Race weekend review - Ferrari to the fore? 21 Jul 2003
On the face of it, Ferrari took a step forward at Silverstone, with Rubens Barrichello taking pole position, the race victory and fastest lap, and even Michael Schumacher finishing fourth having run for a long time around 13th place.
Since the French Grand Prix the champion team had conducted intensive tyre tests with supplier Bridgestone, at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona, and at Mugello and Fiorano. On top of that there were some new components for the F2003-GA. After the pre-race test at Silverstone in June the team was feeling very confident, and ultimately that confidence did not prove unfounded.
But, does this mean that Ferrari made the sort of progress it needs in order to fend off Williams at the coming rounds at Hockenheim and Hungary?
It's a hypothetical question right now, of course, because there is no way just yet to tell for sure. But there were indications that it was more a case of Williams losing this race than of Ferrari winning it.
First of all the wind in qualifying affected all of the front runners except for Barrichello and Kimi Raikkonen, both of whom made mistakes on Friday afternoon and thus got out in Saturday's final session before the wind strength increased. In particular, Juan Pablo Montoya's Williams seemed badly affected as the fine balance he had found in morning practice turned into horrible understeer and left him only seventh on the grid.
The effect of this was that he was stuck in sixth place behind Michael Schumacher for the first 11 laps. Then the wayward spectator went walking on the track, and when the safety car was deployed everyone scuttled into the pits. At this stage Ralf Schumacher was running fourth, just ahead of his brother, so when both Williams arrived at the crowded pits it was Ralf who got the service first. Montoya lost time to Barrichello there. Even though Rubens also lost a little time himself as the Ferrari crew had to wait agonising moments for a clear space in the heavy traffic in which to despatch its car, Montoya's loss was greater, and he lost more time still on rejoining because, although he had vaulted past Schumacher, he was now down in 12th place immediately behind a bunch comprising Ralph Firman (who had not pitted), Barrichello, Jacques Villeneuve (who had) and Antonio Pizzonia (who also had).
Barrichello got clear quite quickly, and though Montoya was also soon on the move and vaulted up to seventh by lap 19 (when team-mate Schumacher pitted to have a turning vane he had damaged over a kerb removed from a radiator duct), Barrichello made up some more time on him. Later Montoya claimed that he lost four seconds with an off-course moment around lap 32 on Pizzonia's oil, though the race history didn't actually bear that out. What hurt him most was his second pit stop on lap 38. Prior to that he was around three or four seconds adrift of Barrichello, depending on lapped traffic. When they resumed racing again after Barrichello's stop a lap later, the gap was now 11s. That was where the damage was done.
The Colombian was full of praise for his car, which had been quick enough for him to reduce another 11s deficit to Barrichello on lap 13 to almost nothing by lap 20. But he also said: "I think Ferrari looked a bit stronger today, not that much stronger. From what I remember in testing and long runs they were much stronger. I was pretty pleased with my pace. He was only a couple of tenths quicker than me, that was all."
Barrichello was very pleased with his car. "I love to be inside a team where they work like they worked last week to make this car better and like Bridgestone to make the tyres better," he enthused.
On the day Ferrari and Williams were just too strong for McLaren, but the other Anglo-German cars were reliable enough to go away with 10 valuable points, five less than Ferrari but two more than Williams. Renault once again showed well but lacked the sheer grunt to maintain their pace throughout a race; Trulli took three points as Alonso faded with electrical trouble. Perhaps the biggest impression came at the time after the lap 12 pit stops when the car in front was a Toyota, courtesy of Cristiano da Matta. The Brazilian drove superbly and once Raikkonen had spoiled Toyota's 1-2 after four glorious laps by passing Olivier Panis (both drivers had already taken advantage of the first safety car period on lap six to refuel and therefore sailed by everyone else who stopped on lap 12), he had to follow da Matta for 13 laps until the red and white car refuelled again on lap 30.
So, with just five rounds to go, Michael Schumacher, Raikkonen, Montoya, Ralf Schumacher and now Barrichello all have a shot at the drivers' crown, while Ferrari, Williams and McLaren remain locked in a three-way fight for team honours. It all bodes well for a gripping climax to the 2003 title chase.