Race weekend review - Monaco 02 Jun 2003
Sunday's Monaco Grand Prix produced the most nail-biting race of the season to date. Williams became the fourth constructor this year to win a race, Kimi Raikkonen retained his lead in the drivers' championship and Ferrari had to concede defeat to their two biggest rivals.
However, drawing conclusions from the Monaco race is never easy. The Monte Carlo circuit is so unique and imposes so many different parameters on teams, that comparisons with other races are all but pointless. Plus, of course, overtaking is close to impossible. Nevertheless, Sunday's race did provide some pointers towards the teams' varying fortunes.
It is tempting to think that Michael Schumacher and Ferrari were blown away by Juan Pablo Montoya and Williams, and Kimi Raikkonen and McLaren. However, we should remember that Schumacher finished only 1.118s behind Raikkonen and 1.720s behind Montoya, and that he had at times been as much as 14 seconds in arrears.
What spoiled the world champion's race was getting trapped behind Jarno Trulli's Renault at the start. Ferrari's decision to run a long first stint meant that, with a heavier fuel load than its rivals, the F2003-GA could not get off the start line as quickly.
Then there was the tyre issue. Michelin ruled the roost in qualifying, with the top five places, but again, Schumacher in sixth place was on the heavier fuel load. However, the champion made it clear after the race that he was not satisfied with the performance of his Bridgestone tyres, so rubber was definitely a factor. How much of a factor is impossible to say, and probably even the teams could not answer that with complete accuracy.
Does Williams' first Monegasque victory since 1983 mean that it has taken a step forward? That answer is a probable yes, and it would appear that the recent presence of aerodynamicists Dr John Davis and Frank Dernie at races has helped the team to find the best set-up for the FW25. In both Austria and Monaco, dramatic set-up changes between first and second qualifying reaped huge dividends. What is for certain is that Williams desperately needed that victory, just as Kimi Raikkonen and McLaren needed such a strong second place to stem Schumacher's challenge.
Renault didn't quite have enough in Monte Carlo to fight for the lead, as some had anticipated, but it says everything for the bullet-proof reliability of the modern Formula One car that the top four teams finished all of their cars in the top eight places. There were slim pickings for anyone else.
BAR should have challenged for points, given Jenson Button's early form, but lost momentum after his accident on Saturday, and Toyota initially struggled to get its car working in the Principality, as did Sauber. For Jaguar the race was a huge disappointment, with early retirements for Mark Webber and Antonio Pizzonia.
The fact is that the race at the front in Monaco largely overshadowed everyone else. While it was a testimony to the talent of the drivers involved, it was also worrying confirmation that the other teams still have a long way to go to catch the top four.