Austrian Grand Prix, over the years has given us many memorable races. Who can forget the 1982 race, where the Italian Elio de Angelis held off Keke Rosberg to win the race by 0.05 seconds. Or, the 1987 edition, in which Nigel Mansell dominated the race and won by over 55 seconds over his teammate Nelson Piquet. Mika Hakkinen had three brilliant races in a row from 1998 to 200, which earned him two victories and a hard fought third place in 1999.
As for Ferrari, there have been memories which they would like to forget. Two races in a row, team orders became the topic of discussion, especially the 2002 race, when Rubens Barrichello was told to give way to Michael Schumacher, a call, that earned the German his first Austrian Grand Prix win. A year later, Schumacher, embarrassed by the previous year’s incident decided to win on his own terms. It was a race which involved a tryst with fire in the pits.
Unlike in 2001 or 2002, Michael Schumacher had to compete hard against Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya in the season of 2003. The championship lead consistently changed throughout the season, something which fans appreciated after a Ferrari domination in the preceding two years.
Being a Ferrari fan, I had to come terms with a possibility of Schumacher missing out on world championship in 2003, especially with the way the season began.
At Austria, Kimi Raikkonen held the lead in the driver’s championship, in spite of winning one race. His consistent point scoring finishes propelled the Finn to the top, compared to an indifferent start that Michael Schumacher had. The German, coming into the Austrian Grand Prix had won two races in a row, and yet he trailed Kimi by four points.
Those heart beats of mine reverberated whenever the lights went off, and the ordeal was same that Sunday when Michael Schumacher sat on the first row.
The fight back by Michael Schumacher continued as he set a series of fastest laps to build a margin of six seconds over the Williams of Montoya. Barrichello, in the second Ferrari chased Kimi Raikkonen for the final place on the podium. Ferrari and Schumacher looked good until Barrichello made the first pit stop.
The pit stop was shambles as the fuel rig didn’t function and the change costed him 20 seconds before the Brazilian was released. Ferrari took two to three laps to set it right, as the think tank knew, a repeat could cost Schumacher the race. The German set the fastest lap time on lap 22 before heading for fresh tyres and refuelling.
Murphy’s law was in play as the fuel hose was stuck into flap, and it took a great amount of effort to pull it out the car. Schumacher waited patiently, as he saw his right rear in fumes, getting attended by the fire extinguishers before he was allowed to rejoin the race.
Those extra seconds costed him two places and now Michael Schumacher had to overtake both Raikkonen and the race leader Montoya to win the race. Importantly, question hovered as to how much fuel did Schumacher have? Did Ferrari compromise his race over the pit stop chaos for the remaining 45 laps?
Michael Schumacher’s pace didn’t deter after he rejoined the circuit, and quickly caught up with Kimi Raikkonen while the pit crew of Ferrari checked and re-checked the nozzle, and ultimately replaced the faulty one.
On track, Montoya’s stay at the top was short-lived as his engine blew and a puff of smoke emerged which distracted Kimi for a moment, enough for Schumacher to pounce and take the lead. The Ferrari demonstrated its might as Michael sped away from Kimi. A similar story emerged as Schumacher went faster on the in-lap for his second and final pit stop.
The Ferrari mechanics took their time, fuelled and let Michael go in 12.2 seconds. A slow pit stop, however considering the incidents that had occurred, going slow was understood. Besides, the Schumacher would take the lead once Raikkonen pitted.
The race met its predicable end as Michael Schumacher scored his third consecutive win of the 2003 season and yet found himself two points behind Kimi in the championship race. His second victory at the Austrian Grand Prix was his 67th and certainly a crucial one, considering he won the 2003 driver’s championship by two points.
Since Austria’s re-inclusion into F1 calendar, Nico Rosberg has ensured the German domination on the track. Will he win his third consecutive Austrian Grand Prix? It remains to be seen.