After an incredible record of podium finishes in every race since September 1999, Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro's fortune finally ran out in the opening race of the 2003 F1 Drivers World Championship when Michael Schumacher took a distant fourth place...
After an incredible record of podium finishes in every race since September 1999, Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro's fortune finally ran out in the opening race of the 2003 F1 Drivers World Championship when Michael Schumacher took a distant fourth place in what was a thrilling race from start to finish of the 58 laps around the Melbourne track.
A wet start, two safety car periods, unscheduled pit stops, racing incidents and some bad luck saw the lead see-saw between several teams which finally saw the McLaren-Mercedes of David Coulthard eventually take the checkered flag, 8,6 seconds ahead of the second placed car after starting 15th on the grid.
The battle for second place was fought out by the three other would-be winners led home by Juan-Pablo Montoya's BMW-Williams from the second McLaren of Kimi Raikkonen and Schumacher's Ferrari all less than a second apart at the flag.
After a problem with the launch control at the start, Ruben's Barrichello's hopes of a good finish disappeared permanently when the slippery conditions caught him out on lap 6 and he crashed out of the race. Michael Schumacher took advantage of a safety car for Ruben's accident, as well of that of Ralf Firman's Jordan at the same spot, in order to switch to dry tyres, which lost him his lead to Montoya, who had gambled on dry tyres from the start.
Raikkonen had also started on dry tyres and with a full fuel load from the pit lane after stopping after the warm-up lap, a move that almost won him the race. As the rest of the fuel were forced to stop for fuel, he was able to make a one-stop race and came through the field to take the lead after 17 laps which he held until his only stop on lap 33.
He came back into the race behind Montoya having a great race for second place with Schumacher, who took a trip across the grass at the first corner as he tried to get ahead of the McLaren, only to be driven wide by the young Finn.
In fact, he could have taken it easy, for a couple of laps later Raikkonen had to go back to the pits for a drive-through penalty for speeding in the pit-lane by 1 kph due to a badly adjusted speed limiter. It cost him a likely win, for when Montoya made his next fuel stop it was Schumacher who took the lead and appeared to be heading for the win.
However, the drama continued. The Ferrari's barge boards, damaged by the trip over the grass a few laps before, finally broke away and was trailing on the right side of the car. He was losing a lot of time as it upset his car's handling then Schumacher was flagged to the pits to have it removed for safety reasons. It had already fallen off, so he went back into the race with a fuel top-off and back into the chase, his car not handling as well as he would have liked, but still catching the cars ahead.
The unscheduled stops for Raikkonen and Schumacher let a steady Coulthard into second place, chasing what then looked like being a win for Montoya, until he spun ten laps from the flag and handed Coulthard the lead. "It was my fault. I got on the throttle and the back came around. I was pretty disappointed after staying on the road the first few laps which was very difficult and then spinning 10 laps from the flag," said Montoya.
He got going quick enough again to hold second place, but had to fight all the way to the flag as Raikkonen and Schumacher pushed him all the way, unable to find a gap to get ahead before the flag.
Jarno Trulli took fifth place after a long battle with the Sauber of Heinz-Harald Frentzen in sixth spot, the meat in a Renault sandwich as he had Fernando Alonso's Renault just a second away in seventh place.
Ralf Schumacher took the final point for eight place in the new points system, the second BMW-Williams driver dropping back after a rear tyre problem caused a long stop and he lost more time with a spin as he left the pits.
Only 11 of the 20 starters made it to the flag, both Jaguars going out with rear suspension failure while the two Toyotas failed to finish when Da Matta spun off and Panis stopped with a fuel pick-up problem. Both Jordans also stopped before the end, Firman after his crash and Fisichella with a gearbox problem.
It was a thrilling race to open the season, ironically made that way by the unpredictable weather and not the new rule changes, which had little effect on the outcome.
"It was a very strange race and not really because of the new rules. The weather at the start and in the early stages, which saw some drivers running wet tyres and others on dry ones, the Safety Car appearing twice and the different strategies, were all factors which made the race hard to read and different to usual. Five points is not exactly a great tally, given that we started with an all-red front row. The result shows that the slightest mistake results in a heavy penalty. It was a shame for Rubens, who lost control of the car when the track was still slippery and ended up in the barriers. As usual, Michael never gave up. But when he had a clear track ahead of him, he was unable to push to the maximum as his car was damaged. Today’s result brings to an end a run of 53 consecutive races featuring a Ferrari on the podium. Now we must attack once more. We know this will be a very tough season, but we also know we have all the right elements in place to be able to fight for success at the end."
"The changing weather made for a chaotic race today. We could not have predicted there would be two Safety Car periods and in this situation it is just a gamble whether or not it works in your favour at the right time. At one point I hit the kerbs, damaged the car quite badly and lost a lot of time because of it. Apparently, on the lap before my last pit stop, some parts started hanging off the car and that was badly affecting its handling. It felt as though the car was damaged and I even thought I might have a puncture. So, all things considered I think we can be happy with fourth place today. It was an interesting day with plenty of action and these 5 points will be important later in the year. The F2002 is still very competitive."
"A disappointing day, but it’s not a case of Australia being unlucky for me. It was just one of those things. There is no need to panic about this result. We just have to dig in and concentrate on Malaysia. The F2002 is still a very good car, as could be seen by Michael’s lap times, even when he had lost some bodywork. As for my start, we will have to investigate what happened, as I was holding the car on the brake as much as I could, but it just wanted to start early today. We felt intermediate tyres were the best choice, but the track dried very quickly. Just before the accident, we were talking on the radio about my penalty. I went into Turn 5 too fast, had understeer and could not hold it. The car was going well, but the front tyres were already in trouble, because the track dried quicker than expected and I was still having to push hard. We must now put this race behind us, look to the next one and get used to the new rules.'