Champion dignified in difficult circumstances
Michael Schumacher didnt have to race, but he and brother Ralf competed in the San Marino Grand Prix because they wanted to. And, perhaps, because each needed to, following the death of their mother Elisabeth the previous evening.
Both drivers teams gave them the option to withdraw, but each elected to race. Elisabeth Schumacher had been a steadfast supporter of her sons careers ever since they took their first tentative steps at the family-run kart track at Kerpen.
It turned out to be an emotional 65th Grand Prix victory for the world champion, and his first in a troubled season. And, the emotional part aside, it was easy.
Ralf Schumacher surged into the lead for Williams, but Michael, on a three-stop strategy, dogged him until Ralf refuelled on lap 16. Michael stopped two laps later and emerged in the lead. Rubens Barrichellos failure to beat Ralf on the stops cost Ferrari a one-two.
It was a crucial result for the team, with their old machine, which Schumacher described as A good farewell to this incredible car. Rivals were wary that the F2003-GA was ready in the wings, yet the old model was still a winner. Its success brought Formula One back down to earth after three sensational opening races, but both McLaren and Williams left Italy buoyed by their performance. The former retained their lead in both the drivers and constructors championships, thanks to Kimi Raikkonen driving home a strong second despite a fierce challenge from Barrichello in the closing laps, and David Coulthard taking a disappointed fifth. And McLaren, like Ferrari, at that stage harboured high hopes for their own new car, the MP4-18A that was taking shape in Woking.
Ralf Schumacher lost out to McLarens two-stop strategy, and then later to a scrap with Barrichello, who shoved inside him at the final corner on the 52nd lap to snatch third place to the delight of the tifosi. His Williams team mate Juan Pablo Montoya was seventh after a problem with his refuelling rig during his second stop on lap 30, which prompted another, unscheduled one, two laps later. Fernando Alonso drove his Renault extremely well to sixth, and Jenson Button took the final point for BAR.
It was a good fight with Kimi, but obviously my race was hampered by BMW Williams strategy and the fact that I could not overtake Ralf during the first stops, the way Michael managed to, Barrichello said. It seemed like there were only three or four laps in this race when I was not fighting somebody and had a clean lap. I spent my entire race pushing the car to the maximum.
So, too, did Raikkonen, who did the perfect damage limitation job for McLaren on an afternoon when the old Ferrari still had more than enough up its sleeve to see off its Anglo-German rivals. Our two-stop strategy worked quite well, said Raikkonen. My only problem all afternoon was too much oversteer on my second set of tyres. Its always good to get points while we are waiting for our new car, and once we get that I hope we can start to fight again for wins.
McLarens new challenger was at that point of the season being tipped to appear in Austria at the end of May. While the MP4-17D was doing the winning (as it had in Australia and Malaysia), the team had the luxury of racing the old car while honing the new one in testing. But after Ferraris demonstration that Sunday afternoon in Imola, it was beginning to look like the MP4-18A might be needed sooner rather than later.