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2003 season review - Australia to San Marino 20 Oct 2003

Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) McLaren Mercedes MP4/17 and Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari go into turn 1 side by side and Schumacher loses out
Formula One World Championship, Rd1, Australian Grand Prix, Race Day, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, 9 March 2003

Australia, March 9
Winner David Coulthard, 2nd Juan Pablo Montoya, 3rd Kimi Raikkonen
Pole position Michael Schumacher
Fastest lap Kimi Raikkonen

The revised 2003 regulations were designed to improve the spectacle of Formula One racing and at the opening round of the season in Melbourne they did not disappoint. Ferrari qualified on the front row, but then failed to make the podium for the first time since Nurburgring 1999, while McLaren played a strategic blinder to take David Coulthard to victory from a lowly 11th on the grid. The weather also played its role in spicing up the action, but either way the fans were not complaining.

A wet but drying track left everyone guessing on tyres as the grid formed - and most guessed wrong. McLaren pulled both men in early (Raikkonen at the end of the formation lap) and this, combined with two safety car periods, lifted them to the sharp end. Meanwhile, those staying out too long on wets paid the price, Rubens Barrichello and debutant Ralph Firman both crashing out in the opening stages.

And there was plenty more drama to come. Raikkonen held off Schumacher in dramatic fashion, duping the champion into damaging his Ferrari, but lost out on almost certain victory thanks to a pit-lane speeding penalty. Montoya then spun away his chance of the win, handing ten points to a surprised but grateful Coulthard.

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Click here for the race results in full.

Malaysia, March 23
Winner Kimi Raikkonen, 2nd Rubens Barrichello, 3rd Fernando Alonso
Pole position Fernando Alonso
Fastest lap Michael Schumacher

Renault stunned the big three teams by locking out the front-row in qualifying at Sepang, with Fernando Alonso becoming the first Spaniard and the youngest driver ever to take pole position.

Come the race and the French squad's strategy didn't quite pay off. Instead, it was again McLaren at the front, with Raikkonen coming from seventh on the grid to score his maiden Grand Prix win. Team mate Coulthard retired just two laps in with a mechanical failure.

And while Rubens Barrichello upheld Ferrari's honour with second, Michael Schumacher had a disastrous race, tagging Jarno Trulli's Renault at only the second corner, forcing the champion to pit for a new nose cone. He was then handed a drive-through penalty for the incident, after which he carved his way back up to sixth.

Alonso took a strongly-deserved third place, while Williams had another difficult race, Ralf Schumacher their only points scorer in fourth.

Click here for the grid in full.
Click here for the race results in full.

Brazil, April 6
Winner Giancarlo Fisichella, 2nd Kimi Raikkonen, 3rd Fernando Alonso
Pole position Rubens Barrichello
Fastest lap Rubens Barrichello

The new regulations again led to a tantalising final qualifying. Barrichello celebrated pole on home soil, but a mistake by team mate Schumacher left him trailing in seventh, his worst grid spot in almost five years. Star of the show was Mark Webber, who qualified a spectacular third for Jaguar.

Confusion reigned at the start of (and pretty much throughout) the Interlagos race. In accordance with the tyre regulations the teams had brought only one wet-weather compound to Brazil - intermediates - highly unsuitable for the very wet conditions that unexpectedly greeted them on Sunday

The race was eventually started under the safety car, but it wasn't long before drivers were pirouetting off the slippery circuit, Michael Schumacher and Montoya among them. At the front Barrichello looked set for victory until a rare Ferrari mechanical failure on lap 47 robbed him of home glory.

The race was effectively decided on lap 55 by a heavy shunt for Webber. When Alonso also crashed out in the aftermath, stewards had little choice but to red flag the race and declare a result, though no one seemed quite sure who had won. In the event Raikkonen was awarded his second successive victory with a confused Fisichella second.

Jordan and Fisichella had to wait an agonising five days before a timing error was eventually confirmed, handing the Italian a belated maiden Grand Prix win, with Raikkonen demoted to second. The pair exchanged trophies in a special ceremony at the next round at Imola.

Click here for the grid in full.
Click here for the race results in full.

San Marino, April 20
Winner Michael Schumacher, 2nd Kimi Raikkonen, 3rd Rubens Barrichello
Pole position Michael Schumacher
Fastest lap Michael Schumacher

After scoring just 16 points from the first three races, Ferrari (still, like McLaren, using their 2002 car) finally kick started their season on home ground at Imola. Michael Schumacher was once more his imperious self, taking pole position, victory and fastest lap, a feat all the more humbling given that his mother had passed away the evening prior to the race.

Qualifying was a Ferrari-Williams battle, but in the race the BMW-powered team's pace (and luck) deserted them. After leading in the early stages Ralf Schumacher was forced to give best to first his brother and then Raikkonen, before being denied a podium spot by Barrichello, on a charge after a wheel stuck during a pit stop, with just ten laps to go. Team mate Montoya was handicapped by a fuel-rig glitch and could finish only seventh.

McLaren's decision to focus on race rather than qualifying set-up paid off with Coulthard coming from 12th on the grid to finish fifth, backing up Raikkonen's second place. Meanwhile, Alonso kept Renault on a roll with sixth place and Jenson Button's eighth ensured BAR scored for the third race in succession.

Click here for the grid in full.
Click here for the race results in full.

What was most obviously apparent from the opening four rounds of the season was that Formula One racing, and in particular Ferrari, once again had a fight on its hands. On the back of their most dominant season ever, Ferrari suddenly found themselves almost 20 points adrift in the constructors' championship, with Raikkonen already looking a highly serious threat to Schumacher's drivers' crown. The new regulations, plus a McLaren revival, had added more than a little spice to proceedings.

An added ingredient was Renault and their rising star Alonso. No longer did the big three teams have only themselves to worry about. It was already apparent that the French constructor, with their superbly balanced R23, would, given half a chance, be taking serious points off them on a regular basis, perhaps even winning. And with Williams struggling for form, it was Flavio Briatore's men left holding third in the team standings with a quarter of the season already gone.

And all this before McLaren and Ferrari had even introduced their 2003 machines.

Drivers' standings after San Marino (round four of 16):
1. Kimi Raikkonen, McLaren - 32
2. David Coulthard, McLaren - 19
3. Michael Schumacher, Ferrari - 18
4. Fernando Alonso, Renault - 17
5. Rubens Barrichello, Ferrari - 14
6. Ralf Schumacher, Williams - 13
7=. Giancarlo Fisichella, Jordan - 10
7=. Juan Pablo Montoya, Williams - 10
9. Jarno Trulli, Renault - 9
10. Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Sauber - 7
11=. Jenson Button, BAR - 3
11=. Jacques Villeneuve, BAR - 3
13. Nick Heidfeld, Sauber - 1

Constructors' standings:
1. McLaren - 51
2. Ferrari - 32
3. Renault - 26
4. Williams - 23
5. Jordan - 10
6. Sauber - 8
7. BAR - 6

See also: 2003 season review (2) - Spain to Canada
See also: 2003 season review (3) - Europe to Germany
See also: 2003 season review (4) - Hungary to Japan