“Happy Birthday, Ayrton.”

Hey folks, Dre here, and it’s time for another classics column! In this series, I look back at races from F1 and MotoGP from earlier in the century and give them another look, seeing how they hold up today.

In this episode, we go back to 2003, and the Brazilian Grand Prix, a crazy, rain-affected affair where half the field didn’t make it, a crazy scrap between two of F1’s finest Number 2 drivers, and enough Safety’s cars to turn a 54 lap Brazilian GP, into a 95 minute war of attrition. And, how we didn’t know who really won, for a week after the GP finished. How, you ask? Read on, and see. In the meantime, I’ll fill you up on the story so far.


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The Backstory

So, the year was 2003. Michael Schumacher had come into the season as the landslide favourite to retain, after dominating the 2002 season to collect his 5th World Championship, tying him with the great Juan Manuel Fangio.

However, Schumacher had a shaky start to the 2003 season, only finishing 4th in Australia, and struggling in Malaysia, a lap off the winning Raikkonen, who looked like the man to beat. Raikkonen already had a 6 point lead at this stage in the Championship, ahead of his team mate David Coulthard, and Juan Pablo Montoya 2 points back in 3rd.

This is also kind of weird as these was the days where the Brazilian Grand Prix was in April, rather than November. Still pissed down with rain mind you…

Also, Fun Fact: This is the 700th Formula 1 Grand Prix.


 

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The Race

Autódromo José Carlos Pace, April 6th, 2003

Rubens Barrichello had rallied the home crowd into a frenzy by Qualifying on pole, ahead of David Coulthard, the (at the time), Quali specialist Mark Webber (driving for Jaguar) in 3rd, ahead of Kimi Raikkonen and Jarno Trulli, the Top 5 separated by just 0.146 of a second.

The race started under a Safety Car, after the teams were all trying to save money by only bringing ONE kind of wet tyre to a race, and in this case they chose the Intermediate tyres. Y’know, in Brazil. Where it never rains. SMH! Luckily, the FIA let the teams break Parc Ferme conditions in order to tweak the cars. A rare, wise decision from the boys upstairs.

Anyway, after the Safety Car start was out of the way, Barrichello fell down the order after arguably the worst restart I’ve ever seen, waiting till literally 500m before the line before kicking the gas. He struggled after the restart, falling into the midfield before slowly stabilizing, as Michael Schumacher found his feet after a shaky start, but then came…

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… THE THIRD TURN OF POOR JUDGEMENT. See, it was barely raining by the time the restart happened, so the track was getting dryer everywhere… except Turn 3 at the bottom of the Senna S, where the downhill nature of the track was collecting all the water like a running river.

It essentially made any chance of a dry race impossible as there was no way in hell the cars could take Turn 3 on dry tyres. And BOY did it wreak havoc with the field. More on that later.

Safety Car #2 came as a result of Jordan’s Ralph Firman suffering a Suspension failure on Lap 18, losing control of the car, and collecting the unfortunate Toyota of Olivier Panis in the process. That wing of his ended up 100 yards from where the car ended up down the Turn 1 slip road. Also, as a result, many of the field stopped to brim their tanks, Giancarlo Fisichella included. Remember that, it becomes