With the future of the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in doubt, the track produced one of the best races of the season. The excitement began at Friday's practice, with Michael Schumacher spinning at Priory in both sessions. It seemed that even the man who'd won nine out of the ten Grand Prix so far, could make mistakes.
The threat of rain on Saturday turned pre-qualifying into a farce, with most drivers travelling as slowly as they could through Luffield and down the pit straight, to make their qualifying run earlier and so be more likely to miss the bad weather. Michael Schumacher surprised everyone by spinning at Priory yet again, however it now seems that he spun on purpose, at least this time, in order to clock a slow lap time. Some drivers obviously decided rain wasn't on the cards and the fans cheered to see Jenson Button performing a flat-out pre-qualifying lap and clocking the fastest time.
Qualifying proper came and went with Raikkonen scoring an early lead over the two Ferraris. Button, the hopes of his home crowd piled high, was fastest in the first sector of the lap, but lost time in the last two and qualified third, splitting the Ferraris with Schumacher just behind him. Various drivers were moved backwards on the grid, mostly for engine change penalties, but Olivier Panis had his time disallowed for slowing down1 too much during his in-lap and consequently being in the way for Alonso's hot-lap.
With the weather staying dry and temperatures at a cool 17°, conditions were ideal at the start of the race. Various support races kept the crowd was kept entertained all weekend in between the F1 schedule and even the Red Arrows made an appearance.
The Minardis sported a different livery than usual - all their sponsors had been removed and the only message on their car was 'John Boy' in tribute to John Walton, their much-loved sporting director, who died from a heart attack the previous week.
The race began with no on-grid problems and Raikkonen made it to Copse corner first, Barrichello kept his second place, and Button and Schumacher battled for third. All the drivers made it through the first corner safely, although there were a couple of close calls. The Renaults surprised everyone by not making their usual lightning starts - Trulli didn't make any places and Alonso was only up to 14th after having been pushed back to 16th on the grid due to an engine change.
By the end of the first lap, Raikkonen had stormed ahead with a 3.5-second lead over second-place Barrichello. However, as Barrichello's tyres warmed up they improved, so he was able to keep the gap between the leader at four seconds until the first round of pit stops. Montoya and Sato swapped places twice in the first few laps, as they ran wide in turn while considering overtaking David Coulthard, who was in sixth place.
Barrichello came for his first stop on lap nine, having put in a series of fastest times. Raikkonen was also pushing hard, as was Schumacher who soon bettered his team-mate's lap time. Coulthard pitted on lap 10, with Raikkonen coming in on the next one and Button pitting on the same lap. Raikkonen came out of the pits to find the BAR of Sato in his way, which he had to overtake due to Sato's two-stop strategy to Raikkonen's three. The move came into Copse, at 160 mph.
The world champion made his first stop on lap 15 and was stationary for around nine seconds, exposing his two-stop strategy. He emerged from the pits in the lead and admitted afterwards that he was amazed to have come out in front. Would anyone catch up with him now, since most of those behind him still had two more stops to make to his one?
On lap 17 Olivier Panis was forced out - he pulled off the track near Beckets because the fire extinguisher had gone off inside his Toyota, covering his visor and steering wheel in foam, making it impossible to continue. Apparently this accident is more common in testing where things are being altered and moved every few laps, but it's a very strange occurrence in the middle of a race.
By lap 20, Michael Schumacher was in the lead, followed by Raikkonen, Button and Barrichello, with Fisichella, who was yet to stop, in 5th place. Montoya, Coulthard, Trulli, Webber and Alonso followed. Suddenly, the gap between Schumacher and Raikkonen shrunk, with the leaders lapping a second slower than Button and Barrichello. It looked like Schumacher was trying to back the McLaren up so that his team-mate could have a chance at overtaking him.
Button pitted on lap 27, with Raikkonen and Barrichello both coming in on the next lap. Barrichello managed to leapfrog Button in the pits, but there was still too much of a gap between him and Raikkonen for him to consider taking second place. Bruni managed to knock his fuel-man over as he tried to leave the pits with the fuel line still attached on lap 31, but there were no serious injuries and the Minardi made it back on to the track. The other Minardi, with smoke pouring out of the back, pulled off at Stowe.
Schumacher came into the pits for the second time on lap 37 and just managed to emerge ahead of Raikkonen. As all his rivals still had to pit once more, it seemed he had the race in the bag. Schumacher again slowed to push Raikkonen back towards Barrichello, and Raikkonen was unable to find a way past the Ferrari. The gap between Raikkonen and Barrichello soon dwindled to just a second.
Trulli then changed the pace of the race by crashing spectacularly after Bridge with an apparent suspension failure. He bounced off a tyre wall and hit the gravel trap, which rolled the car and ripped most of its wheels off. Trulli was dazed, but unhurt, and the safety car was deployed while the marshals cleared the track of debris and re-built the tyre wall.
All those with stops still to make now did so, with Raikkonen and Barrichello diving into the pits at the same time. Raikkonen and the McLaren pit crew came out on top and the two cars joined the queue behind the safety car. The race order behind it was Schumacher, Raikkonen, Barrichello, Montoya, Fisichella, Coulthard, Webber, and Massa in 8th place.
The safety car came in on lap 46 and everyone else employed their best overtaking skills towards the finish. Raikkonen seemed to have the speed to take Schumacher for first place, however the backmarkers Klein and da Matta were between him and his goal and by the time he got past them, Raikkonen had lost the advantage of cold tyres. The rest of the cars spread round the track, with nobody likely to challenge the frontman. Barrichello was gaining on Raikkonen, but the race ended before he got close enough.
Michael Schumacher celebrated his 80th Formula One win with a customary leap on the podium. However, he will have been concerned by the pace of the new McLaren MP4-19B (introduced in France the previous weekend) which proved to be much faster and more reliable than its predecessor.
|01||M.SCHUMACHER||Ferrari||1h 24m 42.700s|
|13||DA MATTA||Toyota||+1 lap|