Schumacher dominates US GP drama

Schumacher dominates US GP drama

Michael Schumacher is en route to his sixth World Championship after winning the United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway today, taking a well-executed victory over Kimi Raikkonen by 18.2 seconds after 73 laps of drama and tension.

Michael Schumacher is en route to his sixth World Championship after winning the United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway today, taking a well-executed victory over Kimi Raikkonen by 18.2 seconds after 73 laps of drama and tension. Schumacher became the only driver to win the USGP twice at the famous 2.605-mile Brickyard circuit after four events.

Race winner Michael Schumacher celebrates.
Photo by Brousseau Photo.
"This is a great and important win," Schumacher exulted. "It is such an emotional day and this is so fantastic after not a good qualifying performance. To win this one, in the crucial stage of the championship meant a lot, and I'm just so thankful to the guys at Ferrari." Schumacher needs only to gain one point on Raikkonen at Suzuka in two weeks' time to secure his sixth title.

Eleven cars finished the race, which was run in changing weather conditions throughout as rain came and went over the center of Indiana. Heinz-Harald Frentzen took the final podium slot by capitalizing on a two-stop pit strategy and a lengthy second stint, unlike the two drivers in front of him. It was his second time on the podium at the Speedway; Frentzen also took third in the 2000 inaugural race.

Juan Pablo Montoya's dream of a 2003 title went away on the third lap when he had contact with Rubens Barrichello and was penalized by the Race Stewards with a drive-through penalty for the infraction. He would finish sixth, a lap back after a stirring drive and four pit stops (including the drive-through).

"A very disappointing race, basically decided by the penalty I was given for the accident with Rubens and the moment I had to pay it." He had to delay his change to wet tires by a lap with the penalty. "It is sad to lose my Drivers' Championship chances this way, especially knowing that I just needed to finish fifth today to keep my hopes open."

Barrichello had difficulties of his own that hampered his ability to finish the race as he "didn't get the best of starts and, after that my gears were not working. I'm frustrated because I thought I had the car to win this thing," the Brazilian said.

This penultimate round of the 2003 Formula One championship was held under cool (55 degrees) conditions, as rain fell on the area intermittently from the start of the race. Wind gusts of 12mph also made conditions difficult for the 20 competitors.

Raikkonen made an excellent start when the lights were doused to lead the field into the funnel that is Turn 1, while third-starter Olivier Panis took Rubens Barrichello at the start for second. Michael Schumacher had progressed to fourth by the back straightaway while Montoya fell to seventh.

Kimi Raikkonen.
Photo by Greg Gage.
Light rain began to fall by lap two as Raikkonen pulled away from Panis and Ralf Schumacher, who had moved up from fifth on the grid, holding a 2.7-second advantage after just three laps. As rain intensified, it became more difficult for Raikkonen to hold his lead as the Michelin tires just didn't have the grip he needed to stay in front. R. Schumacher began to close the gap, from a high of 3.6 seconds to just under two seconds by the 12th lap.

Unmindful of the portending penalty Montoya began to close in on Coulthard, taking third place on the 15th tour and set off in search of Raikkonen. Panis, as expected had begun the race on low fuel and was in the pits on lap six. Raikkonen made his first stop on lap 19, handing the lead to M. Schumacher for a single lap.

Montoya served his penalty after running second and returned to the battle in 11th place yet would pit again on lap 22 for wet Michelins.

By lap 20, the rain had intensified and the pace slowed measurably and, while M. Schumacher pitted on lap 20, the Ferrari emerged with dry spec Bridgestones. It was a delicate decision and one the team would regret, even as they returned to the pits just one lap later for intermediate tires.

These stops shuffled Jenson Button in the lead and put Frentzen second. The German had called for wet tires on the 20th lap and wouldn't pit again until lap 49! Raikkonen and Schumacher rejoined in third and fourth, respectively, while Montoya slowly worked his way up the field.

The rain lessened just a few laps after most of the cars had stopped, but not before the pace and weather had taken out R. Schumacher, who spun backwards into the outside tire barrier at Turn 8. Mark Webber's Jaguar joined him at the same spot on the same, 21st lap. Ralf admitted he made "the wrong decision to stay out longer, because the rain was so heavy. It's very difficult conditions for all of us out there."

Webber agreed: "It was a difficult race with a lot of patchy rain here and there. I was driving my own race and trying to do our best at that particular stage. We were coming in on that lap anyway, but I lost the car at Turn 6 and couldn't stop on the back straight because there was so much water there in the groove."

Pitstop for Olivier Panis.
Photo by Greg Gage.
The rain was gone by the 26th lap, but four tours later Olivier Panis slid into the tire barrier at Turn 7 to end his weekend when he "spun when another storm hit." Two tours later, Coulthard fell out of contention for points when he went off the circuit at the now infamous Turn 8 and rejoined.

He called on the pits but was penalized for his track re-entry. Coulthard later retired with gearbox problems on his McLaren Mercedes. "Before that the race was going pretty well. We took a gamble and stayed out on slicks," but the conditions weren't what he expected.

With the sun coming out 40 tours in, the complexion of the race changed. Button's BAR experienced hydraulic pressure loss on lap 41 and he parked it at pit exit. "I came around the last corner and the engine started to die. There was a lot of smoke and that was it," he explained. At that time Raikkonen pitted for dry tires, making his final stop and rejoining in fourth behind M. Schumacher, Frentzen and Nick Heidfeld.

Fernando Alonso's star-crossed weekend ended on lap 44 when he pulled off track in a trail of smoke, only the fourth retirement in 15 races for the Mild Seven Renault driver. "It is particularly frustrating because, with Ralf and Rubens both going out, I could have taken fourth in the championship."

Schumacher made his third and final stop on lap 48 and gave the point to Frentzen, who relinquished it a lap later when he made his last call for fuel and tires. Ralph Firman's return in the Jordan Ford ended on the same lap when he spun out of the race. "It wasn't a very good race for us. Things just weren't working for us today."

At that time Heidfeld occupied second place but, with his own stop on lap 51, found himself in fourth. He eventually finished fifth, giving the Sauber Petronas team two cars in the top five. "I think it was a good race. We had one stop more than [teammate Frentzen] which was a bit of a problem. I think it was a great result for the team."

Light rain resumed on the 51st lap but ended just four tours later, as Raikkonen settled into a 20-second lag of Schumacher. Jarno Trulli passed Heidfeld for fourth on lap 62, showing the promise he had on Friday when he led the practice and pre-qualifying. "I am pleased because we worked hard for a difficult race with the track conditions and came away with a fourth position. It was a bit of a gamble choosing the strategy."

Jarno Trulli.
Photo by Greg Gage.
The gap between Schumacher and Raikkonen would go as high as 23.4 seconds (lap 66) as traffic came into play and settled at the end just under 13 seconds. "For sure we lost the race because we got very unlucky with the weather today, but what can you do? Michael is always making life more difficult. The good news is that we still have a chance in Japan, but it's more difficult now."

Behind Montoya in sixth, Giancarlo Fisichella took an unexpected seventh place in the Jordan Ford, while the final point went to an elated Justin Wilson in the second Jaguar. Cristiano da Matta finished ninth after incurring a speeding citation in the pits, Jos Verstappen took 10th and Nicolas Kiesa was the final classified driver in 11th.

And so, in two weeks time the Formula One tour has its finale at the Suzuka circuit. While the battle for the Drivers' title could be deemed a slam-dunk, there are still other positions up for grabs. Michael Schumacher has 92 points, Kimi Raikkonen 83 and Juan Pablo Montoya holds 82 points. Ralf Schumacher stands fourth with 58, while there's a tie for fifth between Rubens Barrichello and Fernando Alonso (55).

On the Constructors' side of the coin, Ferrari moved back into first place today with 147, while BMW Williams holds 144 second-place points and McLaren Mercedes stands third with 128. Mild Seven Renault has a firm hold on fourth place with 84 but the battle for fifth place is tight between Sauber Petronas (19), Lucky Strike BAR Honda and Jaguar Racing, both with 18 points. Panasonic Toyota has 14 points and Jordan Ford holds 13 points. Only Minardi still operates without a single point to its name.

For Michael Schumacher and Scuderia Ferrari, the victory today in the United States Grand Prix is, in the winner's words, "Just so beautiful. I think it was a great event here. If you look at the atmosphere, I think it was outstanding, was probably one of the best ones we had this year. The "tifosi" of fans for our three groups, the ones for Ferrari, for Williams and McLaren surprised me with their passion. I am so happy to deliver something back."

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Ferrari , Mercedes , Sauber , McLaren , Williams , Minardi , Jaguar Racing , Jordan