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2003 season review - Spain to Canada 22 Oct 2003

Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault R23 crosses the line to finish 2nd.
Formula One World Championship, Rd5, Spanish Grand Prix, Race Day, Barcelona, Spain, 4 May 2003

Spain, May 4
Winner Michael Schumacher, 2nd Fernando Alonso, 3rd Rubens Barrichello
Pole position Michael Schumacher
Fastest lap Rubens Barrichello


An almost perfect debut for the new Ferrari F2003-GA. First and second on the grid, first and third in the race and fastest lap. Only a superb drive from local hero Alonso prevented a scarlet one-two in the Spanish Grand Prix.

Qualifying again threw up some surprises, with Raikkonen the first big name to fall victim to the perils of the one-shot format. A mistake from the Finn damaged his McLaren and forced him to abort his lap, resigning him to P20 on the grid. Elsewhere, team mate Coulthard and the two Williams found themselves out-qualified by not only Ferrari and Renault, but also Button's BAR and Panis's Toyota.

Things went from bad to worse for Raikkonen at the start of the race, when, unsighted, he ploughed into the back of Antonio Pizzonia's stalled Jaguar and out of the running. To add to McLaren's woes, Coulthard also went on to suffer two collisions, the second (with Button) forcing him to retire.

At the front Alonso's ability to beat Barrichello and run at Schumacher's pace proved that the new Ferrari was not yet at least the huge step forward many had feared, though Williams had to be content with fourth and fifth. Cristiano da Matta (sixth) and Ralph Firman (eighth) both took their first world championship points, while Webber (seventh) finally got Jaguar off the mark.

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Austria, May 18
Winner Michael Schumacher, 2nd Kimi Raikkonen, 3rd Rubens Barrichello
Pole position Michael Schumacher
Fastest lap Michael Schumacher


The Ferrari fightback continued, though again they had to work hard for it. Schumacher narrowly edged Raikkonen for pole position, with Montoya third and Nick Heidfeld an impressive fourth on the grid for Sauber.

Da Matta twice stalling meant the race needed three starts to get underway, but when it did it was Schumacher who took full advantage, leading from Montoya and pulling away in dramatic fashion. However, his ten-second margin by lap 15 rapidly disappeared when light rain started to fall. He then lost the lead when a small fuel fire cost him around ten seconds in the pits.

Montoya looked set for at least second until his BMW engine expired on lap 32 and once Schumacher had passed Raikkonen at the Remus corner to regain the lead, the German cruised to the win. Barrichello pushed Raikkonen hard, but had to be content with third, while Button took a fully-deserved fourth place for BAR. Crucially, the result meant Ferrari returned to the top of the constructors' standings, with Schumacher just two points shy of Raikkonen in the drivers'.

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Monaco, June 1
Winner Juan Pablo Montoya, 2nd Kimi Raikkonen, 3rd Michael Schumacher
Pole position Ralf Schumacher
Fastest lap Kimi Raikkonen


Ralf Schumacher took his first pole position of the season on the streets of Monte Carlo after what would prove one of the closest qualifying sessions of the year. He beat Raikkonen into second by little over three-hundredths of a second, with the top nine covered by less than a second. One man missing from proceedings was BAR's Jenson Button, who withdrew from the event after crashing heavily exiting the tunnel during practice.

The race proved just as tightly fought. It was a Williams one-two into the first corner as Montoya muscled his way past Raikkonen, the Finn busy fending off a fast-starting Trulli. The Renault driver went on to play a vital role in the result by keeping Michael Schumacher behind him for 27 laps as the leading trio disappeared into the distance.

The pit stops shuffled the order up front, with Ralf Schumacher the biggest loser, eventually finishing fourth. The closing laps, as so often at Monaco, were full of tension as Raikkonen hounded Montoya for the lead, with Michael Schumacher playing catch-up. But no errors meant no passing and the trio crossed the line in that order, separated by just 1.7 seconds after 78 gruelling laps.

The result was a much needed boost for Williams and gave Montoya his first win since Monza 2001. Renault again got both cars home in the points, with Alonso fifth and Trulli sixth, ahead of Coulthard and Barrichello. And in a remarkable testament to the skill of the current crop of Formula One drivers, Heinz-Harald Frentzen had the unfortunate honour of being the only man to hit the wall on the tight Monaco streets.

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Canada, June 15
Winner Michael Schumacher, 2nd Ralf Schumacher, 3rd Juan Pablo Montoya
Pole position Ralf Schumacher
Fastest lap Fernando Alonso


The Williams revival continued in Montreal, but in the end it wasn't quite enough to beat a canny Michael Schumacher, who controlled the race from the front, keeping the arguably faster BMW cars behind him, despite some serious brake trouble early in the race.

With Ferrari having dominated in the wet during Friday qualifying and practice, it came as something of a surprise when (on a dry track) Williams locked out the front row, with Ralf Schumacher securing his second successive pole. Michael had to be content with third, while Alonso was yet again in the thick of it, splitting the champion and his team mate Barrichello on the grid.

McLaren had a miserable qualifying session. Coulthard could only manage 11th, while Raikkonen made his second major error of the season, spinning off into the tyre wall at the very first corner. He opted to start the race from the pit lane on a full tank and proceeded to work his way up to an impressive sixth place, though it wasn't enough to retain his championship lead, which fell into the hands of Michael Schumacher.

The world champion seized the lead from his brother at the first round of stops, with Montoya having dropped down the order after spinning on the opening lap. The Colombian fought his way back into contention, closing a 12-second deficit to the two leaders in the dying stages. At the flag the three were split by a mere 1.3 seconds, with Alonso only 3.1 seconds off Montoya after backing off on the last lap.

Click here for the grid in full.
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Summary
After their uncharacteristically slow start to the season, the arrival of the new F2003-GA put Ferrari firmly back in the fight. However, it was not proving to be the huge advance that many had predicted and their victories were as much about Schumacher as the car. As if to prove the point, Barrichello trailed his team mate in the standings by more than 20 points.

Williams showed considerable improvement in pace and pulled themselves clear of Renault in the standings. However, reliability problems and driver errors again cost them dear, most notably Montoya's engine failure in Austria and his spin in Canada.

McLaren, with the much talked about MP4-18 still waiting in the wings, continued to show that a 2002 car could be competitive, in race pace at least. Qualifying was proving more of a problem. Raikkonen had the speed that Coulthard was struggling to find, but vital errors (P20 on the grid twice in four races) had cost him the lead in the championship.

Drivers' standings after Canada (round eight of 16):
1. Michael Schumacher, Ferrari - 54
2. Kimi Raikkonen, McLaren - 51
3. Fernando Alonso, Renault - 34
4. Ralf Schumacher, Williams - 33
5=. Juan Pablo Montoya, Williams - 31
5=. Rubens Barrichello, Ferrari - 31
7. David Coulthard, McLaren - 25
8. Jarno Trulli, Renault - 13
9. Giancarlo Fisichella, Jordan - 10
10. Jenson Button, BAR - 8
11. Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Sauber - 7
12. Mark Webber, Jaguar - 6
13=. Jacques Villeneuve, BAR - 3
13=. Cristiano da Matta, Toyota - 3
15=. Nick Heidfeld, Sauber - 1
15=. Ralph Firman, Jordan - 1
15=. Olivier Panis, Toyota - 1

Constructors' standings:
1. Ferrari - 85
2. McLaren - 76
3. Williams - 64
4. Renault - 47
5=. Jordan - 11
5=. BAR - 11
7. Sauber - 8
8. Jaguar - 6
9. Toyota - 4

See also: 2003 season review (1) - Australia to San Marino
See also: 2003 season review (3) - Europe to Germany
See also: 2003 season review (4) - Hungary to Japan