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#702 2003 Spanish Grand Prix

2023-01-19 23:00

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#2003, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Alice Simonin,

#702 2003 Spanish Grand Prix

In Barcelona, Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello are finally going to drive the new F2003-GA. Now that the decision has been made, people are a

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In Barcelona, Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello are finally going to drive the new F2003-GA. Now that the decision has been made, people are asking: what does Ferrari expect from this single-seater? And why did they delay the debut until the fifth race of the Formula 1 World Championship? Performance-wise, the tests were positive: compared to the already exceptional F2002, the timings recorded on the private track in Fiorano and in Mugello allow an improvement of at least half a second per lap. The designer engineers in Maranello took up the winning ideas of the previous model and they brought them to the extreme. The car body, the exhaust pipes and the rear, which had already amazed everyone in the previous version for how narrow it was, have been re-designed. The miniaturization of the engine and gearbox was what made the aerodynamics work possible: the 3000cc ten-cylinder engine contains over 850 horsepower in little more than eighty kg. The weight reduction permits to increase the ballasts (the total weight, driver included, has to reach 600 kg), in order to better balance the car and lower the center of gravity. This much work has given positive results in terms of speed but has raised doubts on road holding. A famous strong point of Maranello’s cars, the reliability was not reached in hoped timings. The development driver Luca Badoer was a protagonist in March of a couple of off-tracks probably caused by the rupture of a suspension, then the problems concerned the mechanics and a mysterious oil leak. Once the last childhood flaws had been removed, the F2003-GA passed without inconveniences three Grand Prix simulations and was promoted as regular. Three exemplars will be sent to Spain, one of which has already been run-in by Badoer. On the long times of design and development, Ferrari does not give details. The only explanation is that the old single-seater was still competitive and it would have been convenient to take advantage of the performances, in order to give time to the new one to properly improve. A few errors and a dose of bad luck denied Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello the victory in the first three races, but in Imola, a race without rain nor unexpected events, the superiority was clear from the first qualifying session to the chequered flag. With a hint of melancholy, the F2002 starts its former life: it will still be useful for some tests, and then it will show itself off in salons and exhibitions. It has been the most winning single-seater in the Ferrari history: fifteen wins in nineteen races, the Drivers' and Constructors' Championships in the past season, pole positions and one-twos on the verge of boredom.

 

"But there wasn’t any room for development".

 

The technical director Ross Brawn explains. Rubens Barrichello says goodbye to the F2002 with nostalgia:


"It gave me the best moments of my career, I’m sorry I didn’t bring it to success in Brazil".

 

The former development driver Luciano Burti recalls his contribution:

 

"As long as I was there, it was unbeatable".

 

Dedicated to Giovanni Agnelli (the acronym comes from his initials, which customized the name of the car), the single-seater debuting on May 4th 2003 at the Montmelò track has to chase the others. Ahead of Michael Schumacher (18 points), there are the revived McLaren-Mercedes with David Coulthard (19 points) and Kimi Räikkönen (32 points). There’s more: the new regulation makes recoveries harder. Whoever wins, gets 10 points; whoever comes second, gets 8 points. At the San Marino Grand Prix, the German driver regained only two points from his rival, who swears he does not fear the new Ferrari debut.

 

"It looks very similar to the previous one or, at least performance-wise, I didn’t notice anything spectacular".

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The challenge between the two has just started and in the meantime the F1 world is in an uproar. On Monday, 28 April 2003, as stated in an Austrian newspaper, the Kronen Zeitung, the Brazilian driver Antonio Pizzonia would have been fired by Jaguar to make room to the Austrian driver Alexander Wurz. Not at all satisfied with the Brazilian’s performances, in the words of the newspaper, the team would have sacked him, preferring the actual McLaren-Mercedes development driver. According to Kronen, the new contract would have already been signed, meanwhile Ron Dennis, the McLaren boss, would have already given his placet to the operation. Is everything decided? Absolutely not: in fact, the Jaguar manager David Pitchforth clarifies that, contrary to media speculations, Antonio’s future is still with Jaguar, with whom he will race in Barcelona. Regarding the German champion Michael Schumacher, he thanks the fans for the solidarity they showed him and his brother Ralf Schumacher in occasion of their mother’s passing from his website.

 

"It’s been a real comfort to see how much affection you have shown us. Your messages have been a great comfort. Thanks also to the papers and the TV channels who have respected our desire of privacy".

 

On Friday, 2 May 2003, the Ferrari F2003-GA, checked and corrected, will turn on the engines for its official debut. The Spanish Grand Prix, fifth race of the F1 World Championship, is offering an hour of Free Practice (from 11am to 12am) and right away a session that counts: the new pre-qualifying, the best moment of the weekend to evaluate the maximum performance of a single-seater, a single lap on a free track and very little fuel. Michael Schumacher says:

 

"After the latest tests there are no more doubts or questions regarding the reliability of the new car. I know I can deal very calmly with the next task and get back to fight for the World Championship".

 

In Maranello, the technicians worked very hard to solve the first problems of the newborn car. The suspensions have been made stronger and the overheating problems have been resolved with two grills on the sides which will make the heat disposal easier, sacrificing something, maybe a tenth, to aerodynamics efficiency. It was inevitable. The breaks during the tests before the San Marino Grand Prix had already caused a postponement of the debut, firstly expected at Imola. Ferrari plans to improve with a rate of 0.5 seconds per lap, enough to gain last year’s advantage. With two differences that will make the World Championship open: the advantage already collected by the McLaren-Mercedes and the upcoming debut of the Silver Arrows, expected at the Canadian Grand Prix, the eighth of this year calendar’s sixteen races (the Circus won’t be going to Belgium anymore because the tobacconist sponsors do not like the severity of the norms against smoking). Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello have got three occasions to recover, after that they will have to face the progresses of the competition. With a perfect season start, Kimi Räikkönen is justifying the 25 million euro invested by the McLaren boss, Ron Dennis, to pull him away from Sauber (and from any interested teams). The icy Finnish is leading the standings with 32 points ahead of his teammate David Coulthard (19 points). The lead over Michael Schumacher is huge: 14 points is a very huge number even with three victories, if the young Kimi keeps standing on the podium with accounting precision (one first-place, two second-places and one third-place). It is the consequence of the new regulation that assigns 10 points to the winner, 8 to the second (instead of 6) and 6 to the third (instead of 4). Up until 2002, a couple victories would have valued more than three second-places, now the regularity is rewarded and, for the first time in years, the Ferraris have been discontinuous. In the Constructors' World Championship standing, the gap between the two teams is 51 to 32 points. That is why people in Maranello are expecting a series of victories by the single-seater dedicated to Giovanni Agnelli. That is why, for opposite reasons, they have lined up the F2002 when the new car was giving reliability problems: it is better to finish the race rather than to risk a retirement. At Montmelò, in the outskirts of Barcelona, Ferrari brings three exemplars of the GA. The tradition is in favor of Michael Schumacher, who won three times with Ferrari at the Circuit de Catalunya (1996, 2001 and 2002) and once with Benetton (1995). The victory of Imola motivated him.

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After the rumors of a goodbye at the end of 2004, when the Ferrari contract will expire, now he states again:

 

"I will stay in F1 for many years still and I won’t be leaving Ferrari until stability is granted and I will be motivated. Everyone is trying to dethrone me and I like it. It is better to be dethroned than to never have been at the top".

 

The candidate to pick up Michael Schumacher’s legacy is a Spanish of good hopes and talent: Fernando Alonso. At 21 years old, he is the youngest driver to have taken pole position.

 

"In Spain, he is as popular as King Carlos".

 

Says Flavio Briatore, his mentor and employer at Renault. And Alonso says:

 

"The good driver reveals himself at the Montmelò track. You need to have an extreme confidence with your own car to do well".

 

On Friday, 2 May 2003, Michael Schumacher is the fastest in the pre-qualifying of the Spanish Grand Prix. Given the fact that for the German driver this is a comfortable place, it is a matter of knowing if the new Ferrari made him even more uncatchable. McLaren-Mercedes and Williams-BMW, the all-time rivals, are further away: the best is Kimi Räikkönen, P8, 0.7 seconds away; the worst, Juan Pablo Montoya, P14, is at 1.5 seconds. This means that the F2003-GA is passing the first exam with flying colors. However, the outsiders are approaching. Jarno Trulli’s Renault gets between the two Ferrari drivers; Christiano Da Matta, Jenson Button, Olivier Panis and Mark Webber follow. The explanation is that the new rules do not allow big tricks on Fridays, because everyone leaves with a minimum load of fuel, but some deception is still possible. Jaguar and Renault (and perhaps also Toyota) have put on soft tyres during the session, which allow excellent performance on the single lap but wear out quickly. By Saturday morning, they will have to choose the tyres they will use in qualifying and in the race and they will see how much they really are worth. Another system to gain some horsepower is to close the air vents to improve aerodynamics: the engine overheats, but it resists those 16 kilometers to run the test. The track finally gets faster as the laps go by. Blessed are the last ones, because they gain 0.3 seconds. On Saturday, the starting order will be reversed. The asphalt cleaning task is entrusted to the two Minardis, while Michael Schumacher will start last.

 

"The provisional pole shows that the F2003-GA confirms our expectations".

 

Rubens Barrichello, held up by a water leak and on track with the spare car prepared for Michael Schumacher, is still happy with the third time:

 

"Considering that the seat and pedal arrangements were very different from those of my car".

 

The rivals have different opinions. David Coulthard is pessimistic:

 

"Seeing Ferrari, I hope to have the new McLaren quickly, which has not yet driven a single kilometer and of which the debut is optimistically announced in Canada in mid-June". 

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While Kimi Räikkönen, his partner and leader of the standing, is not impressed:

 

"Ferrari? I expected it to be faster".

 

At Renault, they get close to the sneer. Flavio Briatore says:
 

"Two ships were announced, but we saw nothing out of this world".

 

And Jarno Trulli holds onto the exploit, after two races to forget:

 

"A gust of wind at turn 11 slowed me down, otherwise...".

 

Otherwise, he would have put both ships behind him, it seems to be understood. He certainly did better than his teammate Fernando Alonso (P10), an idol to the fans who crowded the grandstands of the Montmelò circuit. As for the future, F1 still revises and corrects the rules. From 2004, as expected, the automatic management of the gearbox and the starting control system will disappear, but the traction control will remain; only one engine will be allowed per weekend (whoever breaks the engine during the practice loses ten positions on the starting grid); the rear wing will have a maximum of two flaps and in the meantime a single wing will be tested, to be introduced in 2006; Bridgestone and Michelin will be invited to produce a wet tyre that will be used if the race director deems it necessary. And in 2004, the Bahrain Grand Prix will enter the calendar. It will replace Austria and will be held between March and April. On Saturday, 3 May 2003, the Ferraris become simply impregnable. The lap that is worth the pole position for Michael Schumacher and the second lap time by Rubens Barrichello bring the fans back a year: in comparison with the competition, the new Ferrari is worth the same gaps of 2002. But the rivals change. The second row is locked by Renault, with Fernando Alonso and the Italian Jarno Trulli who, for the first time, are very close to the top and swear that they will fight in defense of the position, waiting for lucky events. McLaren-Mercedes takes a step back, even though it has a good traction on the Catalan circuit. Kimi Räikkönen will defend the lead in the standings starting from the back of the grid, as his qualifying lap ran aground in the run-off area of turn 7. And David Coulthard’s 8th place is not the worst by far, because the Scottish had to use the spare car that was set for his teammate and he may have chosen a race-oriented strategy (more fuel and hard tyres). But that 1.4 seconds lead from Michael Schumacher is a disaster that no tactic can fill. Iceman, that is Kimi Räikkönen, remains rather impassive despite having gone off the track in his qualifying lap. On the contrary, the Finnish keeps his head inside his helmet for a few minutes longer than usual before saying those seven or eight words he dispenses on these occasions:
 

"I missed turn 7. I’ll start last on the grid. Anything can happen, I hope to finish in the top eight". 

Michael Schumacher, instead, will start on pole. What does the F2003-GA have more or different from the F2002?

 

"It’s faster. There aren’t any specific parts where we’ve improved. When you make a new car, you’re always trying to make progress in all areas. You have to make it faster and more neutral. It wasn’t easy. Tests are one thing, race is another. The climate, the pressure, the goals change. The team did a fantastic job. But mine wasn’t a perfect lap. I couldn’t keep the ideal trajectory between turns 9 and 11. Because Rubens was very good, I thought I’d end up behind him. But it was better. The race? We wait, we will see".

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Ferrari, for the debut of the new single-seater, prefers to make some conservative choices. For example, they use Bridgestone tyres that they had already tried for a long time, avoiding a new type brought by the Japanese supplier. Shell has prepared a special fuel with a slightly changed formula for the Maranello 052 engine, designed for the new V10. A propeller that Rubens Barrichello hopes to bring in the very first positions:

 

"I think we have the right tactic, even if we don’t know exactly how our direct rivals are positioned in terms of their strategy. The ideal would be to be able to stay ahead from the start and immediately try to gain a good margin of advantage".

 

And while the Ferraris try to escape, McLaren and Williams will have to chase. On a track that focuses on chassis and aerodynamics, the super BMW engine pushes Ralf Schumacher to the seventh place and Juan Pablo Montoya to the ninth. There are no more talks about the World Championship in the Anglo-German team, even if Spain is only the fifth of sixteen Grand Prix. Juan Pablo Montoya says that when it comes to being forced to give the best to recover, he is always there:

 

"After having had several problems in these two days I managed to make my car at least driveable. I will face the Grand Prix with a poor position in the line-up, but we must do with what we have and I do not see it so badly".

 

Ralf Schumacher is less optimistic:

 

"It was clear that we do not have the ideal set-up to face the race aggressively. In short, it will be hard to score points". 

 

Until Sunday afternoon, it will still be a doubt whether the F2003-GA is less reliable than the unbeatable car that preceded it. After all, this is precisely the reason that led Ferrari to postpone its debut and to correct the extreme approach of the initial project. At Montmelò, in the hills surrounding Barcelona, in the early afternoon the air temperature exceeds 25 °C and the track temperature reaches 35 °C. The F2003-GA does not seem to have suffered from the heat in the first two days of testing, but the race exam is always unknown (some breaks during the development tests had been caused by the overheating of the engine). 

"Everything is solved, we have reached a level of reliability equal to that of the F2002".

 

The Scuderia Ferrari technicians assure that, during the week before the Spanish Grand Prix, they successfully simulated three races. Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello have another advantage: at the start they will not have those rivals, so far considered more fearsome, behind them. The BAR-Honda of Jenson Button and the Toyota of Olivier Panis are between them and the McLaren-Mercedes, after the Renaults, which is a good advantage that should avoid surprises until the first pit stop. Yet, it is precisely Fernando Alonso and Jarno Trulli who could become dangerous. They will start with soft tyres (so immediately more performing) and less fuel. The two keep a low profile ("the Ferraris are out of our reach"), Michael Schumacher fears them ("at the moment they constitute the second quickest team of the World Championship"). Flavio Briatore calms down too, after having mocked the performance of the F2003-GA.

 

"I would settle for a podium spot. Our race is with McLaren and Williams, who are behind. Here in Spain we are strong, in two weeks in Austria we will suffer more". 

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The two blue and yellow cars show an exceptional balance also in the corners since the Friday practice. In the Constructors' standings, the French team occupies the third place behind McLaren and Ferrari and is determined to keep it. One of its strengths is a balanced pair of drivers hungry for victories.

 

"They are also good friends".

 

Briatore assures, worried about the rumors of a rivalry between the two. Toyota could also get into the points. The Japanese team claims, in its second season in Formula 1:

 

"Our main flaw is the lack of experience. In Barcelona it is different, because we do many tests".

 

Not found, Giancarlo Fisichella is in P17. Since the day of his victory in Brazil, he has not managed to do anything, neither a decent qualifying nor a decent race. On Saturday, the car had engine problems, and the Italian driver skipped the warmup. The winner of the Brazilian Grand Prix was forced to take the spare car, lining up for the timed lap at the last moment. Anything can happen in the race, but this Jordan does not allow more than a miracle a year. And for 2003, it has already performed one. On Sunday, 4 May 2003, at the start of the Spanish Grand Prix, Michael Schumacher keeps the lead of the group, while Rubens Barrichello, turns wide at the first corner in an attempt to undermine his teammate, resists the attack of Fernando Alonso, keeping the second position ahead of the Spanish. In the middle of the group, Antonio Pizzonia remains stationary on the grid for a problem with the automatic starting system. The Jaguar of the Brazilian was hit hard by the McLaren-Mercedes of Kimi Räikkönen, who had had the view covered by other cars. The two drivers come out unharmed but are forced to retire. Meanwhile, David Coulthard, who started well from the fourth row, tries to flank Jarno Trulli at the entrance of the second corner, but the two make contact and the Italian is forced to retire, while the McLaren-Mercedes driver is forced to return to the pits to fix his car. The race direction sends the Safety Car out on track to allow the marshals to move the cars impacted off the track and Ralph Firman and Heinz-Harald Frentzen take advantage of the break to refuel. After five laps, the Safety Car returns into the pits: at the restart, Michael Schumacher leads the group ahead of Rubens Barrichello, Fernando Alonso and Ralf Schumacher. Juan Pablo Montoya overtakes Jenson Button, behind whom Jacques Villeneuve, Cristiano Da Matta and Justin Wilson line up from the back. 

 

There will be no significant reshuffling of positions until the first series of pit-stops, started on lap 14 by Jenson Button. The English driver is back on track in tenth position, behind David Coulthard. Three laps later, Jenson Button tries to attack the McLaren driver, but he closes the trajectory: the two make contact and the Scottish is forced to retire. At the same time, during lap 17, Fernando Alonso also refuels, followed by Ralf Schumacher, Juan Pablo Montoya, Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello. At the end of the first refueling sequence, Michael Schumacher stays in the lead, while Fernando Alonso overtakes Rubens Barrichello, taking the second place. Behind are the two Williams-BMW cars of Ralf Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya and the two Toyota cars, with Cristiano Da Matta in sixth and Olivier Panis in seventh after several overtakes, recovering the positions lost during the first lap. In the lead of the race, Michael Schumacher gradually gains advantage over Fernando Alonso, who, for his part, gains a fair margin over Rubens Barrichello. The two Williams-BMWs, who switched to a two-stop strategy against the three-stop strategy of the rivals, have even heavier gaps. On lap 35, Michael Schumacher returns into the pits to make his second pit-stop, returning on the track behind his much slower brother Ralf Schumacher. The Ferrari driver overtakes his brother during lap 37. Rubens Barrichello and Fernando Alonso then fill up. The Spanish is also stuck behind Ralf Schumacher, while the Ferrari driver returns to the track in fifth place, behind Juan Pablo Montoya. During lap 40, Ralf Schumacher, now chased by Fernando Alonso, misses a braking, ending up in the run-off area. 

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Shortly after, the German driver returns into the pits for the second and last time, followed by a lap later by his teammate, Juan Pablo Montoya, who in the meantime is overtaken by Rubens Barrichello. The situation in the top positions stabilizes, with Michael Schumacher maintaining a lead of about 6 seconds over Fernando Alonso, who, for his part, keeps a good margin over Rubens Barrichello. Juan Pablo Montoya is further away, while Ralf Schumacher, after losing the fourth place in favor of the Colombian, must defend himself from the attacks of Cristiano Da Matta. The third series of refueling does not change the situation and Michael Schumacher wins the Spanish Grand Prix. The Ferrari German driver is followed by Fernando Alonso, Rubens Barrichello, Juan Pablo Montoya, Ralf Schumacher, Cristiano Da Matta, Mark Webber and Ralph Firman, who scores the first and only point in his career at the end of a regular race. On the day of the debut, in the year of the dedication to Giovanni Agnelli, Ferrari gets a beautiful and decisive victory, which dispels criticism and discourages rivals. Michael Schumacher has taken the F2003 GA by hand, the girl (by his definition), and has accompanied her to the summit throughout the weekend in Barcelona. He resisted the threat of Rubens Barrichello at the start (who then wisely lifted his foot from the accelerator), kept the ambitions of Fernando Alonso at a distance, he drove as he knows to. The triumph of the GA is a tribute to the Lawyer. Those initials in the name of the last car born in Maranello are a great responsibility, because no one claims to break the records of the retired F2002. Perhaps. From today any hope is lawful. For five seasons, a debuting car from Maranello ends up on the highest step (in Australia in 1999 it was Irvine, then always Schumacher); and for the fifth year running, the German champion comes first on the Montmelò circuit, leading his career victories to 66. Ferrari celebrates 161 victories, 162 pole positions, 163 fastest laps thanks to the record of the track signed by Rubens Barrichello. Together, the Maranello team and this pair of drivers have already built the longest and most extraordinary series of records in the history of Formula 1. Thanks to the pole position, Michael Schumacher looked for the ideal trajectory at the end of the straight at the start, while Rubens Barrichello delayed the braking until flanking his teammate. Contact between the two, plunged into the heart of Jean Todt and the Tifosi, then the Brazilian gave up the engagement, settling to control the second position. Let it be frank: Rubinho did well in the occasion, but he was not enthusiastic overall. He was a good wingman in imposing a bland pace on Fernando Alonso, who otherwise would have approached the race leader, but proved inferior to the young Spanish: having an extraordinary car. The overtaking by Renault during the first pit-stop was inevitable and there was no noticeable reaction from the Ferrari driver. The McLaren men are the firsts to come home. After half an hour, they already dismantled their pharaonic structure in the paddock and load the trucks with the two single-seaters, while, at Ferrari, they were making comments:

 

"The bad luck takes turns, in Brazil it was us".

 

Elected talent of the year with some precipitation, Kimi Räikkönen will especially think for a long time about the error in qualifying that forced him to start from the back. And the electronics of the Jaguar will be cursed, as it left Antonio Pizzonia with the engine off in the middle of the starting grid that caused the crash and the subsequent entry into the track of the Safety Car. A withering leave for the Brazilian, who, already in Imola, had complained about the launch control and, in Austria, he could already be replaced by Alexander Wurz if the English team comes to an economic agreement. As for the Finnish, the crash was difficult to avoid, yet someone in front of him succeeded. The race director, Charlie Whiting, could have decided to suspend the Spanish Grand Prix and redo the starting procedure. Why did not he do it? As required by the regulation, he preferred to use the Safety Car, which remained on track for four laps while crashed cars and debris were removed. The trend is now to favor this solution whenever possible in order to avoid the risks of another start. Regarding Kimi Räikkönen, he had no time set following his off-track in qualifying, thus he started last. After the debates that took place during the first races of the season, the rules have to be interpreted as follows: a driver starts from the pit lane only if a problem arises to the car during the formation lap. David Coulthard will be remembered for some unhappy ideas: the contact with Jarno Trulli at the first corner (the two exchanging poisonous accusations), the attempt to pass Jenson Button, and a friendly exchange of views. 

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In addition to the negative Sunday for McLaren-Mercedes, the Williams-BMW team continues to be absent, especially in difficult situations where aerodynamics matter more than horsepower. The fourth place of Juan Pablo Montoya and the fifth place of Ralf Schumacher count towards the standings, but the gaps are of a second for the Colombian and a lap for the German, even though he revived the race with some nice defensive duels. It is not enough, Renault ranks ahead with a certain regularity. Despite the problems of the historical rivals, it was not an easy win for Michael Schumacher. Fernando Alonso has done everything possible - and something more - to spoil the F2003-GA celebration and organize his own with his home fans (60.000 on Saturday and 96.000 on Sunday, a record for which he can take all credits). The fifth round of the World Championship has also ennobled the career of two rookies. Cristiano Da Matta (Toyota) and Ralph Firman (Jordan-Cosworth), who take their first points. Mark Webber, with Jaguar, and Toyota achieved the first useful positions of 2003, while Minardi achieved its small success: making it to the end with two drivers, Justin Wilson, eleventh, and Jos Verstappen, twelfth. Finally, it should be pointed out that in theory, one could not work on the single-seaters after having brought them to the parc fermé on Saturday afternoons. But the stewards in Spain have also allowed interventions on some cars to be modified or fixed. For example, on the Ferrari of Michael Schumacher, a part of the rear wing was replaced, on the Williams-BMW of Ralf Schumacher, a sensor was changed, on the McLaren-Mercedes, aerodynamic elements, a rear-view mirror, an exhaust, part of the floor; on the Sauber-Petronas, a sealing arm of the body, on the Jordan-Cosworth, something in the differential gear, on a BAR-Honda, the hydraulic pump and part of the braking system. Mission accomplished, thus, for Michael Schumacher. But it was a difficult race, more than expected. The new F2003-GA showed all the announced qualities (performances but also reliability, with the pole and the win of Schumacher, the fastest lap and the record of the circuit of Barrichello), but it had to suffer. McLaren-Mercedes completely failed, because of the crashes of Räikkönen and Coulthard, and the Williams-BMW appeared still short of fine-tuning, the Alonso-Renault-Michelin trio caused Ferrari to suffer. The technicians of the Maranello team, to avoid bad jokes, were forced to adopt the riskiest strategy: three stops to replace the tyres and refuel. 

 

A natural choice for Renault, which had nothing to lose considering the characteristics of the less powerful car, while the very abrasive asphalt of the Montmelò circuit led Ross Brawn and his men to a tactic that perhaps they would have liked to avoid. It can be said that this was a success all thanks to the Ferrari entity: without a super single-seater, a driver like Michael Schumacher and a perfect team, negative surprises could have come. The progress shown by the F2003-GA on the still glorious and competitive F2002 made a difference. The new car has also passed the exam of a Grand Prix conducted at an extremely high pace, confirming the proverbial reliability achieved for years by the Maranello team. In addition to the data already mentioned, Ferrari comes back from Spain with the highest maximum speeds achieved in all the three sectors of the circuit and a record of 331.5 km/h achieved by Michael Schumacher at the end of the longest straight, where the Renault of Alonso just reached 317.6 km/h. But this, on the other hand, confirms the goodness of the car designed by Mike Gascoyne, the English designer of Renault. With the same load of fuel in qualifying, the excellent Fernando Alonso and Jarno Trulli positioned themselves behind Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello, separated by just 0.5 seconds. In the best lap in the race, the Spaniard stayed just over 0.1 seconds from Schumacher and 0.3 seconds from Barrichello. There will therefore be a lot of work to maintain superiority; above all, many tests with the Bridgestone tyres will be necessary, since Michelin has made many steps forwards. Unfortunately for the Japanese company, the only valid point of reference is represented by Ferrari itself, while the French one can also boast the collaboration of McLaren, Williams, Jaguar and Toyota. However, the results were very positive for Ferrari and for Schumacher. The Maranello team has nearly closed the gap in both standings. Michael Schumacher, who was 14 points from the Finnish on the eve, is now at 4 points, while the team that was at 32 points, against McLaren-Mercedes' 51 points, now has to recover only 3 more points.

 

“Now let us dream a little. It was a great day. First Schumacher and third Barrichello in the debut race of the F2003-GA, in a Grand Prix in which the rivals proved very competitive, car-driver-tyres. It was very important to get both cars to the finish line, managing to get near the top is crucial. We were able to recover much of the disadvantage accumulated in the first three races, but there are still eleven ahead. With the new regulations, it will be important to always score points with the two single-seaters. So, we'll be back to work immediately to prepare the next race and to develop the new Ferrari”.

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Says Jean Todt, minding his words. The engineers of the Maranello team have already come up with more ideas to look for further progress. Although Michael Schumacher never ceases to praise the car that allowed him to get his second win of the season, which he describes as being fantastic. Someone, seeing the tapered shape with those crosscuts on the sides, which look like fish gill openings, has already dubbed the F2003-GA shark. The German champion has other preferences: 

 

"I would like to call her Goddess. Let's just call her baby, baby girl, my baby girl not to exaggerate. I'm really in love with her. She performed really well. The whole team also did an exceptional work, a perfect race. For the result, for the championship and for the new car. Everything". 

 

But it was not easy. 

 

"I don't know if anyone thought this was a joke. We were expecting a very close duel and we weren't wrong. At first, there were chills. At the first corner, I was surprised when I saw that Rubens was on the outside. I went towards the inside curb and slipped a little bit. I was afraid we might touch each other and I'm not sure if it didn't actually happen. Then, I was able to pick up the pace. We did three stops. Each time that I was changing tyres, I was very fast in the first laps. Then, I was losing a bit of performance. Only in the last one, when the track was cleaner and there was rubber on the asphalt, I didn't have the slightest problem". 

 

There were problems in overtaking and in lapping. 

 

"At some points in the race they could be decisive. I must, however, acknowledge that everyone has been very correct. Of course, when I was in the midst of competitors battling each other, I tried to be cautious, as much as possible and knowing that Alonso was following me closely. I also had a beautiful duel with my brother, Ralf. I had put on new tyres, the ones on his Williams were already used. He was having problems. He defended himself well. I couldn't get him at the end of the straight as I was thinking, but I got the maneuver done a little later, at turn five: braking a little bit later than him". 

 

Thus came the win, accompanied by the DNF of Raïkkönen. 

 

"It happens. At some point in the season, it can happen to miss a result. It happened to us in Brazil. To them in Spain. It went really well, for everything, for the standings. I'm very happy. Before the start, I was wondering what Kimi would do from where he was. Would he have seen the finish line? How many points would he have scored? But it was not up to us, Ferrari had to play its part. The critics from the beginning of the season? I never thought about them, but life is easier after two wins". 

 

Ferrari ahead of Renault, is it the right hierarchy? 
 

"I'm not sure. I think that they've been particularly strong here because tyres play a big role. If they continue to work so well, even with the tyres, then yes, they will keep this position". 

 

An important help for Michael Schumacher came from Rubens Barrichello, who managed to keep Fernando Alonso behind in the first laps, after the risk of collision with his teammate at the first corner. There are those who swear that the two Ferraris slightly hit each other. Rubens ignores the matter, taking refuge in a joke: 

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"I think that Michael and I have never been so close. But the important thing is that we are friends, we respect each other, we work well together. I was aiming to overtake Alonso, who got away like a lightning strike. I saw that Michael had chosen the inside line to escape the attack of the Spaniard. I even found myself with a part of the car in front of Michael's car, but I gave him space and even managed to get ahead of the Renault. Then, Fernando overtook me because I was in difficulty, I couldn't keep up my pace because the set-up of the car wasn't right. I made some changes during the race and, in the last pit stop, the mechanics also changed the incidence of the front wing. Then, the car was flying, I set the lap time record. Too late also due to some difficult lapping. That's why I'm happy with my work and of having finished the race on the podium with the F2003-GA". 

 

This time, as already mentioned, the McLaren team was the first to leave the circuit. 


"We are disappointed". 

 

The drivers are impatient, they would immediately like the new car, the MP4/18. But the single-seater, announced as a revolutionary, has not yet done a test lap: it will not be in the next race in Austria or in the next one in Monaco. The debut, if everything goes well, will happen in Canada. Ron Dennis' unique, meager satisfaction is that he has not lost the top spot in the championship yet: 

 

"We're still in the lead, in the standings of the Constructors' and Drivers' World Championships. Let's leave this negative weekend behind and look to the future". 

 

Just a brief comment on the performance of Raïkkönen and Coulthard: 

 

"The list of our problems began with Kimi's mistake in qualifying and the subsequent crash into the Jaguar of Pizzonia at the start; it continued and ended with David's crashes". 

 

David Coulthard, however, does not accept that he is to blame for what happened. The Scottish driver explains that the collision at the second corner with the Renault of Jarno Trulli is the result of a normal chaotic situation immediately after the start. On the crash with the BAR-Honda of Jenson Button, the McLaren driver is even more vague: 

 

"I'm going to have to watch the slow-motion videos to exactly understand what happened". 

 

The impression, however, is that David was wrong in both cases. This hypothesis seems to be confirmed when the McLaren driver, in an interview with English journalists, lashes out at the Italian driver and the Italians in general: 

 

"When there's a crash, even on normal roads, they are never the ones to be blamed". 

 

And then he literally sends to that country, cursing, the reporter of a specialist magazine who accuses him of having been responsible for the off-track of Jarno Trulli. However, his official analysis of the crash is as follows: 

 

"I made a great start, already gaining several positions at the first corner. Of course, I was aware that we would all be very close and that there wouldn't be too much space at the second corner. I tried to stretch out so I didn't end up on the car that was ahead of me, when Trulli's Renault hit me on the rear part. As a result, I had to stop at the pits to change a wheel. But the floor of the car was damaged, it became difficult to drive. I was trying to score a few points anyway but I ended up finding Jenson Button's car on my way so my race ended". 

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Less talkative, but it is nothing new, Kimi Raïkkönen: 

 

"A terrible and very short race for me. I was behind a Minardi at the start, when he discarded, I found the Jaguar of Pizzonia stationary in front. It was impossible to avoid it. Those are things that can happen when you start from the back". 

 

Did you feel unlucky?

 

"Yes". 

 

The Finnish driver answers before leaving the circuit. The fourth and fifth place, in the end, satisfied Juan Pablo Montoya and Ralf Schumacher. The Colombian driver explains:

 

"At the beginning, my Williams was difficult to drive. In the last few laps, it was fine and I even had fun". 

 

Maybe it is because he got past his teammate, who justifies himself by saying:

 

"Oversteer. I was hoping to do better, but it wasn't possible. At least, I got into the points. But we'll have to work a lot".

 

Fernando Alonso crossed the finish line by raising his arms to the sky, despite coming second and there was no one to hold the steering wheel as he paraded in front of his fans on the 300 km/h straight. 

 

"I did 60 laps as if they were a qualifying session". 

 

As possessed. The Spaniard first sent Ralph Firman to the devil (and pass, the English is only a rookie) then nothing less than Ralf Schumacher, who enjoys a certain charisma not least for the kinship. The two were guilty of not giving him space for the lapping, ignoring the blue flags waved by the race stewards. At the start, Alonso also touched the blow, trying to slip between Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello who for the first time had challenged and touched each other. In the end, his position is worth a win, because it is the best result in his career and because he got it in front of the crowd that is discovering his talent race after race. And then, the 8 points he scored allowed him another step up in the standings. A third place at 3 points from Michael Schumacher and 7 points from Kimi Raïkkönen that entitles him to any kind of hope. On the other hand, he is young, he is old enough to dream and has many years ahead to win everything. He was born 21 years ago in Oviedo, in the region of the Asturias, he is 171 centimeters tall, weighs 68 kilos, loves football and Spanish music. In F1, he arrived thanks to the help of Flavio Briatore, one who knows about young talents (he was the one to take Michael Schumacher in Benetton). Loaned in 2001 to Minardi, he spent 2002 testing for Renault and from this year he came back as a racer. It did not take him long to repay his team's trust: five races and as many good positions, three of them on the podium. He just needs a win. With a bit of luck, he would have already got it in Barcelona. 

 

"I've been a little unlucky with the lappings, that's okay for this time. The start was good and I could count on a good strategy and quick pit stops. I'm sorry about Trulli: I'm sure that he would have scored points too". 

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Fernando Alonso is not as show-off as Juan Pablo Montoya, nor as cold as Kimi Raïkkönen. Michael Schumacher considers him a great guy and a good driver. On the track he showed determination, on the outside he remains a quiet boy. His sister, Lorena, 27 years old, is a medical doctor and is there to support him: 

 

"He's a perfect brother, always cheerful. If I find out I bring him luck, I'll go see all the Grand Prix. His relationship with the fans? Well, he's not as famous as a footballer yet, but there's still time". 

 

Flavio Briatore jokes about it: 

 

"Do you know what is the difference between Fernando and Schumacher? One is brown, the other is blond. Jokes aside, they have different characteristics, but they are two winners. I've discovered a future World Champion". 

 

According to Renault's team principal, a win here in Spain would not have been an impossible mission: 

 

"Schumacher was lucky with the lappings, however, it is only right that the one who is good is also lucky. And Barrichello made us lose several seconds in the first stage of the race. Anyway, I'm very happy, the car's getting better". 

 

To those who argue that horsepower will be more important on the Austrian circuit than in Barcelona, the Italian manager replies with another of his puns: 

 

"We'll take Varenne and we'll be fine".

 

Another day to forget for both Italian drivers. Jarno Trulli is the only one being sad and angry in the Renault house. The car was competitive, and he was too. Author of a good start, helped by the excellent launch control, the Italian driver was hit by David Coulthard. The responsible? They both have different opinions: the Scottish rejects any wrongdoing while the race stewards have classified the episode as a normal race incident, without deeming it appropriate to intervene. But Jarno does not completely agree: 

 

"For me, it's another disappointment. Things keep going wrong and not because of me. It's hard to accept that every time someone comes on you at the first corner (like Michael Schumacher in Malaysia, ed). I watched the footage: Coulthard entered the corner twice as fast as mine and cut towards the inside. I'm convinced that if I didn't take the side of him, he would have ended off track". 

 

The vent of the Renault driver continues: 

 

"It had to happen this very day. The car was perfectly balanced and our tyres had a durability advantage. I was safely able to finish in the points, maybe on the podium". 

 

If Renault continues to grow and to confirm the second itself as the second quickest team of the World Championship, there will be other opportunities. Trulli is convinced of that: 

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"We'll suffer even more in two weeks in Austria because the A1-Ring is not a circuit that suits our characteristics. But, during the week, we'll test a new evolution of the engine which could give us much horsepower. Then, there will be Monte-Carlo, where the aerodynamics matter again and everything can happen. In Canada, it will be more complicated again. Spa was a perfect circuit, I'm sorry it was taken off the calendar. However, I prefer not to do too much calculation: this year, we are competitive on any track". 

 

Briatore avoids controversy over the crash: 

 

"Trulli was unlucky. With him on the track giving the Ferrari battle the result would have been different". 

 

It was another race to quickly forget for Giancarlo Fisichella. Even more so since Jordan did not perform miracles, however they scored a point with Ralph Firman, who appeared combative and strong after four anonymous races. 

 

"I had an oil leak and I had to stop. Before, however, there was a problem during the refueling: they loaded 30 liters in, then 90, so the car was too heavy. Well, yeah, not one went straight to me". 

 

Despite the critics, the Brazilian Antonio Pizzonia will remain with Jaguar until the end of the Formula 1 World Championship. The British team assured it, on Monday, 5 May 2003, and announced that it would not seek a replacement for the moment.

 

"It was a storm in a cup of tea".

 

According to the Jaguar chairman, David Pitchforth, at the end of the Spanish Grand Prix, a race that the Brazilian rookie driver followed from the pits, as he failed to start due to an electronics problem and was hit by Kimi Raïkkönen. 

 

"For me, it's all right now. The team told me they made a mistake and that we were going to move forward and try to improve". 

 

The F2003 passed the exam of the challenging circuit of Montmelò especially regarding the reliability, which was an unknown despite the many long-distance tests made from mid-February to nowadays, because the demands in the race are different. In the briefing held on Monday morning, the managers and technicians of the Maranello team confirmed that it is necessary to continue with the intense development schedule: in Fiorano from Tuesday 6 May 2003 with Rubens Barrichello and at the Mugello from Thursday 8 May 2003 with Luca Badoer and perhaps Michael Schumacher; Felipe Massa will instead do three-day tests of tyres in Monza with the old F2002, then again in Fiorano on Saturday. The more they win, the more they work. 

 

"If this car has done well in Spain, it means that it will be able to do well, very well, on other types of circuit, starting with the one of Zeltweg".

 

Jean Todt foresees. In Spain, the important thing was that the two baby girls, as Schumacher calls them, arrive at the finish line. 

 

"In view of the situation that had arisen, we had the opportunity to significantly reduce the gap in the standings. We wanted to do well for the debut of a car which is named after Giovanni Agnelli". 

 

Having won the race with Michael Schumacher, having taken the pole, having set the fastest lap with Rubens Barrichello (1'20"143, the track record) confirms, after Imola, the second consecutive hat trick branded Ferrari, which is valid for statistics and stuns the rivals. Jean Todt admits of having been afraid at the start, when Rubens Barrichello joined Michael Schumacher and the two red cars touched each other: 

 

"Yes, I've been scared, but fear is a constant that accompanies all those who stand on the pit wall throughout the race. Our drivers have once again proven themselves up to the challenge".


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