Two aborted starts, the safety car, rain and even a pit stop fire was not going to stop Michael Schumacher winning the Austrian Grand Prix. The reigning champion put in some stunning lap times to take victory at the A1-Ring from McLaren's Kimi ...
Two aborted starts, the safety car, rain and even a pit stop fire was not going to stop Michael Schumacher winning the Austrian Grand Prix. The reigning champion put in some stunning lap times to take victory at the A1-Ring from McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen and Ferrari teammate Rubens Barrichello.
It was Cristiano da Matta's Toyota that aborted the start with an electrical problem. The grid duly sorted itself out, da Matta demoted, and lined up again after the second formation lap. To Toyota boss Ove Anderson's embarrassment, exactly the same thing happened again.
Bernie Ecclestone and race director Charlie Whiting had some rapid discussions on the pit wall but it was third time lucky. Everyone got away except the Sauber of Heinz-Harald Frenten -- he ran back to the pits for the spare but never got out of the garage.
Renault's Fernando Alonso, who was 19th on the grid, started from the pit lane in the spare car after an overnight hydraulic leak on his race car. The Spaniard was joined by Mark Webber in the Jaguar.
Pole sitter Michael took the first corner in the lead and Juan Pablo Montoya got his Williams up to second ahead of Raikkonen. Barely had the pack got round the first corner, Jos Verstappen's Minardi ground to a halt at the end of the pit straight, a victim of launch control complications.
The safety car came out as Verstappen was stuck nearly on turn one. Once the Minardi was cleared Michael backed the field up for the re-start, much to the irritation of Montoya who did some agitated fist waving in the Ferrari's direction. The safety car period made for some hasty changes of strategy and Olivier Panis dived into the pits, only to pull off track a lap or two later for his fifth retirement of the season.
Michael was pulling away at the front, lapping in the 1.09 bracket, and Barrichello closing on Raikkonen. Webber, who benefited from the safety car period and was up to 16th, got a ten second stop-and-go penalty for breach of parc fermé regulations. It seems Jaguar refueled him while he was waiting for the restart in the pit lane and parc fermé conditions are not lifted until the pack leaves the grid. A bit of a grey area that one when there was two restarts to deal with.
Rain on some parts of the track caused a slight pause in Michael's charge and Montoya closed the gap down to around three seconds. Quite a few drivers went into the pits but nobody opted to switch to wet weather tyres. There were some slippery moments as the rain got heavier -- the Renault of Jarno Trulli spun at turn one, but he managed to keep going, and Jaguar's Antonio Pizzonia, who was running in the top ten, went wide at the last corner.
The rain eased off after a few laps and the next drama was Ferrari's pit stops. Barrichello came in first and had a long delay with a fuel hose problem -- the stop took nearly 20 seconds. Michael came in a lap later and his problem was even worse. The hose jammed on the car and while the mechanics tried to uncouple it, flames started leaping from it.
As the hose detached, a burst of flame followed and everyone scrambled for fire extinguishers. Michael sat calmly, waited for the flames to be doused then shot back out the pits to rejoin the race. There's certain parts of that man's anatomy that are surely made of steel.
While the German was in the pits, Montoya had taken the lead in front of Raikkonen. There were some battles going on in the midfield; Giancarlo Fisichella, Jacques Villeneuve, David Coulthard and Webber were squabbling nose to tail while Alonso had fought through all the way up to sixth. Starting from the pit lane had given him the option to take a one-stopper and he used it well, not coming in until lap 38.
After all the muttering from BMW about Williams not being competitive enough, the race was lost for Montoya when his engine blew. "It happens," the Colombian shrugged. "It shows the potential of the car though."
Barrichello was fighting with Jenson Button for third, Button having a very good race but losing the place to the Brazilian, BAR not able to match the speed of Ferrari. Villeneuve lost his chance when he stalled in his pit stop. He managed to rejoin but finished twelfth. Michael, unfazed by his rather heated pit stop, was putting in fastest lap after fastest lap.
The remaining Sauber of Nick Heidfeld was struggling with a misfire, losing ground to Coulthard and eventually retiring to the pits. The second round of stops proved less problematic for Ferrari. The team had been working frantically on the fuel rigs -- Michael had a slight delay on his but not enough to matter and Barrichello's was trouble free.
Alonso was the next retiree, all his hard work that got him up into the top six came to nothing when he spun off at turn one with engine failure. "I spun off because the rear wheels locked with an engine problem," he explained. "It was a good race until then, one of my best. I started from the pit lane and was up to sixth or fifth."
The Renault engine had left oil on the track, Michael slithering very wide, as did Button, but both managed to escape. Raikkonen was back in the lead until his second stop then the order reverted to Michael, Raikkonen, Barrichello and Button.
Ralf Schumacher, who'd had a fairly quiet time, was behind Button and complaining of very bad understeer. Coulthard was homing in and when Ralf locked up and went wide into the gravel, the McLaren was quick to take advantage. Pizzonia and Trulli were also fighting for the final points scoring position of eighth.
Michael had a comfortable lead in the final laps but it was Raikkonen's turn for some tension. Barrichello was homing in, the Ferrari clearly faster than the McLaren but Raikkonen had better traction in the corners. Rubens was all over the Finn, who fought hard to keep him off -- they went side by side though the Lauda curve, Barrichello edging ahead but Raikkonen holding the line to keep the second place.
The Brazilian harassed Raikkonen all the way to the line but just couldn't find a way past. Fisichella was the last disappointment of the race, pulling the Jordan off track with a fuel pressure problem just a few laps from the finish. Justin Wilson again managed to complete a race distance and came home thirteenth and last.
A worthy performance from Michael and his lead was not so great most of the time that it was a forgone conclusion. The battle between Raikkonen and Barrichello kept it interesting right to the end -- the Finn still holds his lead at the top of the standings after a cool-headed drive under pressure. Coulthard did well to come home fifth after starting fourteenth and a great drive from Button in fourth.
Pizzonia must be disappointed to narrowly miss points in ninth but he drove a solid race and should have restored Jaguar's faith in him somewhat. The barriers of Monaco lie in wait for the next battle and it should be an equally interesting one. Final top eight classification: M. Schumacher, Raikkonen, Barrichello, Button, Coulthard, R. Schumacher, Webber, Trulli.