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Race analysis - Renault takes full advantage 25 Aug 2003

the Renault Team elebrate
Formula One World Championship, Rd13, Hungarian Grand Prix, Race Day, Hungaroring, Hungary, 24 August 2003

Circumstance, excellent strategy and brilliant driving yesterday in Hungary won Renault its first Grand Prix as a constructor (as opposed to as an engine supplier) since Austria 1983. But Williams or McLaren could, and surely should, have won.

Those are the inescapable facts if you look at the fastest laps - 1m 22.095s for Juan Pablo Montoya, 1m 22.319s for Ralf Schumacher; and 1m 22.372s for Kimi Raikkonen. Alonso's best was 1m 22.565s, though he did admit that from lap 20 he was taking it easy.

The key is in Montoya's fast lap. It came on the 37th lap, after he had recorded 1m 22.640 on the 34th, but the telling point is that the Colombian had made his final refuelling stop on lap 35, and was therefore running a car with a fresh fuel load when he set the standard.

"We clearly had the fastest car again this weekend," he said, but circumstance worked against the team. Both Ralf Schumacher and Montoya had to start from the right-hand side of the grid, as the second and fourth fastest qualifiers, and it was notably dirtier. In fact, dirty track conditions were a factor all weekend, due to the recent dry weather and persistent breezes that spread dust all over the Tarmac.

Ralf Schumacher then compounded his starting problem by spinning in the first corner and forcing himself to play catch-up all afternoon. "I have no idea what happened at the start. I just had no traction," he said. "Two corners later I had to be careful not to crash into the rear of Juan's car. That was when I spun."

Both drivers were very critical of the track conditions at the start. "Generally the people on the right had a slower start than people on the left," Montoya said. "I did mention to Charlie Whiting [the race director] yesterday that it was very difficult and that we were going to see people on the right lose a lot of places, and I think it is something is going to have to be done about that because it is just horrendous."

Later, Montoya was very lucky to get away with spinning in Turn 11 on lap 62. "It was my mistake," he said, "I just backed up too much, had to lift in the corner and lost it. As soon as I turned in the car swapped ends, but the first thing I did was to go full throttle so it wouldn't go into the gravel."

Without these problems, Williams should in theory have walked the race.

Raikkonen, too, would have been a very strong contender had he not got stuck behind Webber early on. Rubens Barrichello was partly a factor here. At the start the Finn got away well and made a move to go outside the Brazilian again (as he had in Germany), but Rubens moved to the left and Raikkonen had to abort and lift off and lost momentum. That prevented him from jumping Webber. It then took him until lap 14, and the Jaguar's first stop, to move ahead, but in the times when they made their respective stops (on laps 13, 30, and 49 for Alonso, 15, 33 and 51 for Raikkonen), they were never far apart and without his initial delay the McLaren driver would have been very dangerous to Renault.

Some you win, some you lose. Sunday was deservedly Renault's day, because it made great use of its strategy, and undoubtedly a key factor in the R23's overall package was the superior handling conferred upon it by the lower centre of gravity of the oft-criticised wide-angle Renault V10 engine.

Reliability for Renault, Williams and McLaren remained high, but the left rear suspension failure on Barrichello's Ferrari was most unusual. The red cars are usually bullet-proof. Jaguar's feisty performance and sixth place was crucially sufficient to draw it level on points (15) with BAR, which had little to celebrate on engine manufacturer Honda's 250th Grand Prix appearance. Sauber's performance improvement continued though Heidfeld was unlucky to be the first finisher outside the points, especially as he was only 25 seconds adrift of Michael Schumacher. Frentzen ran out of fuel, though it was not entirely his fault.

Of course, the other main story of the race was tyre performance, and with the first seven places it was clearly a Michelin benefit. For Bridgestone the Monza test at the beginning of September cannot come soon enough, and it desperately needs to make improvements.

Yet again 2003 threw up another gripping Grand Prix with a great result. As an interesting addendum, Fernando Alonso became the eighth different race winner of the season, in dramatic contrast to 2002. You have to go back to 1983 and 1985 to match that courtesy of Nelson Piquet, John Watson, Alain Prost, Patrick Tambay, Keke Rosberg, Michele Alboreto, Rene Arnoux and Riccardo Patrese, and then Prost, Ayrton Senna, Elio de Angelis, Alboreto, Rosberg, Piquet, Niki Lauda and Nigel Mansell respectively. Or 1982 - Prost, Lauda, Didier Pironi, Watson, Patrese, Piquet, Arnoux, Tambay, de Angelis, Rosberg and Alboreto - to better it.