Twenty-two year-old Fernando Alonso became the youngest driver ever to win a Grand Prix when he took victory in Budapest, breaking a record set by Bruce McLaren back in 1959. The Renault man led from pole to chequered flag in exemplary fashion, ...
Twenty-two year-old Fernando Alonso became the youngest driver ever to win a Grand Prix when he took victory in Budapest, breaking a record set by Bruce McLaren back in 1959. The Renault man led from pole to chequered flag in exemplary fashion, lapping world champion Michael Schumacher on his way to the first win of his career. With McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen in second and Williams's Juan Pablo Montoya in third, the top three in the championship are now just a point apart going into the final three races of 2003.
The start was clean, with Alonso taking the lead. Ralf Schumacher, on the dirty side of the track was slow to get away then spun at turn two, which dropped him all the way to the back. Rubens Barrichello had a good start up to third but Toyota's Cristiano da Matta was pushed off the grid and restarted from the pit lane.
Kimi Raikkonen also had a good start, the McLaren up behind Barrichello's Ferrari, and Michael Schumacher got ahead of championship rival Montoya. Barrichello cut the chicane trying to get past Mark Webber, who was second, and had to back off to let the Jaguar back through. He backed off a bit too much and Raikkonen and the second Renault of Jarno Trulli also got past.
Things settled down after a few laps, Alonso already pulling away at the front. Webber was successfully holding up the rest of the field, which worked well in Alonso's favour. Ralf, meanwhile, was carving his way through the pack, taking Toyota's Olivier Panis for twelfth and homing in on the Jaguar of Justin Wilson.
The pair of BARs were working hard, Jenson Button taking the Sauber of Heinz-Harald Frentzen for sixteenth and Jacques Villeneuve unsuccessfully trying to keep Ralf behind him. The Williams took tenth from the Canadian at turn one, a turn that proved to be something of a favourite for Ralf.
Wilson kicked off the first round of pit stops and it was the only time Alonso was not in the lead when he dived in for his first stop, which doesn't really count. He rejoined second behind Raikkonen but then the Finn had to pit as well. Ralf was barreling merrily along dispatching cars left right and centre, he really was on a mission. By the first round of stops he was up to eighth behind teammate Montoya, a pretty remarkable performance.
Villeneuve was the first casualty, the BAR crawling down the pit lane with a suspected hydraulic failure. "It was a really good start," he said. "We knew we had a good race set-up. It was looking good, but whenever it looks good for us something goes wrong."
The Schumacher brothers pitted together but Michael held the advantage and after the first stop shakedown it was Alonso leading from Raikkonen, Webber and Trulli. Barrichello crashed out spectacularly at turn one: the left rear suspension went as he touched the brakes and the rear wheel flew off. The Ferrari went head-first into the tyre barrier with a big impact but thankfully Barrichello was unhurt.
"I was just a passenger," the Brazilian explained. "I think it was the suspension, when I braked it just went, I lost everything. I knew it was going to be a big one but I'm okay. Nothing happened (earlier in the race) that could have caused it, I don't know."
The safety car was not deployed as most of the debris was off track and Ferrari decided there was no indication that Michael's car could be in jeopardy. Alonso now had a 24 second lead over Raikkonen and lost a little when negotiating traffic but not enough to matter. Giancarlo Fisichella was the next retiree, an engine failure for the Jordan at turn three.
Montoya was closing on Trulli and had a go at the Renault at turn, causing Michael to hold station as he waited to see what would happen. That was all Ralf needed and he whipped past the Ferrari, although Montoya's move on Trulli didn't work out. Alonso had such a margin over Raikkonen by the second round of pit stops that he rejoined in the lead.
Everyone else piled in shortly afterwards, all pretty much good clean stops apart from Panis, who stuttered miserably searching for gear then the Toyota gave up completely. Michael also had a slight glitch; possibly some problem with the pit lane limiter caused his engine to cut out but the crew managed to get him going again without losing too much time.
Ralf jumped Trulli in his stop and Montoya went one better, beating both his teammate and Webber. Race order was now Alonso, Raikkonen, Montoya, Webber, Ralf. The second Jordan of Zsolt Baumgartner also fell foul to engine failure, a shame for the Hungarian at his home event: "It was a very good chance for me today and I'm upset I didn't finish the race," he said. "But that's motor racing."
David Coulthard managed to jump Michael in his pit stop, it was really not working out for Ferrari at all. Wilson was next out, another engine failure -- there will surely be some hasty meetings going on at Ford after this weekend. Ralf was meanwhile attacking the other Jaguar of Webber and took fourth at turn one.
Frentzen joined the retirees, pulling off to the side of the track; his radio wasn't working and he didn't hear the call to come in and subsequently ran out of gas. Practically everyone was on a three-stopper and the last round of pits came and went without incident. Coulthard was the only top runner on a two-stopper, which really worked out for him after his dismal ninth place on the grid.
Trulli's pit stop put him back out in front of Michael and try as he might, the German simply couldn't get past the Renault. To add insult to injury, the five-time champion was lapped by Alonso in the closing stages. The final bit of (unintentional) action came when Montoya spun with just half a dozen laps to go. Amazingly he kept the Williams out of the gravel and the engine running, slinging it back on track fractions ahead of the closing-in Ralf.
A close chase between the Williams pair to the end didn't alter the positions and Alonso took his first win in very fine style indeed. The Spaniard spent most of the race out on his own at the front; Renault's strategy worked perfectly and he kept his cool, lapping precisely and confidently all the way to the line. His victory makes eight different winners so far this season and he's the first Spaniard to win a Grand Prix.
With Raikkonen and Montoya finishing second and third, the championship is closer than ever. Michael's solitary point in eighth was enough to keep him one ahead of Montoya in the Driver's standings and Raikkonen is just one behind the Colombian. Williams now takes over the lead of the Constructors' standings by eight points from Ferrari and McLaren in third just six behind.
With only three races to go, it seems inevitable that Barrichello, Ralf and Coulthard will be called upon to assist their teammates. Team orders are, of course, now illegal but strategy can always play a big part. Ralf still has a chance to win the title but twelve points behind Raikkonen is a big gap to close. Barrichello and Coulthard can win too, mathematically, but it would take an awfully strange set of circumstances for that to happen.
So, three races to go and three championship contenders all with a pretty much equal chance of taking the title. Michael may still be the favourite but Ferrari is going to have to work mighty hard to do it. However, with the return of testing after the summer break, it's anyone's guess what might happen at Monza in three weeks. Final top eight classification: Alonso, Raikkonen, Montoya, R. Schumacher, Coulthard, Webber, Trulli, M. Schumacher.