced Jacarepaguá as the track for the Brazilian round of the World Championship in 1990, after losing the privilege of hosting F1 races in 1981. The circuit has been recently renovated: drainage system, curbs, tire barriers and escape routes have been modified; guardrails reminiscent of those at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway have been built; and the track surface and pit lane have been partially redone as well. Last year's winner was the Ferrari F2002 (on its debut race, while this Sunday should be its farewell) with Michael Schumacher, the Williams-Bmw of his brother Ralf Schumacher was second, and David Coulthard’s McLaren-Mercedes was third. Besides Rubens Barrichello, Brazil boasts other drivers - Felipe Massa (Sauber), Cristiano Da Matta (Toyota) and Antonio Pizzonia (Jaguar). 


The Maranello team is chasing its first success of 2003, Rubens Barrichello his first at the circuit near his childhood home. And while the Brazilian dreams of victory, Michael Schumacher scores a penalty during the charity match played with Santos alongside Robinho and Diego, the new stars of South American soccer. And meanwhile, the dispute over tobacco advertising between the FIA and the European Union ban erupts: the FIA is asking the European Court of Justice for the ban to be triggered on October 10, 2006, as the EU had first decided, and not in mid-2005. Kimi Räikkönen will be first on the track on Friday, April 4, 2003. This is called a sweeper lap, because he removes dust and small debris from the asphalt. Until last year, on boring F1 Fridays, the task fell to the Minardi cars. There was no written rule, but the cameras always pay special attention to single-seaters alone on the track, and sponsors liked it. Those were different times: F1’s entertainment and savings revolutions stipulate that drivers run one at a time on Fridays, in the order of the current World Championship standings. At 2:00 p.m., the Interlagos pit lane light will turn green and the talented young McLaren-Mercedes driver will run three laps: an out lap, a top-speed lap and a quiet in lap. His teammate, David Coulthard, will follow immediately after, then the quintet tied at 8 points: Juan Pablo Montoya (Williams-Bmw), Rubens Barrichello (Ferrari), Fernando Alonso (Renault), Michael Schumacher (Ferrari), and Jarno Trulli (Renault), according to a tiebreaker ranking (second place is worth more than two fifth places, even though the scoring is identical). The other 13 drivers will follow. This hybrid Friday format, which the FIA calls qualifying, solely establishes Saturday’s starting order. If Kimi Räikkönen gets the best time, for example, he will start last on Saturday and the others will be the sweepers. 


Another important difference: on Friday, all drivers will run with the bare minimum amount of gasoline, making it easy to understand which vehicle is the fastest; on Saturday, on the other hand, at the end of the real qualifying, the single-seaters will end up in the so-called parc fermé and the tank inlet will be sealed. Those who take part in qualifying low on gas will set a faster lap (the difference is about one second for every 30 kilos) but will have to stop earlier during the actual race. Many drivers dislike the mechanism. Schumacher leads the party of the disgruntled who put a good face on it:


"I preferred the previous mechanism because it allowed the car to be better adjusted".


From above comes Bernie Ecclestone's critique: 


"Seeing one car on track at a time is an absolute bore".


The television spectators’ response is awaited. The races in Australia and Malaysia had been broadcast at dawn, the Brazilian one will be aired in the evening in Europe. Rubens Barrichello says the following:


"It's too early to judge, let's wait at least five Grands Prix".


The air of São Paulo, his city, gives him strength:


"If I win, I will throw myself from the stage on the fans like the lead singer of Guns n' Roses".


The Kabbalah is favorable: in the years ending with the number three, a native driver has always won - Emerson Fittipaldi (1973), Nelson Piquet (1983), Ayrton Senna (1993). If a Brazilian were really to win again, no one would bet on Antonio Pizzonia or Cristiano Da Matta. Having solved the problems with the HANS device by copying an idea from McLaren, Rubens Barrichello smells success: 


"I am more focused than ever, our car is competitive, my goal is the world title".


But Kimi Räikkönen also has similar ideas: 


"I will accumulate as many points as I can, and in the middle of the season we will see. Soon we will also have the new single-seater". 


The success in Sepang has not changed his life: 


"My face appears more often in the newspaper. That's all".


The attacks do not seem to disturb Michael Schumacher's calm. 


"I will not change my approach or strategies".


Assures the German World Champion, who is instead worried about SARS, the atypical pneumonia coming from the East. After the case of Alexander Wurz, the McLaren test driver recently hospitalized due to suspicious symptoms (though tests were reassuring), on Tuesday, April 1, 2003, the alarm went off in São Paulo. Sally Blower, 31, a director for British broadcaster ITV who had just returned from a trip to Malaysia, felt ill on Tuesday and was hospitalized. Her condition fortunately improved in the following days and SARS was ruled out, however, the alarm has been raised. Grand Prix medical director Dino Artmann explains:


"The circuit's emergency room is not equipped for this emergency. Any suspected case will be diverted to the hospital".


On Friday, April 4, 2003, at the end of the first practice session, Mark Webber is the fastest in his Jaguar-Cosworth. The Australian pilot is good but also lucky, because when his (penultimate) stint rolls around, the track is drying out. While it was pouring, no one was able to come close to Rubens Barrichello's time: almost 1.5 seconds ahead of the McLaren-Mercedes of Kimi Räikkönen and David Coulthard, 2.5 seconds ahead of Michael Schumacher, who was the protagonist of a spin during the launch lap. The rain that fell for hours on São Paulo increases the spectacle and unpredictability of these one-lap pre-qualifying sessions, whose purpose is to determine the starting order for the real qualifying, scheduled for Saturday. But it also brings out another shortcoming of the new regulations. The rule allows only one type of wet tire to be used, which must be chosen on Wednesday. Even if weather forecasts predicted a hurricane, everyone would opt for an intermediate tread type. The reasoning is: if it rains hard the safety car comes out, if it rains lightly a rain tire makes you lose the race because it is too slow. This applies to the Grand Prix, not qualifying: during a downpour, a single-seater with intermediate tires skids even on a straight. And, in fact, pre-qualifying for the Brazilian Grand Prix was almost cancelled. The drivers' association, represented by Michael Schumacher, David Coulthard and Jarno Trulli, called for a quiet parade on the track, without timing anyone, for safety reasons. The protest later receded, partly because of a lack of unanimity (Nick Heidfeld, Jacques Villeneuve and Mark Webber distanced themselves) and partly because the rain granted a reprieve. The problem will reoccur on Saturday. Bad weather is still predicted. It will be a lottery that could reward the already lucky driver, but also reignite the protest. On Friday morning, in fact, during free practice, Antonio Pizzonia destroys his Jaguar; Kimi Räikkönen pirouettes for 200 meters beside the guardrail without touching it; Heinz-Harald Frentzen spins out without consequences; in pre-qualifying Jenson Button disintegrates two advertising panels; Michael Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya get away with ending up in asphalt runways. And at the end of practice, Ferrari's German driver admits:


"I said it from the beginning that it is not logical to have two dry tires and only one rain tire. And what's the point of having to decide on Wednesday?"


While he does not complain about his performance: 


"The fifth time is not bad. Me, Alonso and Trulli were unlucky, because we found more water than the others".


Rubens Barrichello is the man in the rain. 


"Too bad, I would have liked to offer my fans tenth place". 


Rubens Barrichello was born in Interlagos, a São Paulo suburb where the circuit now named after Carlos Pace was built in the early 1970s. From the grandstands, 500 students between the ages of 12 and 16 never stop cheering him on.


"I am calm, Friday does not give points. The important thing was to have one of the four best times (Schumi has the fifth, editor’s note). In the morning there were no conditions to run, then the situation improved. This rule about the single wet tire, however, is not good".


And while everyone is debating tires, Mark Webber is enjoying his day in the sun. On his CV is a fifth-place finish in 2002 in Melbourne, when he drove the Minardi. A double satisfaction for him, an Australian from Queanbeyan who entered the racing world thanks to the financial support of rugby player and friend David Campese. 


"Yes, the track conditions helped me. Sixth place, however, was within my reach. The Jaguar performs very well in the wet and in qualifying I want to be in the top 10".


However, the one to rejoice on Saturday, April 5, 2003, will not be the Australian driver, but Rubens Barrichello. At the end of practice he scrambles to hug his Brazilian friends and relatives and asked for a little superstition. It's fine to celebrate the seventh pole position of his career – first of the season, and the only one on his home circuit – but points are scored on Sunday. Barrichello finished second in Friday's pre-qualifying and therefore starts second to last on Saturday. The entire crowd is on its feet in the grandstands of the Carlos Pace circuit in Interlagos; when the Brazilian crosses the finish line, the torcida begins. Mark Webber tries again to spoil his party. The Australian Jaguar driver is in the lead in the first two sectors, but in the end, on the long uphill straight of the finish line, the Ferrari V10 engine’s power makes the difference. David Coulthard (McLaren-Mercedes) retains second position, Mark Webber still celebrates an unexpected third place ahead of championship leader Kimi Räikkönen in the other McLaren-Mercedes. He is followed by Jarno Trulli, still leading with the increasingly competitive Renault, the Schumacher brothers (Ralf's Williams-Bmw is ahead of Michael's Ferrari by just 0.006 seconds). The World Champion will start alongside Giancarlo Fisichella. The Italian driver says:


"I have no illusions. Our starting system is not exceptional. I am already happy as it is, I hope to be in the points".


The fifth row consists of Juan Pablo Montoya (Williams-Bmw) and Fernando Alonso (Renault), a bit below expectations, although fuel strategies may hide big surprises in the race. Barrichello crosses his fingers. He recalls the first two Grands Prix of the season, won by David Coulthard in Australia starting from 11th on the grid and by Kimi Räikkönen in Malaysia from 7th place. In Brazil, Rubens has never won a point, but this time he starts with a poker in his hands: it's up to him to play it as best he can. 


"God will guide me".


Michael Schumacher's tardiness is astonishing: it is not so much a matter of tenths of a second, just three from his teammate, but instead of his imperfect driving, especially after a season of triumphs. To recover he would need a full success, which is within his grasp today. That leaves the unknown factor of rain. The weather forecast announces a downpour on the Brazilian afternoon. Webber is hoping for it, because he hopes to take advantage of the chaos and score his third score of the weekend; Barrichello is not. 


"Bridgestone did a great job, however, we only had to choose one type of wet tire and it might not be the ideal one. I will ask my grandmother Isaura, who lives 300 meters from the circuit, for the weather forecast and then I won’t reveal it to anyone".


And regarding his teammate, Michael Schumacher says:


"First I want to congratulate Rubens. He never had much luck here in São Paulo: it must have been wonderful for him".


The German driver congratulates his teammate and glosses over the problems encountered in early part of the season, one of his worst. 


"I made a small mistake in the first corner and a few slip-ups. The gaps are very small and that explains my seventh place. It is not a great result, however, we need to see what strategy the others have adopted".


He does not talk about his strategy: 


"You will see in the race. I'm sorry I can't say more, but if I did I would benefit my opponents".


There is trouble, however, for Kimi Räikkönen's McLaren. Telemetry has detected a problem with the engine, and engineers will ask permission to replace it in the morning. If the work is authorized, the Finnish driver would retain fourth position on the grid, but it could trigger protests from the other teams. In case of refusal, the engine will be replaced anyway, but Räikkönen will start the race from the pit lane. All teams have chosen intermediate tires, which are faster but dangerous in extreme conditions. On Friday, as mentioned, the drivers sketched out a protest due to safety, then returned when weather conditions improved. But the Federation did not like it and issued a blunt statement on Saturday: 


"The rule limiting wet tires was voted unanimously in October. Knowing the weather conditions in Brazil, it is surprising that all the teams preferred intermediate tires".


Looming over Formula 1 is also the fear of SARS, the atypical pneumonia spreading from the East. The circus is coming from a trip to Malaysia, and there is suspicion that a director from British broadcaster ITV has been infected. Sally Blower, 41, who was admitted Tuesday to Albert Einstein Hospital in São Paulo after feeling the first symptoms Monday on the plane, has become worse. She remains hospitalized in isolation, awaiting a firm diagnosis: so far, a bacterial origin of her illness (which would have excluded SARS) has been ruled out, and an X-ray taken yesterday apparently revealed the progression of the infection in a lung. In addition to Blower, the alert concerns ITV technicians and journalists who traveled with her and the passengers on the same flight, who were tracked down and screened. Finally, the diatribe over cigarette advertising seems to have been resolved. One magistrate intended to have the tobacco sponsors' trademarks removed, but another São Paulo court has accepted the appeal filed by the organizers' lawyers.


On Sunday, April 6, 2003, just before the start of the Brazilian Grand Prix, rain starts pouring at Interlagos: the start is postponed by 15 minutes, to wait for the rain’s intensity to diminish. In addition, it is announced that the race will start under safety car. Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Jos Verstappen, Giancarlo Fisichella, Olivier Panis, Antonio Pizzonia and Ralph Firman take advantage of the situation to refuel; the German driver, in particular, intends to try and finish the race without making any additional pit stops. The other drivers continue behind the safety car, which returns to the pits after eight laps. On the restart David Coulthard overtakes Rubens Barrichello, who is also overtaken by Kimi Räikkönen and Juan Pablo Montoya on lap 10. On lap 11, the Finnish and Colombian drivers also overtake David Coulthard, taking the race lead, while Rubens Barrichello is also passed by Michael Schumacher and Mark Webber. On lap 17 Ralph Firman's right front suspension breaks without warning: the Irishman's single-seater, lacking control, crashes into Olivier Panis and both drivers are forced to retire. The safety car returns to the track and many drivers, including Michael Schumacher, David Coulthard, Juan Pablo Montoya, Jarno Trulli and Fernando Alonso, take the opportunity to make a pit stop, while the race leader, Kimi Räikkönen, remains on track. On the restart, the Finnish driver leads the race from David Coulthard, Michael Schumacher, Rubens Barrichello, Cristiano Da Matta (who has not yet pitted) and Juan Pablo Montoya, who, however, goes off track at the Do Sol corner on lap 25, crashing violently into the barriers. Others go off track at the same point, namely Antonio Pizzonia, whose Jaguar hit the Colombian driver's single-seater stopped in the escape route, and, two laps later, Michael Schumacher. Race management then decides to send the safety car back out. Kimi Räikkönen pits, losing a lot of time; at the restart, on lap 30, David Coulthard is in front of Rubens Barrichello, Ralf Schumacher, Mark Webber, Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso. Two laps later, however, the British driver in the BAR-Honda also goes off track at Do Sol, causing the safety car to enter the track again. Shortly before, Jos Verstappen, in his Minardi, who was eighth at the time, had also retired for a spin due to his own mistake. The Dutch driver had started with a full tank of gas; years later the Italian team owner, Paul Stoddart declares that the Dutch driver could have taken the podium or even won the Brazilian Grand Prix if he hadn’t made mistakes and made it to the finish line. 


In fact, Minardi had planned a race strategy that included total chaos resulting from a possible storm. The race restarts on lap 34, with David Coulthard leading from Rubens Barrichello, Ralf Schumacher, Fernando Alonso, Kimi Räikkönen and Giancarlo Fisichella. The track gradually dries, and the Finnish driver is among the quickest to adapt to the changing conditions, rapidly moving into third position behind Rubens Barrichello. The Brazilian driver, in turn, is busy catching up to David Coulthard, putting pressure on his opponent and overtaking him on lap 44. Once in the race lead, Rubens Barrichello sets the fastest lap in the race, clearly pulling away from David Coulthard, but three laps later the Italian-Brazilian driver is forced to retire due to a fuel feed issue. This ends the Maranello team’s streak of 55 consecutive races in the points, which had begun at the end of the 1999 season, at the Malaysian Grand Prix. David Coulthard then returns to the race lead ahead of Kimi Räikkönen, Giancarlo Fisichella, Fernando Alonso, Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Jacques Villeneuve, Jarno Trulli and Mark Webber: the Scot refuels for the last time five laps later, re-entering the track in third position. Meanwhile, Kimi Räikkönen, facing tire issues, makes a mistake and gives up his position to Giancarlo Fisichella, pitting on lap 54. In the meantime, however, Mark Webber loses control of his Jaguar in the last corners before the finishing straight, crashing violently into the barriers and littering the track with debris. Fernando Alonso, carrying too much speed in the crash zone, hits one of the wheels of the Australian's single-seater, and slams into the crash barriers too. The seriousness of these incidents, particularly that of the Spanish driver, prompts race direction to show the red flag, interrupting the race. At the time of the interruption Giancarlo Fisichella, leading the race, had just completed lap 55 and was starting lap 56. According to the regulations, the results must be determined by looking at the order of the drivers two laps before the race suspension, thus at the end of lap 54. However, due to a mistake in the timing system, race management considered the Grand Prix to have ended before Giancarlo Fisichella crossed the finish line, thus bringing the finishing order back to lap 53, when Kimi Räikkönen was leading the race. The Finnish driver is thus declared the winner of the Brazilian Grand Prix. 


He is followed by Giancarlo Fisichella, Fernando Alonso, David Coulthard, Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Jacques Villeneuve, Mark Webber and Jarno Trulli. Realizing the mistake, the FIA will later call a meeting for the Friday following the race, at the end of which the correct order will be re-established and Fisichella will be declared the winner. Kimi Räikkönen won after an hour and a half of a high-tension race, including overtakes, crashes, the safety car on track four times, non-stop plot twists. McLaren's young Finn, rising in the World Championship standings, won, while everyone was celebrating Giancarlo Fisichella. More happened in the last two effective laps of the Brazilian Grand Prix than in the entire previous season. It looks like a McLaren triumph: David Coulthard leads quietly, followed by his teammate. But Räikkönen has some problems as he struggles to keep Fisichella behind him - despite being one of the best drivers in the Circus, Fisichella drives one of the worst single-seaters. The Italian manages to pass as Coulthard pits for his second stop, and he finds himself in the lead, although he will stop again. At this point chaos breaks out: Mark Webber crashes and litters the track with debris, passes Fernando Alonso who fails to avoid them and bounces from left to right at about 250 km/h. Race officials decide to stop the race. The standings are frozen and full points are awarded because 54 of the planned 71 laps have been run, which is more than two-thirds of the race. Joy explodes in the Jordan pit box over a victory that falls (or rather, would have fallen) on the day of the 200th Grand Prix. But the rules play a dirty trick: when a race is stopped, what counts is the previous lap’s classification. Kimi Räikkönen ends up in the lead, Giancarlo Fisichella is second, Fernando Alonso third. The Renault Spaniard cannot even join the podium party. He is stunned on the tarmac with a swollen knee: he receives first aid and is transported to the hospital for assessment. David Coulthard has to settle for fourth place and broods over his pit stop: had he stopped a lap later, he would have won. Everything happened in this third round of the World Championship, from the start to the early conclusion. The new rules were the accomplices: the twenty drivers started with single-seaters floating on puddles spread throughout the circuit (the Carlos Pace in Interlagos, on the outskirts of São Paulo, is known for its uneven track and consequently becomes particularly treacherous when raining). 


It was the revolution the FIA wanted and that the ten teams partaking in the Formula 1 World Championship unwillingly voted for: imposing only one type of wet tire, to be chosen on the Wednesday before the race. No team is foolish (or prudent, which in this world is the same thing) enough to opt for rain tires, that is, with deep treads suitable for downpours. Another limitation of the new regulations: the set-up must be decided on Saturday before qualifying. Should weather conditions change, mechanics are allowed to change the slope of the front and rear wings as well as the height of the car. Any other intervention or calibration of the single-seater is prohibited. So, a numb start behind the safety car, which guides the drivers for eight laps. The drivers are aware that they do not have the right setup nor - most importantly - the right tires. The proof comes when the safety car returns. Ralf Schumacher (Williams-Bmw) and Jarno Trulli (Renault) start the bumper car show on lap 11, but manage to stay in the race. Then it's the turn of Justin Wilson's Minardi and Ralph Firman's Jordan, which loses a wheel, ends up on Olivier Panis's Toyota and forces the safety car back out. Turn 3 becomes a trap because it hides a swimming pool. Within minutes, Antonio Pizzonia, Juan Pablo Montoya, Michael Schumacher, Jos Verstappen and Jenson Button end up in it. Mark Webber is saved by a miracle, managing to regain control of his Jaguar in the escape route. But fate has targeted him after helping him in qualifying: his accident ends the Brazilian Grand Prix. Heinz-Harald Frentzen celebrates a good fifth place with Sauber-Petronas, Jacques Villeneuve (BAR-Honda) is sixth, Mark Webber and Jarno Trulli win the last points up for grabs; Ralf Schumacher is the first of the lapped cars. Ferrari is a disaster, as it does not bring a single car to the finish line: this has not happened since the 1999 European Grand Prix. That of the Brazilian Grand Prix is a strange podium - as strange as the race: during the prize-giving, the third step, that of Fernando Alonso, is empty. The Renault Spaniard is in the hospital where he was transported on a stretcher away from the track, immediately after his serious accident at the Interlagos circuit. The impact of the accident was violent, but the driver gave a thumbs up while being rescued to reassure both his team and fans. 


The Spanish driver reports knee problems. Alonso finished third after the race was stopped because of his accident; but his podium step, as the Finnish anthem resounds for Kimi Räikkönen, remains empty. Now it is no longer just a bugbear, but a reality: McLaren-Mercedes, which even Michael Schumacher had pointed to as the most dangerous rival before the start of the championship, has dominated the first part of the season. A debut win in Australia with David Coulthard, Kimi Räikkönen's success in the Malaysian Grand Prix, followed by that in Brazil with the bitter mockery for Giancarlo Fisichella, who was the moral winner when the race was stopped and was downgraded by fishing in the folds of a regulation that is always flawed and lends itself to too many interpretations. The fact remains that Ferrari – during the craziest and most dramatic race in a few years, with the wet track dictating the rules – looked like it could achieve redemption. But Michael Schumacher ended up outside the points, betrayed by the water on track, like many other competitors; and the unlucky Rubens Barrichello had to stop after conquering P1 with a beautiful overtaking move, mocking David Coulthard. However, one cannot speak of bad luck in Formula 1. The British team worked well, produced competitive cars and made the most of David Coulthard's experience and Kimi Räikkönen's talent. The Woking team imitated Ferrari by starting the championship with a revamped version of the MP4/17. In truth, it is not just a single-seater that has been redone. Ron Dennis, head and co-owner of McLaren, has explained several times that it is a completely new car:


"We rebuilt the chassis, the aerodynamics and also the engine. In short, there are very few parts from last year still being used in 2003".


Great strides have been made in electronic systems (traction control and anti-skidding) and in the use of Michelin tires, which can now be different for each team. Now the Maranello team will still be almost obliged to retire the F2002 and aim for the next race at Imola with the F2003-GA. McLaren, however, will not sit idly by. As it finishes construction of its new headquarters, pompously named Paragon, the team that relies on Mercedes’s means (including financial ones) is preparing to debut the MP4/18, designed by an army of engineers led by Adrian Newey. Great things are already being said about this car, based on some revelations: very small and low bellies, super-sophisticated aerodynamics, a revolutionary nose and another new engine. It is not certain that everything will work. But Ferrari will be forced to put pressure on the opposing team to force it to accelerate its programs and perhaps pay for it in terms of reliability. In any case, McLaren mostly got it right in choosing the driver to replace World Champion Mika Häkkinen. Kimi Räikkönen has all the qualities to emerge, although Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello will not be intimidated. One cannot say that the regulation change has hurt Ferrari: so far it has been the victim of unfavorable circumstances rather than actual performance superiority on the part of rivals. However, the new sporting regulations, more than the technical ones, have reshuffled the field. And the stewards made questionable decisions: before the race, engines were replaced on Kimi Räikkönen and Jacques Villeneuve’s cars, while one Toyota was allowed to fit a new gearbox. In theory, from what was understood, the three cars in question should have started from the pits, since broken parts had been replaced. Instead, it was decided that they would maintain their positions on the grid. An interpretation, again, that is puzzling. So is the one stirring controversy during the Brazilian weekend with the requirement to use only one type of wet tire. Michelin, which was behind in 2002 with the rain tires, is in a better position from this year since they have to use tires resulting from a compromise. This could be seen in the first part of the race, when Kimi Räikkönen and David Coulthard were able to take a few seconds off the pace, when Juan Pablo Montoya on the same tires seemed to be able to fly, while Schumacher and Barrichello were struggling. It would be necessary to have some certainty about the regulations, which will be discussed before the San Marino Grand Prix. Formula 1 can get back on the right track, but it must not waste any more time. Rubens Barrichello's expression, dejected on the soggy grass at Interlagos, is a snapshot of Ferrari's mood. Not a tear, because the Brazilian has banished whining, but the curse of Brazil, his Brazil, continues; in four years of service in Maranello, he has never seen the checkered flag and in eleven of his career he has never taken a point here. 


We could call this yet another Rubens Barrichello misfortune offset by his teammate’s joy, the invincible Michael Schumacher. No, the rain washed away any smiles. The World Champion slipped on a puddle at Turn 3 and ended the weekend against the barriers, destroying one of the last examples of the F2002, awaiting a sad retirement after a lifetime of records. It is difficult to blame German for the mistake, since four other drivers met identical fate at the same point, and a fifth (Mark Webber) miraculously avoided impact. Rubens Barrichello seemed destined for triumph after some ups and downs in the race. At the start, after the safety car had returned, he was not shrewd in attempting to hold off his rivals when pressing hard on the accelerator, and David Coulthard took advantage and passed him. It is likely that Ferrari’s tires (the Bridgestones) were designed for an asphalt less wet than the rivals' Michelin. Barrichello suffered in the early stages, passed by Kimi Räikkönen, Juan Pablo Montoya, Mark Webber and teammate, Michael Schumacher. He then regained a furious pace, withstood an attack by Ralf Schumacher (also when the safety car came back on), launched the offensive against David Coulthard and passed him on lap 45. Having won first place, he brought out the best: in two laps, the fastest of the race, Barrichello gained a huge margin; in the third he parked at the edge of the track.


"The engine cut out. I have no idea what happened, everything seemed to be working perfectly, we had chosen the right strategy and I had enough fuel to do four or five more laps. When I passed Coulthard I thought it was done. Now I am sad, I have darkness inside".


Later, the truth comes out: Rubens Barrichello had no fuel in the tank, causing him to stop. 


"An issue caused us to lose telemetry data".


Ferrari explains that the issue made exact calculations impossible. This can happen even to the fastest and most reliable car ever to come out of Maranello. Too bad also for Michael Schumacher, protagonist of a strong-willed race. He had climbed up from seventh to third place with abundant overtakes and was about to launch an attack on the McLaren-Mercedes driver pair. His times were significantly better in all three sectors of the track. Then, on lap 27, the accident happened.


"I had bad luck. The aquaplaning caused me to go off track. There was a lot of water at that point and the visibility was bad. When it's like that, it's easy to just miss the right line and end up with your wheels on the wrong spot".


Regarding the Grand Prix’s regularity, the German champion avoids controversy: 


"It was a difficult but regular race. Too bad Fisichella did not win: he would have deserved it and would have improved our situation in the standings".


Michael Schumacher refuses to talk about a Ferrari crisis: 


"There are still thirteen races, anything can happen. I am not worried because the gap in the standings to our rivals is recoverable. The new car? We will use it when it is ready, as I have always repeated".


The deadline will likely be Imola on Sunday, April 20, 2003, barring unforeseen events in the tests scheduled in the days leading up to the San Marino Grand Prix. It is a sad farewell for the F2002. After winning fourteen out of fifteen Grands Prix in 2002, it has ruined its palmarès in these three 2003 outings. Yet, in Australia as in Malaysia and Brazil, it was his to set the fastest lap of the race. Other records are lost: Michael Schumacher's last retirement was in the 2001 German Grand Prix. It’s a result crisis, rather than a technical one. Hopes for a comeback rest with the F2003-GA, which has already proved faster in practice, while the Williams-Bmw situation is reassuring, as it was the most formidable opponent in 2002. The problem for the Maranello team is that McLaren-Mercedes is back strong. And it is lucky, too. Well, yes, because the Anglo-German team, in Brazil, managed to discover another loophole in the new regulations (or, perhaps, another system to bypass the constraints they impose). As mentioned, Kimi Räikkönen had finished Saturday's qualifying session and parked the car in the so-called parc fermé area, where mechanics can no longer touch it. But the engineers of the Anglo-German team noticed, from the data sent by telemetry sensors, that something was not working properly in the Mercedes V10 engine. It is a leak in the hydraulic system, a system which the proper functioning of vital organs – such as gearbox and steering – depends on. According to this year’s regulations, mechanics' may intervene only in cases of force majeure and when a single-seater’s safety is at risk; otherwise, the driver must start last from the pit lane. The race officials accept the request: the engine is replaced and the Finnish World Championship leader retains fourth place on the grid. Ferrari is forced to accept this decision: 


"We comply with the decision, although we are puzzled".


Without doubting McLaren's good faith, the suspicion is that someone may henceforth profit from this precedent and return to the qualifying engines that were allowed until last year. But McLaren has been lucky twice. In fact, it must be tough when they tell you that you've won for the first time in your life and then explain that there was a mistake. That's how it was for Giancarlo Fisichella, who was swept away by the Jordan boys after the hair-raising finish. 


"I am sorry first of all for Alonso. I wish him a speedy recovery. And then, of course, I'm sorry I didn't win. The regulations are clear on this point: in case of a red flag, the classification of the previous lap applies. However, I am delighted with second place. On the eve of the race I would have been content to finish in the points zone. It is nice to celebrate this podium right on the occasion of Jordan's 200th Grand Prix". 


Giancarlo Fisichella has yet to win a Grand Prix, although his colleagues have praised him as the best driver. By contrast, the mood is opposite at McLaren, where Kimi Räikkönen admits: 


"Yes, I am also lucky and I am aware that good luck goes around. However, with this McLaren I can aim for the world title. If the new one, as I am told, is even more competitive (the debut is scheduled for Imola, editor’s note), then the goal will become definitely within reach".


The young leader in the standings explains the overtaking suffered by Fisichella: 


"My tires weren’t working well anymore. I repeat, I have never had so much luck like that in my career".


Despite his fourth place, the Anglo-German team's other driver, David Coulthard, makes heavy judgments against the organizers:


"The new rules are wrong, they sent us out like gladiators. However, I am happy with the team result".


Ralf Schumacher is sorry for ninth place, which does not award him even a single point: 


"I would have been on the podium without the Webber and Alonso accident, because, unlike the others, I had already made two stops. Too bad. The important thing, however, is that Alonso is okay. We will think about the rest in the coming days".


Meanwhile, on Monday, April 7, 2003, Fernando Alonso is discharged from Sao Luiz Hospital in São Paulo, where he had been admitted following the accident that brought the Brazilian Grand Prix to an early end. The Spanish Renault driver is suffering from bruises to his left elbow, thigh and knee. No fractures or respiratory or neurological issues. He will be racing regularly at Imola.


"There is time and a way to recover".


Says Luca Montezemolo. The Ferrari president, with engineer Paolo Martinelli, receives the award for the most respected Italian company in the world. And he takes stock of F1: 


"It is not an exceptional moment but, if we really have to stop in the thick of it, I prefer to do it when we are in the lead".


This is an obvious reference to Rubens Barrichello, blocked by abnormal gasoline consumption which went undetected by faulty telemetry.


"Interlagos was a lottery. Deep reflection is needed: we are not dealing with a show here, with an equestrian circus, but with a risky, high-tech sport, which cannot be ridiculed by situations like those in Brazil. Asking drivers to race in certain conditions is like sending soccer players out on a muddy field in tennis shoes just to encourage absurd unpredictability. The Ferraris, however, were clearly the fastest. Schumacher was having a good race. And I dreamed of seeing Barrichello win in front of his home crowd. We knew we were facing a difficult season. But working with humility and commitment there is plenty of time to recover well. Brazil was a roulette. No misplaced pessimism. When Barrichello overtook Coulthard he gained a huge lead. The best lap in the race is once again Ferrari's, with a big gap over the others. However, lessons must also be learned from not being able to turn the first three races into wins and points. Optimism yes, but a calm, in-depth analysis of what needs to be improved".


Worried about Schumacher's mistakes? Montezemolo smiles: 


"No. Absolutely not. If anything, the real risk he took was from that tractor on the edge of the circuit. Another dangerous nonsense".


Work continues for the F2003-GA’s debut, at Imola: five bodies and nine engines of the new single-seater are ready. There is confidence, waiting for redemption in Formula 1. And, in fact, the Ferrari president, turning to Paolo Martinelli, who is in charge of engine design and development in Ferrari, joking about what happened to Rubens Barrichello, says:


"Put a little more fuel in it, and we are calm".


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