Canada '03 - Schumacher stars 08 Jun 2004
Thrilling race sees champion go back on top
Michael Schumachers brilliant Montreal victory saw him regain the world championship advantage, and former leader Kimi Raikkonen played little part as the Ferrari star led his brother, Juan Pablo Montoya and Fernando Alonso across the finish line with less than five seconds covering the four of them.
The Williams duo wrapped up qualifying, but once again Raikkonen gave himself a mountain to climb by spinning on his crucial lap. Schumacher Jnr grabbed the lead from Montoya and his brother at the start of the race, but on the second lap Montoya made his second unforced error of the season, spinning down to fifth exiting the last corner. That was where Schumacher won the race.
First Michael played a waiting game until Ralf pitted on lap 20, and in his usual fashion he just managed to grab the lead going into the first corner after his own stop a lap later. Ralf kept his brother honest for the ensuing 26 laps, with a repentant Montoya closing to within 7.8 seconds of them. Schumacher Jnr stopped again on lap 46, and Schumacher Snr came in two laps later, resuming easily in the lead. But the Ferrari had brake problems, and Michael was dictating a minimal pace. Ralf and Montoya closed in, bringing Alonso with them. The Spaniard had enjoyed a spell in the lead during the first stops with a Renault that, for once, was running a lot of fuel for its first stint. Now he was flying. By lap 57 the three leaders were all less than two and a half seconds apart, by lap 60 a second covered them. And Alonso was catching them. What had seemed dull has suddenly become potentially explosive.
Meanwhile, Raikkonen was also flying. After starting from the pit lane with a tank full of fuel he was unable to make much progress initially, running in a bunch with Jacques Villeneuve, Justin Wilson, who was having yet another brilliant race, Nick Heidfeld, Giancarlo Fisichella and Jenson Button, all fighting for ninth place. As others stopped for fuel, Raikkonen was fifth by lap 30.
Jarno Trullis Renault had thrown a right-rear tyre tread on lap four, and on lap 33 Michelins second failure of the race forced the Finn to pit with a similar problem. He was lucky that the failure occurred just as he was on the final straight before the pits, so McLaren were able to alter their refuelling strategy slightly to get him going with minimal delay. He resumed quickly, chasing after fifth-placed Rubens Barrichello who had been delayed earlier by a brush with Alonso which had seen the Brazilian needing to pit for a new front wing.
Up front it was the sort of pressure that Schumacher Snr was weaned on, but though it made great television, there was little chance of the world champion making the sort of costly error that his pursuers needed. As the chequered flag came out he was still 0.7 seconds clear of his brother, and had moved three points ahead of Raikkonen in the title chase. Just to make t a great day for Ferrari, they moved nine points clear of McLaren.
It doesnt get much better than today, Schumacher said in the post-race press conference, incidentally having scored the 999th championship point of his career. It was a tight race and a tough race, and I had to be very careful on the brake side so I wasnt pushing and I was just driving to the pace I needed to, and opened the gap a little bit on the pit stops. 999 points is a good number in Germany that means giving a free drink to everybody, so lets see what happens tonight!
Williams, meanwhile, already had a hangover to contend with, though it was one from which they were to quickly recover.