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#712 2003 United States Grand Prix

2023-01-09 23:00

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#2003, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Marcello Cinque,

#712 2003 United States Grand Prix

His former collegues aren’t giving him credit: Montoya wins, much to he liking of Eddie Irvine and Damon Hill. Schumacher’s triumph in Monza isn’t eno

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His former colleagues aren’t giving him credit: Montoya wins, much to he liking of Eddie Irvine and Damon Hill. Schumacher’s triumph in Monza isn’t enough to put the skeptical criticisers to sleep. Despite  3-point lead on the Colombian and a 7-point lead on Kimi Raikkonen, albeit with just two races to go in the championship (in which the Maranello team will be the favorites, for good measure), former Ferrari driver Eddie Irvine took shots at his former teammate Schumacher:

 

"His dream of a sixth world title is pretty much finished. My favorite (to win it) is Juan Pablo Montoya".

 

Interviewed by the Daily Sun, the Northern-Irish driver thinks Schumacher might be regressing:

 

"His only hope is his rivals cracking under pressure".

 

Irvine raced for the Maranello team from 1996 to 1999, until the signing of Rubens Barrichello. In his final year for the team, after being promoted to number 1 driver following Schumacher’s incident in Silverstone, he lost the title at the finale, the Japanese Grand Prix, blowing a 2-point lead over Mika Hakkinen. After moving to Jaguar, he called it a career in 2022, at the age of 37 (Schumacher is 34, for reference). Another former rival of Michael Schumacher, Damon Hill, was rooting for Juan Pablo Montoya:

 

"He definitely has a psychological advantage in this duel. It’s been a while since Schumacher’s been racing under pressure".

 

Interviewed by the Daily Guardian, Hill thinks Schumacher is scared of his fierce rival. He could make some mistakes in these conditions. And speaking of needles between colleagues, Juan Pablo Montoya is not hiding his intolerance towards Ralf Schumacher, who was going through conflicts of interests and purposes as a driver: he’s Michael’s brother and Juan Pablo’s teammate, so he’s dependent on the two championship contenders.

 

"I could never rely on him to help me winning the title. I never thought of Ralf as a colleague that would help me improve my championship position in such a critical moment. Gené on the other hand is more available".

 

A statement which increases the doubts over Ralf Schumacher’s absence at Monza, later confirmed to be caused by health issues.

 

"I’ll be back in Indy".

 

Regardless of the drama, on the Tuesday of the 16th of September 2003, Michael Schumacher is back on track at Jerez (Spain) to get ready for the United States Grand Prix, scheduled on the Sunday of the 28th of September. The German driver clockes-in 100 laps (the fastest of which being a 1'19"260, for a total of 440 kilometers), setting up the car and the tyres. Meanwhile, test driver Felipe Massa is running in Monza. 3-for-3: since Formula 1’s been to Indianapolis, Ferrari have always won. Twice with Schumacher (a crucial win in 2000, which allowed him to increase his lead over Mika Hakkinen putting one hand on his first championship trophy in his career in Maranello, and a dominant win in 2001, with his championship win sealed), and once with Barrichello last year, with an overtake just before the finish line and his rivals well behind, another 1-2 in an irrepetible season. Something changed since then. The opposition especially, improving enough to close the gap to the Maranello race cars. 

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"No point to try and make predictions, we’re all getting them wrong".

 

Even in Hungary, just to give you the most recent example, Ferrari had won both in 2001 and 2002. This year’s Hungarian Grand Prix has been very tough for Ferrari. Schumacher can even close things out next Sunday at Indianapolis. He needs to outscore Juan Pablo Montoya by 7 points and Kimi Raikkonen by 3 points in order to secure his sixth title of a record-breaking career. It won’t be easy, of course. It’s actually quite improbable that his rivals would give it up so easily. Everyone is expecting the finale to be at Suzuka. Michael Schumacher has all the motivations to avoid making any predictions, with superstitions being the main one. Though the Indianapolis circuit should favor Ferrari. For a driver it’s difficult to find the right setup, the ideal balance between going through the long straight and the banking at maximum speed, whilist making sure to have enough downforce for the more technical corners. In fact, Formula 1 will be racing at the venue of the iconic Indy 500, purpousely modified (and somewhat distorted): one section being the first turn of the oval and the  main straight, clockwise direction, the other one being the in-field. Michael Schumacher is a master at finding the right setups to get the maximum out of the car, giving him an edge over the opposition. There’s another question mark, the tyres. There’s been a lot of criticism over the last month, until the FIA stated that Michelin’s tyres’ tread would have to be within the maximum allowed tread width (27 cm) even at the end of their usage. It might have been a coincidence, but in the previous Grand Prix we were back seeing a different car to Ferrari with Bridgestone tyres at the front of the field (Jacques Villeneuve’s BAR-Honda, finishing sixth). On the Monza circuit, however, the tyres are less determing than anywhere else (being a very fast circuit, where engine power and aerodynamic efficiency are key). They’ll be determing again at Indianapolis. Bridgestone worked very closely with the Maranello team to close the gap to its French rival. Thousands of kilometers were completed by Michael Schumacher (the world champion played the role of a test driver with great effort and humility), Luca Badoer and Felipe Massa, while Rubens Barichello was put to rest to recover from his backache suffered in his crash in Budapest. Some steps were made - as the Maranello engineers acknowledged - despite being yet to find the perfect compound, which in the hopes of the Japanese tire specialists is set to debut in the final race, at Suzuka. We’ll have to see how the Williams-Bmw and McLaren Mercedes cars respond to a shorter tread width, which in theory should hinder them in the slower corners. There’s a new controversy on the coumpounds: this time Michelin suggested that their rivals were using different compounds on the front and rear axles (which is not allowed). This will be dealt by a third-party lab, to whom the FIA gave samples of both compounds. The engines will also play a decisive role. For 20 to 22 consecutive seconds (a series’ record) the drivers will have to go flat out. The best powertrains were Ferrari’s and BMW’s V10s, powerful and reliable. The Mercedes engine, powering Kimi Raikkonen’s McLaren, is not as impressive: that’s why the finn looks to have few chances to win the World Title. At the temple of speed in Monza, Michael Schumacher hit an extraordinary 368.8 km/h. At Indianapolis, however, the in-fielf will force the cars to have more downforce and therefore not to touch that record: it’ll still be a close battle though, at about 340 km/h. Chairman of the Internationale Automobil-Ausstellung, Michael Schumacher’s brother announced with no hesitation:

 

"I’ll be racing at Indianapolis".

 

As we know, the Williams driver, after suffering a big incident a week prior, didn’t take part in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. He qualified last in friday practice due to an off-track excursion, he then didn’t show up to the circuit on saturday morning. He looked calm and smiling, but soon after his team announced he would be replaced by Spanish test driver Marc Gené, who then classified fifth place in the race.

 

"Agreeing with Ralf who is not 100% - as reported in the statement - it was decided to give him some days of rest".

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It was surprising news, seeing young Schumacher’s normal behavior. And some took their chance to suspect that the team wanted Gené in their lineup for the race, because they thought Ralf wouldn’t have fought hard against his brother. In a delicate moment in the championship, with Juan Pablo Montoya ready to overtake Schumacher in the standings, they preferred to leave the German home and take the Spanish to the track. Gené wouldn’t have annoyed his teammate, as it showed. The doubts are still here, even though Ralf himself made sure he got heard. Speaking on the next United States’ Grand Prix, the German stated:

 

"I lost my first race in the hospital room, I never missed a race since I joined Formula 1. I made some further medical checks and now I’m back in full shape. I’m doing everything I can to not have any problems. Indianapolis is the home of motorsport in the Americas, it’s a very special event that i don’t want to miss. I like the track because it requires a driver to always keep a very good pace. It’s a unique circuit, a long straight with a banked turn at full speed. A great challenge for everyone, going full-throttle for over 20 seconds in top gear with maximum RPMs. We need a lot of power from the engine and luckily our BMW powertrains has plenty of it. Through in the infield the car requires a particular setup, with a lot of downforce. It’s hard to find the right setup, but I think I’ll be able to do it and have good results".

 

Ralf’s excitement is a great to see, but some still bring up about how two facts which could put the younger of the brothers from Kerpen on the ropes. Last year Ralf Schumacher, at Indianapolis, had a collision with Juan Pablo Montoya at the start of the race. That triggered controversy within the team, and the most part of it was on the Colombian’s side. The German driver replying:

 

"These things can happen, we’ll be more careful this year".

 

The second one being that Ralf Schumacher is yet to renew his contract with the British team for 2004, while Montoya was already signed for next year.

 

"There are still some details to clear, but we’re very close to signing".

 

It might be true, but Williams still want to see how things will turn out, expecting the unexpected. 

 

"We’ll witness the closest race of the season at Indianapolis".

 

In between the certainties and the superstitions, Michael Schumacher made his challenge clear ahead of the United States Grand Prix:

 

"It’s crunch time: I’m wlooking forward to the United States Grand Prix. A very close weekend is expected, considering how close the competition has been all year long. We got some good numbers out of the Jerez test, we can fight for the win, we’re extremely motivated. Even though the track isn’t one of the hardest, the atmosphere of the Speedway is very special. I don’t think the track will favor the Williams’: it was expected in Monza but we still won. I’ve been in America with my wife since last weekend, we’re enjoying the enviroment and jet lag won’t be a problem".

 

Frank Williams caused controversy with a (forbidden) team order:

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"Ralf mustn’t play any role in the championship battle and he mustn’t hinder Montoya against Michael. The fans want this duel and Ralf must stay out of it".

 

Little brother won’t like that, and it’s no guarantee that he’ll race instead of Gené. Meanwhile, Renault have signed French Frank Montagny as a test and reserve driver for 2004. Michael Schumacher is in the middle, with the behavior of a championship leader. In between Juan Pablo Montoya, naughty yet brilliant, and Kimi Raikkonen, an inversely proportional talent compared to his emotions that he shows: on Thursday of the 25th of September 2003, the three drivers are posing for the usual picture, as if they were standing on a podium, much to the liking of Michael Schumacher. There’s an whole season at stake in Indianapolis, an entire year of hard work, tension, challenges, fear, joy, anger, wins and losses. All three of them have great merits and little to complain: a spin in Australia for Montoya, a crash in the downpour in Brazil for Schumacher, an engine failure whilst controlling the race to secure the 10 points at the Nurburgring for Raikkonen. The United States’ Grand Prix is the penultimate race of the season: the reigning world champion at Ferrari with a 3-point lead on the Colombian and a 7-point lead on the finn. Nobody is willing to make any predictions.

 

"It’s difficult to pin-point a track which suits us, there’s great balance within the competition. I’m expecting a hard fight, maybe like in Monza, wheel-to-wheel, hard but fair. We trust eachother and we’ll always be fair".

 

Then, he recalls some of the championships that went down to the wire: 1994, 1995, 2000.

 

"But what about 1997?"

 

Says Jacques Villeneuve.

 

"Yeah, 1997 too".

 

When the German foolishly tried to take out his rival in Jerez, which cost him the title. It’s all smiles between them, if they haven’t made peace at least they’re joking about it.

 

"I have to gain some points, it will be crucial to finish ahead of them".

 

Says Juan Pablo Montoya, noding his head to his rivals.

 

"Winning here would be amazing. I'm Colombian, I’m based in Florida, this is the closest Grand Prix to home, it’s full of Colombian fans. For me, it would have the same feeling as Michael winning in Monza".

 

Americans don’t really love F1, but he is their exception, because of his win in the CART series in 1999 and his triumph at the classic Indy 500 in 2000. Most of them, however, support Ferrari, which is still like a myth over the Atlantic. But Michael Schumacher doesn’t necesserily reciprocate the love:

 

"I’m not interested in racing in the American series’. Every driver’s goal is to get to the highest racing series in the world and I’m already there. Formula 1 represents the pinnacle of motorsport. If we get too close, someone else might win, like Jarno Trulli".

 

Raikkonen is happy to be the outsider:

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"We have a reliable car, we tried to improve performance during testing".

 

Michael Schumacher is close to a sixth championship crown, but would he still have the motivation to go for a seventh-one?

 

"I’m not sure, for now I’m focusing on the on-going season. I won a title for Ferrari after 21 years in 2000. To me that was my peak. After that it was all just for fun".

 

About the strategy and the #2 drivers, Michael Schumacher says:

 

"Barrichello can take some points off of my rivals, but he wouldn’t push me much harder".

 

Juan Pablo Montoya then adds:

 

"I’d rather have Ralf then Gené as a teammate, he knows the track better and Williams-Bmw are focused on the Constructors’ Championship (Ferrari have a 4-point advantage over them). To accomplish that goal we’ll have to study some cooperation tactics that will also end up favoring me as well".

 

Ralf Schumacher, clearly frustrated, will race, if there are no last-minute changes.

 

"I’m fine. The only problem is that I haven’t been in the car for 20 days".

 

When asked about helping Montoya he said:

 

"No one has ever helped me, I’ll do my own race as always".

 

And then was asked if he thought his brother Michael was the favorite for the title:

 

"He has more experience, but Juan Pablo and Raikkonen are too cool to crack under pressure for the title. Actually, they have nothing to loose, they’ll push to the maximum".

 

Marc Gené, who replaced Ralf Schumacher in Monza, is also in the Williams garage. Meanwhile, in the Jordan one’s, there are three drivers, all looking to be Giancarlo Fisichella’s teammate for next year: main driver Ralph Firman, and the two challengers: Hungarian driver Zsolt Baumgartner and Swedish Bjorn Wirdheim, the reigning Formula 3000 champion who will make his debut as a test driver for the Irish team. It might go down to whoever has the most money. And finally, the atmosphere was extraordinary: 15.000 people showed up just to see an empty track, and 500.000 attenders are expected for the weekend. Everything has been unpredictable in this year’s World Championship, including the weather forecast: Friday of the 26th of September and it’s raining in Indianapolis, and the super reliable American weathermen couldn’t predict that. When the track is wet anything can happen (and it usually does). Schumacher was slow in pratice (P8), and he will have to be the first of the runners for pre-qualifying, which is usually the one which cleans the track, and this time it will be the one which dries it for everyone else. 

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Jarno Trulli set the fastest time of a 1'09"566, setting a track record and being ahead of the other Ferrari of Rubens Barrichello in the process: one car on the Michelin tyres, the other one on Bridgestone’s. Then it was Webber, the two Williams’ (Ralf ahead of Montoya), Coulthard, Alonso in the other Renault and Kimi Raikkonen. Jarno Trulli has conquered the America’s, that are looking for their face of motorsport in a sport that doesn’t love them. 

 

"I’m happy, our car keeps improving, I could feel it on the first morning practice sessions, this race track is amazing".

 

Stressed the Italian driver to the US’ tv’s. Rubens Barrichello is also happy:

 

"We still have a lot of work to do, as the rain set us back in free practice. If I didn’t make a small mistake in turn 2 I would be leading, but I’m still ahead of the Williams’ and the McLaren’s". 

 

In the 7th of 9 official practice sessions of the weekend (including pre-qualifying and qualifying) the Brazilian driver is ahead of his teammate. I’ll be a gun for Michael: 

 

"We’re working for the same team and we both have the same goal to win for Ferrari. If we have a chance to wrap up the Championship in America, we have to take it".

 

The Schumacher brothers were disappointed. Michael says:

 

"Once again I had to pre-qualify on a dirty and slippery track. I’m not worried though, 8th place doesn’t mean anything for us".

 

And Ralf added:

 

"In the wet our tyres are one second slower than everyone else’s".

 

Both Michael Schumacher have some family company to bring some luck: the German driver is with her wife Corinna, following a quick trip in Las Vegas in the last few days, spending time in the casino’s and in Colorado on their Harley Davidson motorbike without the stress from the fans, as his relevance in the United States is equivalent to a good baseball player in Europe. His fellow Colombian colleague is joined by his mother Libia, his father Pablo and brother Federico, and obviuosly her beautiful Connie. Schumacher and Jean Todt were involved in a off-track appointment on Thursday morning: as ambassadors of the San Marino Republic, they took to the Indianapolis’ Riley Hospital for Children. Guided by professor Howard Eigen, pneumology and intensive care department director, they visited the infant oncology and burns center departments, gifting the little kids a scale model of the F2002. Eigen said:

 

"We’re so grateful for Jean Todt and Michael Schumacher".

 

Back in the Speedway, the German was back speaking to the media:

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"The track reminds me of Montreal and Monza. The tyres will be a crucial factor".

 

The Bridgestone men were optimistic of having both dry and wet-track running. The temperature’s will be relatively low, up to 16 C°. The scorching hot summer which caused problems to the Japanese tyre manufacturer was over. But the plot was twisted again. A very close challenge between Michael Schumacher, Juan Pablo Montoya and Kimi Raikkonen, covered by just 7 points with two races remaining wasn’t enough. At the eve of the United States’ GP, there are a lot of factors to take into account. A track were there are barely any tests, challenging for being very fast on one side and quite slow on the other, the unpredictable weather which could cause many surprises on Saturday qualifying and Sunday’s race, the new tyres brought by Bridgestone and Michelin, and the firm position of the FIA theatning hefty fines and penalties if team orders are applied. Even the smallest suspicions could cause problems, as stated by Max Mosley, FIA president. All of that in an already tense context for teams, and not just the ones contending for the constructor’s or driver’s championships. Data analysis suggest that Renault shouldn’t be counted out either, which could have an impact on the title fight. On a dry track, the fastest times in practice were set by Jarno Trulli and teammate Fernando Alonso, split by just 0.001 seconds. The Italian driver was fastest in the first session, until it started raining and Michael Schumacher came though as usual in the wet conditions. But in pre-qualifying crafted a masterpiece, proving that he is a driver who doesn’t fear his rivals when things go the right way for him, including Fernando Alonso. On paper, Michael Schumacher’s poor performance could compromise his race starting position. It would be a big complication if he would be well behind his rivals in the field. The German has the excuse of being the first one out on track, without any reference time and a green track. However his 0.9 seconds gap to Rubens Barrichello is still quite worrying. There’s still the impression that the World Champion doesn’t like the format which is forcing him of always being the first one out on track. Ferrari are still relying on Michael Schumacher for the race. About the tyres, data from day one still suggests that Michelin still has an edge on one-lap pace. However, in the changable conditions any on-paper suggestions can be thrown out the window. 

 

Maybe Michael Schumacher is now hoping for the rain to arrive, even though the forecast has been off so far. From one Schumacher to another, Ralf - according to the Sun tabloid - is down for taking a 50% salary pay-cut to stay with Williams until 2006, earning 9 mln/year instead of 18. So that his team could offer more money to Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya, preventing a move to McLaren Mercedes for 2004. If he was to reject the offer, he could be replaced by Australian Mark Webber, currently commited with Jaguar. Jacques Villeneuve, who himself is on the brink of breakup with his team (Bar-Honda), is also in contention for a seat at Williams-Bmw. On Saturday of the 27th of September 2003, the weather changed, so did the lateral loads on the tyres, the track and the results. Monza already feels so long ago for Ferrari: Michael Schumacher qualified 7th, his worst qualifying since Hungary (P8) this season. A tough day in the office, starting with the fuel pump issues which set him back for the morning pratice session, meaning he couldn’t set his car up to his liking, with a pointy and perfect front-end, forcing him to copy his teammate’s setup. Kimi Raikkonen is the driver of the day, in a crucial weekend for him at Indianapolis, for the penultimate round of the Formula 1 World Championship, to stay in the title fight to become the youngest Formula 1 champion. He takes his second pole position of the season. He has to gain 7 points on the German driver, so, realistically, there’s only one result that matters for him: victory. It’s good for Michael Schumacher that it wasn’t Juan Pablo Montoya that went fastest. The Colombian is 4th, only just edging out Schumacher, who definitely has the chances to recover, on a track where overtaking is possible, but is still two rows behind. It’ll be a very close race, in which the strategies and the technical decisions will make the difference. Michael Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya have opted to promote straightline speed (344.8 and 350.3 km/h the respective top speeds), sacrificing the twisty corners of the in-field. This will improve overtaking by sacrificing overall pace. And when the gaps are this small, a few more, or less, litres of fuel could be crucial. 

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"We’ll see what strategy our opponents go for".

 

Stated Michael Schumacher. Olivier Panis’ 3rd place (Toyota’s best qualifying result of the season) was a big surprised which caused some doubts around the grid: he’s a very quick driver, the car has been improving race by race, it’s very powerful (which will help them through the fastest part of the track where the throttle is flat for over 20 seconds), but it may not have enough pace for a podium. For the others, the race could be decided in the pitstops phases. Schumacher lost a lot of time through the first and second corners: one, two and then three corrections, as captured by the onboard footage, which is very rare from him.

 

"The car is very unstable, we’ll figure out why".

 

The car needs a technical diagnosis from the Maranello team. It’s impossible to find a cure, as the F2003-GA spent its night in parc fermé along with its 19 colleagues, as mandated by the rules. He’ll have to figure it out: if he wants that 6th title, which would make history, he’ll have to sweat for his, uncovering his class as he only has done a number of times this year. Let’s take Rubens Barrichello’s performance: his time was only 0.124 off of Kimi Raikkonen’s, so the potential is there. For the 8th of last 10 qualifying and pre-qualifying sessions, the Brazilian was faster than his teammate. Ferrari stressed that they were on the same tyre, but there are doubts over Michael Schumacher’s tyre choice: he might’ve gone conservative, for harder and more durable tyres, better over the distance. Same for Juan Pablo Montoya (supported by thousands of fans, displaying a poster which compared his to the Pope: "You’re the number one, because the number two is in Rome"), unlike Rubens Barichello and Kimi Raikkonen. Trulli was very disappointed, as he posted the fastest time on friday but had a crash during the warm up session, breaking the front-right suspension after an off-track excursion, which was caused, according to him, by the wind. The Renault mechanics put the car together quickly enough to get back on track, but he still had issues, finishing a disappointing 10th. Alonso went better than him, who is 6th on the grid and already counting how many positions he’ll make up at the start thanks to his sophisticated electronic system for race starts. The number two drivers will play a big role in the race. Chariman Bernie Ecclestone looked to be a bit more tollerant towards the forbidden team orders: if Ralf Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello were to help their respective teammates, it wouldn’t be strange. Just one hour after qualifying and Michael Schumacher has a faked smile on his face, when he and his wife Corinna linked up with some American friends. He looked unfazed, perhaps ackowledging how he compromised his race, his chances to wrap up the title a race early, and his vulnerability at the top of the standings.

 

"The track was very slippery for me. But honestly, I still don’t understand how I can be so far back. Maybe having limited time to do laps in practice might’ve been the cause, stopping on track watching the others do laps. We had to go for a compromise with the setup, also because half of the track is really fast and the other is really slow". 

 

And to those who say that overtaking is possible at the end of the main straight, the German replies:

 

"Overtaking here is possible, but I’m not sure if it’ll be as easy as it was in Monza".

 

Why should I be worried, he said when asked if he was asked if he was worried about Raikkonen’s performance. Starting from 7th would make it a tough race.

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"It wasn’t the result I was expecting, but it wasn’t a disaster either. In Hungary I started 8th and finished where I started, but I could’ve gained a few places if I didn’t have any issues".

 

Barrichello, meanwhile, was on the front row...

 

"He did great, but I still don’t understand how I can be this far back. I made some mistakes early in the lap, but I don’t think that was the main issue".

 

The Brazilian looks quite happy to have out-qualified his teammate for the 6th time this season and he was optimistic ahead of the race:

 

"We don’t have the fastest car for qualifying, but we are quite strong in the race. Michael always proved how he can recover. I hope to win, that would help him and my team".

 

The cheers of the Colombian fans gathered by the grandstands on the final corner get louder and louder as soon as a driver sets a time faster than Michael Schumacher’s, but the passion of his fans wasn’t enough to push Montoya to pole position.

 

"I could’ve done better, but I had some issues with the traction control system in the slow corners. But it doesn’t matter: I believe Raikkonen and Barrichello were running low on fuel. It won’t be an easy race, but I’m looking forward to it".

 

One of the three championship contenders, Raikkonen, is unexpectedly ahead of everyone. A great starting position for the Finn, but he’s being quiet and cautious ahead of the race:

 

"I wasn’t happy with my McLaren car in practice and I couldn’t even find a good setup on Saturday morning. But apparently my lap was good and the car behaved quite well. And yes, I was aiming for a front row, but not necesserily on pole position. That’s better than I expected, but I still believe it’s going to be a tough race. Schumacher is quite far behind, which could help, but you never know what’s going to happen in such a long and unpredictable race".

 

Big disappointment for Jarno Trulli, who was hoping to qualify on the front row at least, after showing brilliant pace on Friday and Saturday morning in pratice. The Renault driver blamed it on the weather conditions.

 

"The track was slippery all the way through and the winnd direction changed during the warm up before qualifying. I didn’t notice it straight away and I made a mistake and went off track. I damaged the car, but luckily enough the mechanics did a great job to get the car ready in time. I couldn’t find the right feeling with the lines I studied on my lap. Maybe I just didn’t adapt to the new conditions. It’s a shame, I hope I can still have a good race".

 

In contrast with the disappointment of Trulli is the delightment of Olivier Panis, who was very upset on Friday after learning that his father was arrested for stolen car trafficking.

 

"Third place is the best starting position for Toyota since they entered Formula 1. A lot of people think it’s just luck, I’ll try and prove them wrong in the race".

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Sunday of the 28th of September 2003, Kimi Raikkonen holds the lead at the start of the United States Grand Prix, meanwhile behind him Rubens Barrichello is passed by Olivier Panis and Ralf Schumacher, and Juan Pablo Montoya is overtaken by both of the Schumacher brothers. At the end of the first lap, Raikkonen leads over Olivier Panis, Ralf Schumacher, Michael Schumacher (who was let through by his teammate on the first lap), David Coulthard, Rubens Barrichello and Juan Pablo Montoya. In an effort to make up for the loss ground at the start, on lap  3  the Colombian driver is side-by-side with the Brazilian: the two make contact and Rubens Barrichello is forced to retire, and Juan Pablo Montoya is passed by both Renault drivers, Jarno Trulli and Fernando Alonso, still in the race with no apparent damage. In the meantime, Ralf Schumacher overtakes Olivier Panis, and a lap later his brother also passed the French driver; further back Juan Pablo Montoya is on a charge, as Alonso overtakes Coulthard. On lap 6 some rain drops begin to fall: in these conditions the Michelin tyres are proving to be faster than the Bridgestone’s and Michael  Schumacher is losing ground, as Montoya makes his way into third place. The Colombian driver, however, is under investigation of the race stewards for making contact with Rubens Barrichello. Some drivers, including Olivier Panis, entered the pits to put on the wet tyres, but the rain stops falling a couple of laps later, forcing them to make a second pit stop. Kimi Raikkonen keeps leading the race ahead of Ralf Schumacher, David Coulthard, Juan Pablo Montoya, Fernando Alonso, Michael  Schumacher and Jarno Trulli. As the track dries up, the German driver for Ferrari is back lapping with competitive times, setting the fastest lap as well. On lap 15 Juan Pablo Montoya overtakes David Coulthard. Two laps later they both pitted for refueling, but the Colombian is held back by a problem while refueling, losing a lot of time. Meanwhile it starts raining again, however none of the leading drivers are pitting for the wet tyres. The only ones doing that are Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Jenson Button and Justin Wilson. The rain increased dramatically and all the other drivers are also forced to pit again for the wets: Ralf Schumacher, Mark Webber and David Coulthard, who stayed out on the dry tyres, are all over the place and going off track. 

 

The first two of them are forced to retire, while the Scottish is able to keep going, albeit suffering a big time loss. Meanwhile Juan Pablo Montoya is given a drive-through penalty for causing a collision with Rubens Barrichello. The Colombian driver lost several places, rejoining the race in 11th place. The race classification is turned on its head: on lap 23, Jenson Button finds himself in the lead ahead of Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Kimi Raikkonen, Justin Wilson, Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher. However, the Bridgetone tyres looked a lot quicker than the Michelin’s on a fully wet track, and Micheal Schumacher immediatly overtakes the two drivers directly in front of him, and on lap 28 he passes Kimi Raikkonen, too. Four laps later, the German driver he overtakes Heinz-Harald Frentzen as well, and quickly closes the gap on Jenson Button, overtaking him on lap 36. 5 laps later the British driver is forced to retire because of a gearbox faliure of his BAR-Honda. Behind Micheal Schumacher are Heinz Harald Frentzen, Kimi Raikkonen, Nick Heidfeld, Jarno Trulli, Giancarlo Fisichella and Fernando Alonso. Soon after though the rain stops falling and the track dries up. During the second round of pitstops, started with Kimi Raikkonen on lap 42, all drivers pitted for the dry tyres, with no significant changes of positions. Michael Schumacher keeps leading ahead of Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Kimi Raikkonen, Nick Heidfeld, Jarno Trulli, Giancarlo Fisichella, Juan Pablo Montoya and Justin Wilson. The McLaren driver is making progress on Heinz-Harald Frentzen, overtaking him on lap 54. 9 laps after Jarno Trulli overtakes Nick Heidfeld, and with 6 laps to go Juan Pablo Montoya overtakes Giancarlo Fisichella. After 73 laps, Michael Schumacher crosses the line to wins the United States Grand Prix, ahead of Kimi Raikkonen Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Jarno Trulli, Nick Heidfeld, Juan Pablo Montoya, Giancarlo Fisichella and Justin Wilson, who gets his first point in his career. A great, great job by Michael Schumacher, Ferrari and Bridgestone. Through the suffering they managed to be back on top under the downpour of Indianapolis, which compromised both Juan Pablo Montoya and Kimi Raikkonen. 

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The World Championship battle is still mathematically alive: only one point separates Michael Schumacher from history, as long as the Finn is able to win in two weeks time in Japan, for the final round of the season. Michael Schumacher won a rollercoaster of spins, off-track excursions and mistakes: for his opponents, obviously. From lap 33 and 55 he was virtually the champion. Then Kimi Raikkonen started coming back, perhaps pushed from his own anger and pride to make it all the way up to 2nd place to keep his championship hopes alive. Over 54 years of its history, the Formula 1 driver’s championship will be decided at the final race. And for the 6th time (4th in a row), unless there are any surprises, it’ll be the German who celebrates again, breaking Juan Manuel Fangio’s record. The World Constructors’ Championship is still wide open. The 10 points of the United States’ Grand Prix took Ferrari back on top: 147 to 144 over Williams-BMW, who gained 3 points thanks to Juan Pablo Montoya (6th place) but no points following Ralf Schumacher’s accident. The only sour note of a day of triumph for the team from Maranello was Rubens Barrichello’s DNF after two laps, who was pushed off by Juan Pablo Montoya who was trying to overtake him. For that offence, the Colombian had to serve a drive-through penalty which put him out of contention for the race win, and the 2003 title. Unlike the Colombian, Michael Schumacher didn’t make any mistakes: he stayed out of trouble when his rivals were faster, and when the rain started to fall and everyone was still on the dry tyres. He was soon after on a charge from 7th to 1st, despite David Coulthard’s offence and winning in dominant fashion on his way to his 70th win of his career, his 51st for Ferrari (who themselves got their 166th win) and the 6th of the season. When the German crossed the line in front of the red Ferrari flags, the erratic supporters of Juan Pablo Montoya put their banners out. 

 

The opponents deserve credit too, especially Kimi Raikkonen, who for the first time let his iceman personality melt, showing his disappointment. He got pole on on Saturday and led the group for a long time. When he lost ground because of the rain, he rolled up his sleeves and did whathe could, but Michael Schumacher was untouchable. Young Kimi has been the most consistent driver 2003: only one win, but six 2nd places, and two 3rd’s are enough to go to Suzuka to play catch up. Michael Schumacher hasn’t been as consistent: other than his 6 wins, he’s only stepped on the podium twice, while still making up for it with some valuable points finishes. Juan Pablo Montoya is out of the fight after a spectacular season. He put Ferrari under pressure and he can still influence the World Constructors’ Championship. He fought in his own way at Indianapolis, aggressive and erratic, but ultimately not mature enough to win the title: he could’ve ended up on the grass with that contact with Rubens Barrichello, and was later penalized for it. There was no reason to take certain risks at the start of such an important race with the threat of rain. He was also momentarily lapped by Jenson Button (who later retired) and Heinz-Harald Frentzen, who was back on the podium after 3 years. Jarno Trulli had a good race, very quick on Friday, then a disaster in qualifying, then a 4th place finished at a race in which only 11 cars made it to the finish. After the critics, Bridgestone recived high praise, who other than Michael Schumacher and Heinz-Harald Frentzen placed the the other Sauber-Petronas car of Nick Heidfeld (P5) and the Jordan-Cosworth of Giancarlo Fisichella (P7) in the points. The World Champion will be crowned in Japan for the 7th time in a row, from Mika Hakkinen in 1998 to the Schumacher era, which looked far from over. A podium finish would be enough. On his way to a 6th title. He was really happy, after a lot of people thought he was struggling. After Hungary we saw the true Michael Schumacher: he won in Monza and then back to back in tricky conditions, he probably wasn’t expecting it. Michael, and his wife Corinna, will be back home for a few days, with his kids, Mick and Gina Maria, and tell them about his new feat. He’ll then go to Mugello, likely from Thursday of the 2nd of October 2003, to prepare the final race in Japan.

 

"Unbelievable. A result that was hard to predict, but we obviously wanted to come out of the United States’ Grand Prix with a good amount of points to stay well on top and close the battle out in Suzuka".

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The German isn’t taking anything for granted, but you can tell from the look on his face how delighted he is. The Ferrari driver would much rather talk about a difficult and chaotic race.

 

"I had a good start, especially because we worked really hard on the electronic system in the last few weeks, and the progress showed. Then things got more complicated for us. I had more fuel in the tank of my F2003-GA compared to the other cars of my rivals. When it was time to come in the pits to change tyres and refuel, it was starting to rain but the track  wasn’t wet enough. I was forced to go for the slicks but then I had to come in again a lap later for the wets. When the first drops of rain started to fall, my Bridgestone slicks’ we were slower and lost places. Then it got heavier and I knew that we would’ve been faster on the wets. I realized there was a chance, not just to comeback, but to get very close to a full house of points. We knew we had a wild card available in our Bridgestone’s if it rained, but we never got the chance to use it".

 

But everyone is asking him about the title. Schumacher added:

 

"Obviously I’m very optimistic, we’re in a very good situation. I would love to go for the win in Suzuka, but we know we have a very reliable car and if need just one point, I'll adapt to the situation. Let’s not forget about the World Constructors’ Championship as well".

 

When asked about the incident between Barrichello and Montoya, he replied:

 

"I  don’t have tv in my Ferrari, I couldn’t see what happened. I can only say that I feel sorry for Rubens, he could’ve had a strong race and he would’ve been a great helping hand. We could’ve wrapped up one of the two titles if he was still on track".

 

Michael Schumacher acknowledges that Juan Pablo Montoya, despite his aggressiveness and determination, had a fair behaviour:

 

"When it started raining while we were still on the dries’, he passed me easily though turns 9 and 10, because my car was sliding a lot. I was passed by Alonso and Coulthard as well. Then I caught the Colombian, Juan Pablo didn’t put up much of a fight because I was faster and he gave me way. David Coulthard shut the door on me, instead, he caused a few issues and we touched as well. On my Ferrari there are marks of his McLaren. It could’ve been race over for me. I was lucky".

 

Is the race performance also thanks to the preparation during the days prior?

 

"I was unlucky on Saturday. A small mistake, a gust of wind, I tried to recover in the final sector of the track by pushing to the maximum, but it didn’t work. Thankfully, also thanks to the mechanics, I chose to start with a higher fuel load and with an aerodynamic setup which was good for the rain. So 7th place on the grid had its reasons. However I was still surprised because I thought we could’ve done better".

 

Jean Todt was also pretty delighted:

 

"That was some genius stuff. A dream day for us, after a very tough and close race. Thanks to Bridgestone who provided us with winning tyres. The Japanese manufacturer recived a lot of critics, but those helped them to improve. The team have been great and Michael drove like only he drives. We’re very close to winning the drivers’ championship and we are leading in the constructors’. But the party is over now, we’ll start working soon for Suzuka".

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Juan Pablo Montoya already left the circuit. Visibly frustrated, he states:

 

"The penalty that was given to me ruined my race. It was just a racing incident".

 

Kimi Raikkonen had a resigning look, despite being the only one still in championship contention:

 

"I left it all out there. It’s a pretty hard situation, but you never know. We will give it everything to try and beat the odds".

 

The wheels on the grass, the desperate hand gestures to the marshalls, begging them to put him back on track. But it was all for nothing. Rubens Barrichello’s race was over soon after it began, way too soon. After just two laps. Wether that was because of an issue on his Ferrari or because of making contact with the Williams-BMW of Juan Pablo Montoya, or perhaps both, it’s difficult to say. There were no doubts for the race directors, however: it was Montoya’s fault, so he was given a drive through penalty. But for Barrichello it was still race over. At the worst possible moment and the worst possible way, after a lion weekend, and a great Saturday qualifying session which earned him a front row start behind Kimi Raikkonen. But first he had a gearbox issue which made him bog-down at the start and lose positions. And only a lap later he made contact with Montoya. When he came to the pits it was hard to tell if he was angry or just disappointed. After cooling down he gave his version:

 

"The race ended in the worst possible way and I don’t understand why. I had gearbox isses at the start. I stayed in first gear for an extra 2-3 seconds. It wasn’t easy to drive in those conditions. About the incident, I thought I left Montoya enough room. Then all of a sudden I felt a hit and I found myself on the gravel".

 

A difficult Sunday for Ralf Schumacher. The brother of the reigning World Champion also went off the track, following the down pour on the racetrack. Ralf tried everything he could to rejoin the race, but he retired following a failure of his right rear suspension. He explained the reason why he crashed:

 

"I had been trying to speak to the pit wall for two laps: I wanted to pit for new tyres. I was trying to tell them but they didn’t reply. Driving and talking at the same time wasn’t the easiest of things: I lost focus and went off track. It couldn’t have been any worse…".

 

Jean Todt stated:

 

"We want to win it all. We are relieved but the job is not finished".

 

Ferrari left Indianapolis being aware that they went from having a terrible season of high intensity and instability, to being separated by a small step to one of the two titles, the Drivers’ World Championship. The cars and all the equipment will be put in containers in a few days and will be shipped by cargo to Japan. At the Suzuka race track, on Sunday the 12th of October 2003, Michael Schumacher will look for that one point that would win him his 6th title and become a legend of the sport: 8th place would be enough, as long as Kimi Raikkonen, the sole contender, is able to win the race. The Maranello team will also try to extend their golden run since 1999 in the World Constructors’ Championship. That will be the harder challenge, a 3-point lead over Williams-Bmw means that they will need a second and a forth place to avoid any risks. Here’s the dilemma though: will they go for that one point or will they go all in? Michael Schumacher cleared it, stating:

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"My goal for Suzuka is the same as always: victory".

 

Will it be worth taking risks in a possible battle with Kimi Raikkonen?

 

"I always raced with my head over my feet".

 

Which means he’ll stay out of trouble. Rubens Barrichello’s role will be crucial. It’s time to make some conclusions. Jean Todt stated:

 

"Schumacher would already be champion with last year’s points system".

 

The 6 wins from his golden boy against only one for Kimi Raikkonen aren’t enough to secure the championship one round to go, there will be more to suffer. However, suffer is a bit of an overstatement: he will have to go through two days of testing in Mugello and an intense race weekend at Suzuka. Michael Schumacher is leaving the Indianapolis Speedway on Sunday evening at sunset with his wife Corinna, with two policemen on Harley Davidson’s escorting them, heading to the airport and his private jet. On Monday he’s already home in Switzerland, hugging his children Gina Maria and Mick, on Thursday and Friday he’ll be on track to test the final upgrade package for the tyres and the electronics. Meanwhile, Luca Badoer and Felipe Massa will also be at the Tuscan racetrack. The final efforts before the winter break, just two more weeks. The opponents had praise and critics for the Ferrari outfit. Mario Theissen (sporting director for Williams-Bmw) and Norbert Haug (Mercedes Motorsport director) congratulated Schumacher and Ferrari, despite being still in the fight. Juan Pablo Montoya felt robbed and his team don’t agree with him:

 

"We made too many mistakes, it wouldn’t make sense to appeal".

 

The Colombian wasn’t behind them:

 

"I’m not at fault, it was just a racing incident. The penalty wasn’t fair. That’s where I lost the race and the World Championship".

 

Jean Todt replied quickly:

 

"Barrichello is also not happy to have been taken out".

 

Juan Pablo Montoya lost the title on track. He fought hard, often beating who is on his way to become the greatest of all time, putting him under pressure all the way to the penultimate round of the season, but he only had 2 wins against 6 of his rival. Too many mistakes over the course of the season, from his side and his team’s, mixing some great performances with some negative days. In contrast, Kimi Raikkonen proved to be the more consistent of the contenders, held back by an inferior car. One win was enough to keep is hopes alive. The Ferrari fans don’t like the new points stystem, but since the win at Indy they’re not too concerned about it. There’s just one race left to go, but the attention is already on the next season. Since Friday of the 26th of September 2003 all team representatives have been meeting daily with Bernie Ecclestone. The meeting are about the season ahead, the sporting regulations, the calendar, the time schedules and testing rules for race weekends and private tests.

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The meetings have helped understanding the intentions of the teams after the suggestions made by the FIA. Like Flavio Briatore says, decicions aren’t made in these meetings. All the teams will have to show their plans and suggestions to discuss with the Formula One Commission, who scheduled a meeting in Paris on Friday of the 3rd of October 2003. FIA president Max Mosley (just like Bernie Ecclestone), wants to revamp the plans once again. He wants Friday to be free practice day, qualifying to be held on Saturday and a sort of super pole session on Sunday morning before the Grand Prix, with the fastest 8 drivers taking part. He’s also suggesting a reduction in the amount of days of private testing over the course of the season, capping at 30 days for each car. This propouse isn’t receiving unanimous approval, with the top teams being firmly against it. According to the FIA, the new rules would improve the show and reduce costs. But it wouldn’t actually be like that: teams with bigger assets and resources aren’t giving up free practice, which would provide safety for the cars and the drivers. If the new propouse was approved, Friday would be more action packed than before. McLaren have already stated that, in order to get data, they would even put 6 cars out on track. Ferrari could put at least 4, same for Williams, Toyota and Jaguar. It wouldn’t reduce costs at all. Those would actally rise massively. With four or six cars on track, it would also mean more spare parts, mechanics and engineers, pay flights and hotels for the drivers. Facilities like Fiorano for Ferrari or Le Castellet for Toyota would become pointless, at least for their Formula 1 departments. Super pole would be fun for the fans, but it would be hard to manage only one engine for each race weekend. Those who wouldn’t take part in the super pole session would save their engines. It wouldn’t be fair. A set of timed laps on Saturday (instead of just one) and a one-lap qualifying on Sunday would be more plausible. It’s not taken for granted that the format could stay the same as this year. More about that in a week’s time. Reducing costs, no matter what is propoused, would be very hard. Every team is doing anything in their power to improve their chances to win, investing in new technology: like Jaguar, who on Saturday announced to have purchased a wind tunnel in Bendford, previously used by the Ministry of Defence to develop fighter jets and missiles.


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