Race review - Ralf wins in France 06 Jul 2003
A second consecutive Williams 1-2 at Magny-Cours today brought the team within three points of Ferrari at the head of the constructors' championship, and boosted winner Ralf Schumacher to only three points behind Kimi Raikkonen in the drivers' title chase.
The victory was the most dominant seen this season. Ralf Schumacher made the best start, and a superbly executed three-stop strategy kept the white and blue car in the lead throughout the 70 laps. In the opening laps the German made the most of his car's set-up to open a lead over team mate Juan Pablo Montoya, as Kimi Raikkonen sprinted up to third place ahead of Michael Schumacher, who only just kept David Coulthard behind him in the second corner.
In the early going the world champion's worst fears about the level of competitiveness between Michelin and his tyre supplier Bridgestone seemed justified, as he steadily fell back. Just behind this quintet the Renaults of Jarno Trulli and Fernando Alonso gave chase.
However, the Renaults both broke their engines mid-race, and handling problems saw Raikkonen eventually lose out to Schumacher when the Finn made his last of three stops on the 47th lap.
Ralf Schumacher's only 'problem' came on the 52nd lap when, having made his final stop the previous lap, Montoya closed to within 1.2 seconds. But the German kept his head and simply opened up the gap again. In the latter stage of the race Michael Schumacher was the fastest man on the track as the Williams duo conserved their equipment, having built up a lead of more than 20 seconds.
"I got pretty close to Ralf," Montoya said philosophically. "The car didn't feel very comfortable to begin with, then in one stop I had a problem with a wheelnut and lost time. After that I paced myself and started pushing very hard, and I was right there before my last stop. I stopped two laps early but Ralf also came in a lap earlier so all my advantage was gone. So after that I just backed off. The car was very good and I was pretty aggressive with the traffic. This is great for the team!"
"The car was very good from the start," Ralf Schumacher said. "At the end I got a bit wide in Turn 7 when I braked a bit late, but nothing special. You know, I really can't believe that I have won two in a row! It's fantastic!"
His brother was not so cheerful, but a clever change of strategy, allied to handling problems for Kimi Raikkonen, helped Michael Schumacher to a great third place. "Raikkonen out-accelerated me easily at the start and I had to fight side-by-side with Coulthard," the champion said. "Later we ran longer before the final stop because we knew McLaren didn't have new tyres and we hoped ours would hold together and they did and that kept our advantage. You always hope for better, but looking at weekend's pace overall that was about what we thought we could do."
Coulthard should have been third but lost time when a refuelling problem obliged the team to change hoses during his final stop on lap 48. In a misunderstanding Coulthard then rejoined before the second hose had been detached, and refueller Steve Morrow was dragged over the left rear wheel. Fortunately he was not harmed, but the Scot lost a lot of time and had to be satisfied with fifth place ahead of Mark Webber's well-driven Jaguar, the Ferrari of Rubens Barrichello (who spun in the last corner at the end of the opening lap, dropping him to the back of the field), and the Toyota of Olivier Panis, the only Frenchman in the race.
In the drivers' championship, Michael Schumacher now has 64 points and Raikkonen 56, but Ralf Schumacher is coming up fast on 53, while Montoya has 47. In the constructors' standings Ferrari still lead, on 103, but with Williams just three points adrift.
So can Williams launch a genuine title challenge? "Ferrari has a big test organised next week," Ralf Schumacher said, "but we will obviously be pushing hard to stay where we are! If we keep working like this we can keep this going, but there will be circuits coming that are tough for us. But we are very encouraged!"
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