Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
2003 United States Grand Prix
Michael Schumacher took a huge step toward his record-breaking sixth drivers championship by winning the 2003 United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis by 18.258 seconds over pole-sitter Kimi Räikkönen before another huge American crowd. After the race, Räikkönen remained in mathematical contention for the championship with one race to go; however, the title hopes of Williams driver Juan Pablo Montoya were taken away when he was penalized for an incident on Lap 3 with Schumacher's Ferrari teammate Rubens Barrichello.
It was the German's second straight win since the Ferrari team and its tire supplier Bridgestone accused rival tire maker Michelin of using illegal tires for most of the season and threatened to decide the title in court. Michelin had to scramble to retool their tires before the Italian Grand Prix, and its teams clearly suffered in the changing weather conditions at Indianapolis.
Rain clouds surrounded the circuit at the start, but everyone began the race on dry tires. The cars on the "clean" side of the track got off the grid much better, as Räikkönen took the lead ahead of Olivier Panis and the two Schumachers (all from the left side of the grid), while Barrichello, Fernando Alonso, David Coulthard and Montoya (all on the right side) dropped back. Räikkönen's McLaren quickly opened up a lead of 1.6 seconds over Panis' Toyota and Ralf Schumacher's Williams. On Lap 2, light rain began to fall on parts of the circuit, while Räikkönen increased his lead to 2.4 seconds and Panis came under attack by the Williams. Michael Schumacher was up to fourth from seventh on the grid, and Coulthard took fifth place from Barrichello, who was struggling with a finicky gear change mechanism.
Entering Turn 1 on Lap 3, Ralf Schumacher overtook Panis for second place. Montoya then pulled alongside Barrichello on the outside of the 90-degree right-hander to challenge for sixth. As they entered the left-handed Turn 2, Montoya was squeezed onto the curb and then the grass by the Ferrari. As they began to exit the turn, the right front wheel of the Williams touched the Ferrari's sidepod and Barrichello slid into the gravel. The Renaults of Fernando Alonso and Jarno Trulli both got around Montoya as he avoided the spinning Barrichello, but the Colombian continued in eighth place with no apparent damage. In fact, on Lap 8, he set the fastest lap of the race to that point, and by Lap 15 had moved up to third spot on a drying track.
Barrichello said, "We were running side by side. I thought I had left him enough space, but he touched me and I spun." While Barrichello's car was being removed from the runoff area under a local yellow flag in Turns 1 and 2, Schumacher went by Panis at the entry to Turn 1 on Lap 5, claiming that he completed the pass before the turn; the stewards agreed, and he was not penalized.
Several drivers tried to anticipate a heavier rainfall by stopping for wet tires very early in the first light shower. Panis, Cristiano da Matta, Jacques Villeneuve and Nicolas Kiesa all stopped on Lap 6 or 7, only to find the track beginning to dry already by Lap 8. Beginning with Villeneuve on Lap 9, they all stopped again within a few laps to change back to dry tires.
Maddeningly for those who had already made two tire stops, the rain returned during the first scheduled pit stops, but when the championship contenders pitted -- Montoya on Lap 17, Räikkönen on Lap 19 and Schumacher on Lap 20 -- they all chose to stay with dry tires. On Lap 19, just as the rain began to get serious, Montoya was given a drive-through penalty for "causing an avoidable accident" with Barrichello. So while the others were either sliding off the track on dry tires -- Mark Webber (from the lead), Ralf Schumacher, Coulthard -- or diving into the pits for wets -- Michael Schumacher, Räikkönen, Alonso, Trulli, Jenson Button -- the Colombian had to enter the pit lane to serve his penalty but could not change tires. Forced to return to the circuit in a downpour still on dry tires, Montoya finally emerged from the pits again, yet now he was down in eleventh place, dashing any remaining championship hopes for the Columbian.
"A very disappointing race," Montoya said later, "basically decided by the penalty I was given for the accident with Rubens and the moment I had to pay it. It is sad to lose my drivers championship chances in this way."
As the confusion ended, Button, Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Justin Wilson found themselves in the top three places on Lap 23, having made their first stop at just the right time for the switch to wet tires. The changing conditions caused the fortunes of the two tire manufacturer's runners to swing like a pendulum as one advantage (Michelin in the dry) was superseded by another (Bridgestone in the wet). At this point, the race had been led by Räikkönen (Michelin), Michael Schumacher (Bridgestone), Webber (Michelin), Coulthard (Michelin) and Button (Bridgestone).
Michelin motorsport director Pierre Dupasquier said: “Today's race was absolutely fascinating from a technical perspective. We set the early pace, and our drivers were the quickest out there when the circuit dried towards the end. In slightly damp conditions, our grooved dry weather tyres enabled our leading drivers to run up to three seconds per lap faster than Michael Schumacher. In wetter conditions, we were losing two seconds per lap."
According to Räikkönen, who ran with Michelins, "The weather basically lost us the race victory today as we were not as quick in the wet conditions as Michael.... I made a good start from pole and was pretty much in control.... Once the rain started things changed. We came in at the right times and didn't put a foot wrong but there was nothing we could do."
On Lap 28, Button led Frentzen by 5.8 seconds as Schumacher got around Räikkönen (the top Michelin runner, having already passed Wilson) for third place and then took Frentzen for second five laps later. On Lap 38, having taken 1.5 seconds per lap from Button's lead, Schumacher returned to the top spot while the other two Championship contenders, Räikkönen and Montoya, lay fourth and tenth despite the track beginning to dry once again.
The BAR team's hope for a podium finish by Button ended on Lap 42 when the Brit's engine let go on the main straight, restoring Frentzen to second place. When Schumacher pitted for the last time on Lap 48, Frentzen became the sixth driver to lead the race. The Sauber veteran gave it back when he stopped on the next lap, but only Räikkönen would get by him after that -- on Lap 55 -- and he claimed the final podium position, his second in four years at Indianapolis. Combined with teammate Nick Heidfeld's fifth place, the Sauber team was ecstatic to earn nine points and move past BAR and Jaguar into fifth in the constructor standings.
Jarno Trulli finished fourth for Renault, ahead of Nick Heidfeld, Montoya, Giancarlo Fisichella and Wilson. Schumacher's win also put Ferrari back in front of Williams in the constructor championship standings, 147-144.
- Fastest Lap: Michael Schumacher 1:11.473
- Jarno Trulli posted the fastest time in each of the weekend's first three sessions.
- Sir Jackie Stewart drove three laps in the new Ford GT prototype on Sunday morning, marking the thirtieth anniversary of his retirement at Watkins Glen, New York.
- Justin Wilson, after running as high as third in the race, finished eighth for Jaguar and scored his first career Championship point.
- Heinz-Harald Frentzen's podium was his first since the 2000 United States Grand Prix, when he was driving a Jordan.
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