Dre’s Classics #2 – Formula 1’s 2003 Brazilian Grand Prix

Read time: 8 mins

“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.


[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][fusion_imageframe lightbox=”no” style=”bottomshadow” bordercolor=”” bordersize=”0px” stylecolor=”

” align=”left” animation_type=”fade” animation_direction=”right” animation_speed=”1″]aus26high[/fusion_imageframe]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…

[fusion_imageframe lightbox=”no” style=”bottomshadow” bordercolor=”” bordersize=”0px” stylecolor=”
” align=”left” animation_type=”fade” animation_direction=”right” animation_speed=”1″]_71308960_1900920[/fusion_imageframe]… 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 [/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][fusion_tooltip title=”FORESHADOWING!” placement=”top” trigger=”hover” class=”” id=””]important later[/fusion_tooltip].

So, Raikkonen leads the restart… Only for Safety Car #3 to come out 4 laps later. Two laps after the restart, the third turn of poor judgement claimed its first two victims, a hard-charging Juan Pablo Montoya, who collected Jaguar’s Antonio Pizzonia in the process. As the cranes were coming out to recover the two stricken cars, BANG! Victim #3, as Michael Schumacher spins out and hits the wall, his first retirement in a GP since his home race in 2001. You know, back when we had a [/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][fusion_tooltip title=”The Internet F1 Community is still crying.” placement=”top” trigger=”hover” class=”” id=””]German GP[/fusion_tooltip]. Safety Car #3 then, and now with Raikkonen pitting, it became a two way fight between David Coulthard and Rubens Barrichello.

While that was going on, on Lap 31, Turn 3 victims #4 and #5 were racked up as [/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][fusion_tooltip title=”Fun fact: Raikkonen, Alonso and Button have now raced two generations of Verstappen.” placement=”top” trigger=”hover” class=”” id=””]Jos Verstappen[/fusion_tooltip] span out and stalled, quickly followed 2 laps later by Jenson Button’s BAR-Honda. You guessed it, Safety Car #4. Did I mention, we’re not even at half-distance yet? By now, the trough behind Turn 3 looked like the world’s most expensive parking garage.

[fusion_imageframe lightbox=”no” style=”bottomshadow” bordercolor=”” bordersize=”0px” stylecolor=”
” align=”left” animation_type=”fade” animation_direction=”right” animation_speed=”1″]2003brazil_sunday_s013[/fusion_imageframe]Race got underway again on Lap 36, Coulthard leading from Barrichello, Ralf Schumacher, Fernando Alonso now 4th, with Raikkonen 5th and Fisichella 6th. At this point, there was just 11 cars left. Nice to know we got over that whole F1 car attrition problem down the road, right?

On-track moment of race came just a lap later, Kimi Raikkonen passing Fernando Alonso down the home straight into Turn 1, then getting a superb run out of Turn 3, then going around the outside of Ralf Schumacher into Turn 4! An astonishing bit of driving from the then, [/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][fusion_tooltip title=”Seriously, this was the era in F1 where James Allen just about ripped his nuts off every time Kimi Raikkonen even breathed, let alone pass someone.” placement=”top” trigger=”hover” class=”” id=””]23 year old Fin[/fusion_tooltip].

Props to well to Ol’ Nando for being able to drive around the outside of Ralf through Turn 9 a lap later, supreme confidence.

Meanwhile at the front, after 15 or so laps of sustained pressure, David Coulthard ran wide and Rubens Barrichello was finally able to get past him! The Brazilian fans go potty, Rubens destroys David, cheered on by the Brazilian fans as he leads his home GP! It’s too good to be true! So of course, his fuel system completely shut down, and after just 2 laps in the lead, Rubens, was out, continuing his curse of Brazilian GP finishes. At this point, the last time Rubens even finished a Brazilian GP, was back in 1994. Nine consecutive retirements. Holy shit.

The third turn of poor judgement had tried to claim Mark Webber as a 6th victim, but somehow managed to avoid the wall and keep going. The final corner didn’t like that, so Mark Webber spun out down the hill and hit the wall hard. Luckily unhurt. Oh yeah, and guess what? ANOTHER Safety Car. Number 5 now, if you’ve not been keeping count.

[fusion_imageframe lightbox=”no” style=”bottomshadow” bordercolor=”” bordersize=”0px” stylecolor=”
” align=”left” animation_type=”fade” animation_direction=”right” animation_speed=”1″]_71314667_1900899[/fusion_imageframe]Turns out this one was a bigger deal. For some stupid reason I’ve still not been able to fathom, Fernando Alonso hit one of the detached tyres from Webber, lost control, and went straight into the tyre wall at over 120 mph. He badly winded himself and his car was utterly destroyed. Red Flag, and because of the barrier damage, race over, Alonso leaving the track in a stretcher.

But here’s the deal, who won? Fisichella was leading the Grand Prix, but the red flag procedure meant no-one was sure who won. The FIA made Raikkonen the race winner, but who actually won? And Fisichella’s car caught fire in Parc Ferme, because why the hell not?


 

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The Aftermath

So, who won? Fisichella? Raikkonen? Coulthard? Well, according to the rulebook, if a race has been stopped from a Red Flag after 75% race distance (Which it was, just), the result is taken when “deemed to have finished when the leading car crossed the line at the end of the lap two laps prior to that lap during which the signal to stop was given”. So, the issue became, do you take the result from Lap 53, or 54? This was important, as on Lap 53, Raikkonen was leading, over the line on Lap 54, Fisichella had passed him after Raikkonen  ran wide in Sector 2.

The stewards thought that Fisichella was on Lap 55, so they counted back to 53, hence Raikkonen being declared the winner. But a week later, Jordan put in new timing evidence to prove that Fisichella was 5 seconds into Lap 56, hence the Lap 54 countback, so Fisichella was later given his win. Props to McLaren and Raikkonen being sporting enough to give Jordan and Fisichella their winners trophies during the next round at Imola.

So Fisichella won, Raikkonen second, and Fernando Alonso finished 3rd. Ironically, no-one was on the podium was in the right spot from the original result, with Kimi and Fisichella swapped, and Alonso busy having the tyre removed from his stomach. David Coulthard was very unlucky to have finished 4th given the timing of the Red Flag.

Also, what’s kind of crazy, was that if the original result had stood, Raikkonen would have tied Michael Schumacher for the Championship in 2003. Michael would have still won on countback though.


 

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Well, this was quite the race. I must admit, the first time I saw it, I didn’t dig it that much, feeling that the Safety Car breaks actually killed the enjoyment a little bit with all the stops and restarts in the action. But then when I watched it again for this review, it didn’t bother me as much, second time around.

Don’t get me wrong, I still don’t think this is the all-time classic many hail it as, but for sheer drama, this is a pretty gnarly race. Has there EVER been another race with 5 Safety Cars, a Red Flag finish, and an incredible ending where no-one was sure who won?! Turn 3 claiming half a dozen victims, and just 10 cars making the finish? Yeah, even if it’s not the most entertaining, for sheer attrition and craziness, this is still definitely worth a watch.

If you want to see more classic reviews, send me some suggestions in the comments! Until next time, thanks for reading folks!

Dre’s Race Rating: 8/10 – Great

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About the Author:

Dre Harrison

Dre Harrison, 28 year old Bookies Manager and hobbyist Motorsport journalist. Lover of sneakers and sports, but refuses to stick to it.

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