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Race report - Austria 18 May 2003

Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari celebrates victory on the podium.
Formula One World Championship, Rd6, Austrian Grand Prix, Race Day, A1-Ring, Austria, 18 May 2003

First it was water, then fire, but nothing could stop Michael Schumacher from scoring the 67th Grand Prix victory of his career here in Spielberg today.

After it took three attempts to start the race - due to Cristiano da Matta twice stalling his Toyota - Schumacher burst away from Juan Pablo Montoya at such a rate that he surely seemed to be on a three-stop strategy compared to the Colombian's two. But he wasn't.

After 15 laps he had built a lead of 10.6s, but almost as quickly he lost it as rain fell on parts of the track. As we saw in Australia, Michelin's grooved tyres had the advantage in such conditions, and Montoya quickly reeled in the Ferrari and by lap 20, when he made his first pit stop, he had closed to within three seconds of the red car.

Both Schumacher and second-placed Kimi Raikkonen pitted on lap 23. The Finn's stop went smoothly, but the German met with near disaster. There was a problem with the Ferrari refuelling rig, and suddenly flames were licking round the side of the car and the end of the fuel hose. With incredible coolness Schumacher resisted any temptation to bale out and the fire was quickly suppressed, but he lost 10 seconds before he rejoined, calmly wiping extinguisher foam from his visor.

This drama let Montoya into the lead from Raikkonen, with Schumacher on the Finn's tail. Steadily Montoya built a lead as Raikkonen contained Schumacher's challenge, but just as it seemed that the fortunes of Williams were changing, Montoya's BMW engine failed on lap 32 and he cruised round to the pits to retire.

That same lap Schumacher had slipped down the inside of Raikkonen going into the Remus corner, so he found himself back in the lead and began pulling away from the McLaren. By lap 42 the gap was 7.9s and Schumacher was looking good as he came in again to refuel. This time everything went smoothly, and he maintained a comfortable lead for the remainder of the race, which was shortened from 71 to 69 laps after the two aborted starts.

Behind him, Rubens Barrichello drove a hard race to push Raikkonen all the way home, the pair finishing 3.3s behind Schumacher and only 0.589s apart.

Jenson Button was in contention for a strong finish throughout, and duly came home fourth for BAR, but team mate Jacques Villeneuve lost his chance of points after his car stalled during his second stop.

David Coulthard battled with a fuel-heavy McLaren to climb from his lowly 14th place on the grid to fifth, moving ahead of Ralf Schumacher after the latter slid wide in Turn 3 on lap 57. The German held on to finish sixth, ahead of Mark Webber who set third fastest lap after electing to start his Jaguar from the pit lane following his qualifying problems. The team fell foul of the parc ferme regulations and the Australian had to make a 10-second stop for a penalty, so his drive was all the more meritorious.

Jaguar team mate Antonio Pizzonia also ran well early on in sixth place, before an off-road moment dropped him back. At one stage he challenged Jarno Trulli for the final point, but the Italian resisted and pulled away to bring some consolation for Renault after team mate Fernando Alonso's run of finishes came to an end when his spare R23 spun in Turn 1 on lap 45 because of an engine problem.

Schumacher's triumph moves him to within two points of Raikkonen in the title fight, while Barrichello is third from Alonso and Coulthard. In the constructors' championship, Ferrari moved a point ahead of McLaren.