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Australian Grand Prix 2003 - a look back 02 Mar 2004

David Coulthard (GBR) McLaren 
Formula One World Championship, Rd1, Australian Grand Prix, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, 8 March 2003

David Coulthard won the 2003 Australian Grand Prix with team mate Kimi Raikkonen third, but only a dramatic salvage job by McLaren made up for their mistake of starting both cars on wet Michelins on a track that dried quickly. It was a gripping race, and for the first time since Nurburgring 1999 there wasn't a Ferrari on the podium.

Michael Schumacher took pole position, running low fuel, but brother Ralf and both McLaren drivers made errors, lining up in respective ninth, 11th and 15th positions. Heinz-Harald Frentzen ran low fuel to take fourth, and with Olivier Panis' Toyota fifth, things looked very different to 2002.

The opening laps were exciting. The Michelin runners could run dry tyres on a damp track, in the expectation that it would soon dry out. But the Bridgestone runners could not. Even Michael Schumacher ran intermediates rather than dries.

McLaren realised their mistake in opting for wets even before the formation lap was over. Raikkonen decided to come in and change to dries and the team threw in enough fuel to allow the Finn, who started from the pit lane, to go with one stop. Coulthard had his doubts too late. The Ferraris surged into the lead, followed by the Saubers and the BARs, and the Scot was only eighth. But at the end of lap tow McLaren made their second tactical correction as Coulthard came in for fuel and dry Michelins.

Michael Schumacher led from Barrichello and Juan Pablo Montoya, but Barrichello, who lost traction on a quickly drying track, crashed at Turn Five on lap five, followed by rookie Ralph Firman, who had driven his Jordan well on his dry Bridgestones to climb to eighth by lap seven. Schumacher dropped to eighth, pitting for dry tyres.

The first intervention of the safety car, during lap eight, dealt Raikkonen (sixth), Schumacher (seventh), and Coulthard (a remarkable eighth) fresh hands. Before that Montoya had been looking good for Williams, holding a 5.7 second lead over Fernando Alonso's Renault.

Setting a series of fastest laps, Montoya opened his lead over Jarno Trulli's Renault, (Alonso having refuelled on lap 10) as racing resumed on lap 12. But then Mark Webber's Jaguar, lying an impressive sixth, broke its rear suspension and stopped in an awkward place, so out came the safety car again on laps 19 and 20. This time Montoya benefited, having made his first refuelling stop on lap 17. Now Raikkonen led from Michael Schumacher and Coulthard. When Schumacher pitted on lap 29 Montoya moved up to third behind the two McLarens, which were on one-stop strategies, but Raikkonen's resistance to Schumacher had ruined Ferrari's aggressive splash'n'dash refuelling ploy. Coulthard and Raikkonen refuelled on laps 32 and 33, resuming second (Raikkonen) and fifth (Coulthard). Five laps later Schumacher's heavy attack on Raikkonen came to grief at Turn One when the Finn held his line and his nerve, the German falling back afterwards. But Raikkonen's race also went wrong. He incurred a pit lane speeding penalty after a systems malfunction allowed him to go 1.1 kph over the limit on lap 33.

Now Montoya had an 8.3 second lead after his final pit stop on lap 42. But then he spun exiting Turn One on lap 48. Coulthard was home and dry, well ahead of a great scrap for second between the recovered Montoya, Raikkonen and Schumacher. They finished 8.6 seconds adrift of the Scot at the end of what was seen by most as one of the best races in years.