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2003 season review - Europe to Germany 24 Oct 2003

European Grand Prix Podium and results:
1st Ralf Schumacher (GER), BMW Williams, centre.
2nd Juan Pablo Montoya (COL), BMW Williams, left.
3rd Rubens Barrichello (BRA), Ferrari, right.
European Grand Prix, Rd9, Nurburgring, Germany., 29 June 2003

Europe, June 29
Winner Ralf Schumacher, 2nd Juan Pablo Montoya, 3rd Rubens Barrichello
Pole position Kimi Raikkonen
Fastest lap Kimi Raikkonen


Williams went from strength to strength at the Nurburgring and there was little Ferrari could do to stop them, Ross Brawn admitting that his team simply weren't quick enough. The one man who could and should have prevented a Williams one-two was Kimi Raikkonen, who was on stunning form all weekend until an engine failure robbed him of almost certain victory.

The Finn comfortably outpaced Michael Schumacher in Friday's qualifying session, but after a disappointing run from team mate Coulthard on Saturday few expected him to better an excellent lap from the world champion. But as Schumacher's fans began their (somewhat premature) celebrations, last-man-out Raikkonen went 0.061 seconds faster to clinch his first ever Formula One pole position, relegating Williams to the second row in the process.

The race proved a dramatic one. Raikkonen was in control at the front, almost five seconds clear of Ralf Schumacher, when his V10 went bang on lap 26. Michael Schumacher's hopes of victory then disappeared when he clashed with Montoya and ended up beached on a kerb. The marshals pushed him back into the fray, after which he clawed his way back up to fifth.

McLaren's afternoon got even worse just three laps from home when a bungled overtaking attempt on Alonso for fourth sent Coulthard spinning off into the gravel and retirement. No such mistakes at Williams, where Ralf Schumacher and Montoya kept it all together to take the team's first clean sweep of the season, lifting them to second above McLaren in the standings.

The other drive of the day was by Nick Heidfeld, who repeated Raikkonen's Canadian feat by starting the race from the pit lane but then going on to finish in sixth position.

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France, July 6
Winner Ralf Schumacher, 2nd Juan Pablo Montoya, 3rd Michael Schumacher
Pole position Ralf Schumacher
Fastest lap Juan Pablo Montoya


On Friday at Magny-Cours the revised 2003 regulations finally produced the ultimate upset when Minardi finished the first qualifying session in P1 and P2. Justin Wilson's second-place time was subsequently disallowed but even that did little to dampen the team's spirit after the rapidly drying French circuit had given them a rare moment of glory. But that wasn't the only Friday drama. BAR missed first practice after their cars were temporarily impounded in the paddock as part of a sponsorship dispute.

It was back to business as usual on Saturday though with the increasingly confident Williams duo of Ralf Schumacher and Montoya steamrollering their way to the front of the grid, ahead of Michael Schumacher, Raikkonen, Coulthard and the two Renaults.

The top five at the start of the race remained unchanged at the end of it. Michael Schumacher's fears about the relative competitiveness of his Bridgestone tyres appeared justified as the Michelin-shod Williams pair romped to a dominant win. The champion had his share of luck though. After losing out to Raikkonen at the start, a clever strategy switch helped put him back in contention.

And when David Coulthard suffered a long final stop following a fuel hose problem, Schumacher's place on the podium was assured. In contrast, team mate Barrichello only managed seventh after spinning his way to the back of the field on lap one.

The Williams one-two took them to within just three points of Ferrari in the constructors' standings, with their amazing transformation in form, attributed largely to aerodynamic improvements to the FW25, suddenly making them genuine title contenders.

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Britain, July 20
Winner Rubens Barrichello, 2nd Juan Pablo Montoya, 3rd Kimi Raikkonen
Pole position Rubens Barrichello
Fastest lap Rubens Barrichello


Rubens Barrichello emerged from the shadows of his illustrious team mate at Silverstone with his first win of the season. Admittedly luck played a part - a spin in Friday qualifying meant he was among the few to run in optimum weather conditions on Saturday when he grabbed pole - but his victory, in an unusually eventful race, was fully deserved.

The Brazilian was beaten into Turn one by fellow front-row starter Trulli, but two safety car periods in the first 12 laps soon turned things into a strategic lottery. The second followed a crazed spectator running on to the Hangar straight, forcing cars to take evasive action. Once he had been removed, it left a Toyota one-two at the front with (Formula One) rookie Cristiano da Matta leading the Grand Prix.

He was eventually hunted down and overhauled by Raikkonen, who in turn had to give best to Barrichello on lap 42. A mistake by the Finn let the Ferrari by and another error then handed second to Montoya. Behind them the race featured countless more on-track overtaking moves, a good few of them made by Michael Schumacher who lost out under the safety cars and eventually finished fourth. Brother Ralf was even less fortunate, failing to score in ninth.

The thrilling race handed the momentum back to Ferrari after Williams' back-to-back wins in Europe and France and set up a five-way fight for the drivers' title, with both Schumachers, Raikkonen, Montoya and Barrichello all in contention. It was also the last 2003 appearance by Antonio Pizzonia, Jaguar finally calling time on the Brazilian and replacing him with Justin Wilson ahead of the German Grand Prix.

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Germany, August 3
Winner Juan Pablo Montoya, 2nd David Coulthard, 3rd Jarno Trulli
Pole position Juan Pablo Montoya
Fastest lap Juan Pablo Montoya


The Hockenheim round provided one of the controversies of the season, with a first-corner clash that took three of the five title contenders out of the race. Ralf Schumacher, second behind Montoya on the grid, moved left to defend his entry to the first corner from Barrichello, and ended up pinching the Brazilian into a collision with Raikkonen, effectively eliminating all of them.

Schumacher was handed the blame post-race and given a ten-spot grid penalty for the following round. However, this was rescinded in the first-ever televised FIA appeal hearing, which decided that responsibility could not be apportioned exclusively to any one driver and in the end none of the trio was punished.

The real story of the race, however, was Williams' total dominance. From pole position, Montoya used his superior Michelin rubber and a perfectly judged three-stop strategy (most rivals stopped twice) to win by a staggering 65 seconds from Coulthard, with Trulli close behind clinching a long-overdue first podium of the season.

In a dismal afternoon for Ferrari, which started with Barrichello's retirement, Michael Schumacher picked up a puncture just four laps from home, dropping him from third to seventh. This boosted an already excellent result for Toyota, who saw Panis and da Matta finish fifth and sixth respectively. Wilson failed to finish in his first appearance for Jaguar, while his Minardi replacement, Dane Nicolas Kiesa came home 12th.

Click here for the grid in full.
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Summary
With the season three-quarters complete Williams were on a roll - and there looked to be little Ferrari could do about it. The Italian team and tyre suppliers Bridgestone knew they needed to pull some dramatic improvements out of the bag if they were to stem the flow, but the summer testing ban meant there was little opportunity to try out new developments. It was clear they were likely to struggle at the next round in Hungary and their only hope was some to make some real progress at the pre-Monza test in preparation for a fight-back at their home race.

At McLaren, meanwhile, it was becoming increasingly apparent that Raikkonen was almost certain to complete his title challenge in the MP4-17D, which was still proving remarkably competitive, though his retirements in Europe and Germany had cost him dear. Suddenly it was Montoya rather than the Finn who looked the bigger threat to Schumacher's crown. The Colombian, in turn had emerged as Williams' unexpected key challenger, team mate Ralf Schumacher having failed to capitalise fully on his two race wins.

Things were also getting increasingly tight in the lower half of the table, with just six points splitting BAR in fifth place and Sauber in ninth. The biggest movers were Toyota, who had jumped three places since the mid-season mark, while in contrast Jordan's and Sauber's campaigns had shown precious little momentum.

Drivers' standings after Germany (round 12 of 16):
1. Michael Schumacher, Ferrari - 71
2. Juan Pablo Montoya, Williams - 65
3. Kimi Raikkonen, McLaren - 62
4. Ralf Schumacher, Williams - 53
5. Rubens Barrichello, Ferrari - 49
6. Fernando Alonso, Renault - 44
7. David Coulthard, McLaren - 41
8. Jarno Trulli, Renault - 22
9=. Jenson Button, BAR - 12
9=. Mark Webber, Jaguar - 12
11. Giancarlo Fisichella, Jordan - 10
12. Cristiano da Matta, Toyota - 8
13. Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Sauber - 7
14. Olivier Panis, Toyota - 6
15. Jacques Villeneuve, BAR - 3
16. Nick Heidfeld, Sauber - 2
17. Ralph Firman, Jordan - 1

Constructors' standings:
1. Ferrari - 120
3. Williams - 118
2. McLaren - 103
4. Renault - 66
5. BAR - 15
6. Toyota - 14
7. Jaguar - 12
8. Jordan - 11
9. Sauber - 9

See also: 2003 season review (1) - Australia to San Marino
See also: 2003 season review (2) - Spain to Canada
See also: 2003 season review (4) - Hungary to Japan