The British Grand Prix - Silverstone 2003
By David Galton-Fenzi
In this column we’ll take a look at the epic races of the modern era. Races that were so unforgettable that they deserve to be retold and re-lived, and to celebrate this week’s British Grand Prix we’re looking at a Silverstone classic, the day Rubens made them all look very ordinary.
I’m sure it doesn’t actually feel that long ago but we’re going back 9 years here. The Wachowskis (Don’t call them brothers any more...) were ruining everything in 2003 by releasing both Matrix sequels, and in sports a young Swiss player by the name of Roger Federer had only just won his first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon. Seems like an age ago now doesn’t it!
Formula 1 was at war! Well, it was in the midst of a full blown tyre war anyway, waged between the French rubber of Michelin who supplied McLaren and Williams and the Japanese Bridgestone who supplied Ferrari. Since coming back into Formula 1 in 2001, Michelin had struggled to seriously challenge the might and experience of Bridgestone with any consistency. In 2003, for the first time, they had seriously raised their game and cars fitted with their rubber were legitimate contenders, and thank god, because I’d rather have injected the ebola virus straight into my eyeballs than sit through another whitewash championship like the previous one.
How bad was it? Well, after Michael Schumacher had finished shitting over the entire 2002 schedule, (He finished on the podium in every race. EVERY FUCKING RACE!) the FIA decided to change the scoring for all future Grands Prix, with the intention to keep the championship closer for longer. So instead of the top six drivers scoring, with 10 points for a win, then 6, 4, 3, 2, 1 for the lesser places, the points now went all the way to the eighth place finisher; 10, 8, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.
The scoring changes and Michelins improved tyres worked a treat, and by Silverstone in 2003 the championship had developed into a four horse race. Obviously Michael Schumacher was involved, gunning for his fourth straight title (and sixth overall - the greedy bastard!) but Kimi Raikkonen in his McLaren and the two Williams’ of Juan Montoya and Ralf Schumacher were pushing him hard, with the standings looking like this;
|Juan Pablo Montoya|
The three practice sessions all passed without incident, with Coulthard, Raikkonen and Montoya being fastest in each, but qualifying in 2003 was a very different beast to what it is now. There were two sessions over the weekend, the first on Friday and the other on Saturday, where each driver got one hot lap to go like stink. Friday’s session was a balls-out low fuel affair and was used to determine the running order on Saturday, with that session run with race fuel on board to determine the grid.
It was during Friday’s low fuel session that Rubens found himself in a bit of bother, facing backwards beached in the gravel. It was down to a simple driver error, but it meant that he would be the second car to run on Saturdays session when the track would be at its dirtiest. (Justin Wilson didn’t even make it through his out-lap in Friday’s session so would have the honour of running first)
So come Saturday and Rubens does this;
Committed, almost flawless (a little wide into Stowe) and seriously quick! One by one the other drivers rolled out for their shot at dethroning the Brazilian, but as the Northamptonshire wind whipped up through the session, one by one they all fell short, unable to cope with the breezy crosswinds that so often feature at the British circuit.
Before ‘The Finger’ there was ‘The Thumb’. There has always been Red Bull.
So Barrichello had snatched a memorable pole position. Lining up next to him would be the Renault of Jarno Trulli, then Kimi, Ralf, Shuey (older), Da Matta in a solid sixth with his Toyota and Montoya, the last championship contender, in seventh. Home hero Jenson Button’s BAR had failed him before he had even been able to complete his lap so he was going to start from plum last.
All the talk in the Paddock over Saturday evening was about fuel. The thought was Ferrari had short fueled Barrichello to get him back into contention after his Friday error and Toyota had almost certainly done the same with Da Matta too as he had been forced to qualify in the unfamiliar T-car (thats old timey talk for ‘spare’), and also because the Toyota TF103 was a total dog.
The blustery conditions continued into Sunday and Barrichello backed up his great pole lap by going fastest in the morning warm up, then at race’o’clock the field set off for the formation lap. Rubens complained afterwards that Trulli did not stay close enough to him over this lap, causing his Ferrari to lose vital tyre temperature for the start. Whilst anyone could see Trulli never actually strayed too far from the Brazilian, the truth is even if he had, it would only have been intelligent gamesmanship from the Italian.....which is why it probably never really happened then, because, well.....you know.....Trulli.
Either way, the Ferrari had lost tyre temperature and when the lights went out Jarno and Kimi blasted past on their Michelins, relegating Rubens to third. Alonso also got a great start and on the run to Stowe he got his first proper taste of Michael Schumacher’s darker side. Flying along Hanger Straight with a good slipstream on the German he moved to the right to overtake, and Shuey covered. Alonso kept going further, desperately seeking the inside line, but Shuey continued edging him ever closer to the edge of the track. Alonso ended up with two wheels on the grass at almost 300 kilometres an hour, eventually decided this was when he should back off, held it together and nipped back onto the racing line, but with his exit speed compromised from Stowe it allowed the opportunistic Montoya to dive through into Vale.
Alonso squaring up Shuey, notice the rest racing cleanly.
By lap three the Bridgestones had warmed sufficiently and Rubens started to close down the leading duo. By lap six he was riding Kimi’s sphincter hard but before he could attempt a move the safety car was deployed for debris at turn one. David Coulthard’s McLaren had shed its headrest onto the track, god knows how it worked its way free past his jaw, so he was forced to pit to have a replacement fitted. Justin Wilson and the two Toyota’s of Da Matta and Panis also used the opportunity to take on fresh rubber and a splash of fuel, proving that Da Matta was indeed running light on Saturday. Interestingly Barrichello chose to stay out, so perhaps he had more fuel on board than everyone suspected.
When the race got going again the same tyre pattern emerged, with the Bridgestone cars struggling for initial pace, particularly Michael Schumacher. Michelin-shod Montoya and Alonso were in very close proximity to the German and restart-expert Montoya almost got a nose ahead into Copse but a nice chop by Shuey held him at bay. Rather than pitting as soon as the safety car was deployed, Pizzonia, who had been in 8th place, pitted the same lap the safety car came in, putting him 20 seconds behind the rear of the field when he emerged. A bonehead tactical decision that perfectly encapsulated why Jaguar sucked at Formula 1 so much!
Yay...go team go......ahh forget it.
Rubens absorbed some fairly impotent pressure from the lesser Schumacher before his tyres again got into the groove. Quickly latching back onto Raikkonen, a small lock-up from the Finn into Vale allowed Rubens to pull off an audacious pass around the outside of Abbey. The first of many brilliant passes for the Brazilian on his career day, but lets not get too far ahead of ourselves for the race was about to be well and truly tipped on its head.
Fueled light my arse. Rubens was just on one!
Cornelius ‘Neil’ Horan used to be a (crazy) priest. He was defrocked (thats church talk for fired!) for promoting his (crazy) personal beliefs during his (crazy) sermons and generally being all sorts of scary mental, but on the morning of the British Grand Prix, he thought it was the perfect occasion to go and spread his particular brand of insanity with the world. During lap twelve Neil found an open gate along Hangar Straight so he decided, completely rationally of course, that it was a sign from god......then he ran onto the track.
See - crazy person!
Dressed as a medieval court jester on acid and waving religious placards, that the drivers were obviously meant to be reading at 280 kph, he ran towards the cars. Thankfully no-one hit the cretinous excuse for a human being, although a marshall did manage to run him down and, probably not for the first time in his life, he was dropped onto his diseased head.
A solid head injury may actually improve things here
The safety car was quickly deployed again, but this time the bulk of the field took the opportunity and headed into the pits. With the pit lane brimming over the action was frantic. Both Ferrari stops were particularly tardy, Rubens emerged behind both Raikkonen and Ralf Schumacher while Michael fared even worse after having to queue and surfaced in 14th. Crucially, those that had already stopped earlier were now leading the race, except for bonehead Pizzonia who was still only in 11th. If he’d pitted when the Toyota’s did earlier he’d have been third!
When the safety car pulled in at the end of lap 14 the order was; Da Matta, Panis, Coulthard, Trulli, Raikkonen, Ralf Schumacher, Firman, Barrichello, Webber, Villeneuve, Bonehead, Montoya, Alonso and Michael Schumacher.
Kimi Raikkonen took the restart by the horns, then when no one was looking, ground it up, rolled it into a joint and smoked it until his eyes bled. He blasted past a dozing Jarno Trulli into turn one, promptly cruised straight up to Coulthard’s arse end and pushed past him into Abbey, then for good measure took Panis on the pit straight to make it a clean hat trick. It was a willful sign of intent from the Iceman and as far as the championship picture was concerned, well, it wasn’t looking good for Schumacher mired down in the pack while Kimi was rampaging up front.
Kimi’s rampaging face!
Montoya was making similar progress, dispatching Bonehead, Villeneuve and Webber in the same lap, then Firman in the next. At the same time Rubens was executing another masterful pass. This one on Ralf Schumacher around the outside of Abbey, in a move that started half a lap before into Stowe. Ralf, now struggling with a technical issue, then ran wide at Copse to start lap 17 and Montoya easily squeezed through. The German pitted on the next tour where they discovered his left barge board had fallen off and become lodged in his sidepod, sending his engine temperatures soaring and aero balance all over the place.
God those BMW V10’s were sexy....when they weren’t detonating.
The race continued at a frantic pace. Rubens and Montoya both found a way past Trulli and Da Matta was still brilliantly holding Raikkonen behind him in his lighter fueled mongrel. Coulthard pitted from 4th, then Rubens and Montoya continued their forward march by quickly dispatching Panis to move into 3rd and 4th, albeit now over 10 seconds behind Kimi. By the time the out-of-synch Toyotas had pitted on lap 32 the running order was;
Raikkonen, Barrichello, Montoya, Trulli, Alonso, Da Matta and Shuey M in 7th; 35 seconds behind the leader. Ralf had recovered from his earlier than planned pitstop up to 11th and now it appeared as though everyone needed to stop just one more time.
Kimi in front - aiming for podium alcohol
Bonehead’s engine gave up the ghost at this point and Barrichello started setting fastest laps to reel Raikkonen in. Kimi then pitted on lap 35 at the same time Alonso asserted his way past Trulli, who then also pitted on the next lap. Rubens grabbed the race by the balls and kept pumping in fastest laps until he pitted, to emerge only two seconds behind Raikkonen, which quickly shrunk to nothing in a couple of laps.
In yet another consummate overtaking move, Rubens edged Kimi offline into Abbey then forced the error into Bridge. Kimi ran wide, actually getting two wheels on the grass and Rubens surged emphatically through into the lead.
Crucially for the championship battle the action wasn’t over with yet, As Michael Schumacher continued rising through the field when both Toyota’s and Coulthard pitted, then he caught and passed the rapidly fading Jarno Trulli for 4th. As that was happening, Raikkonen was having more of his own dramas, as if this race hadn’t served up enough!
The Finn had run wide on the exit of Stowe. He rejoined in time to see Montoya streak across his bows and move into 2nd place, and from there, the podium was set. Coulthard overtook Da Matta and Trulli in the closing stages, but after 60 laps of the most thrilling, unexpected, glorious wheel to wheel racing you will ever see, Rubens Barrichello triumphantly took the chequered flag to win.
Everytime Rubens was faced with adversity during the weekend he didn’t crumble or meekly surrender, he rose above it to a performance level so high his problems became small, meaningless and ultimately insignificant. Nothing was going to deny him. His Friday spin became a minor inconvenience on his way to a blistering pole position. Every time the safety car shuffled him backwards during the race he just soaked it up and then drove around the others as if they were amateurs. It was a consummate performance, a career defining moment and one of the most emphatic Formula 1 victories, ever.
Juan Montoya cruised through to take second, followed by Raikkonen, Michael Schumacher, Coulthard, Trulli and Da Matta. Button rounded out the points with an exceptional recovery drive of his own, aided by Alonso’s gearbox failing within sight of the finish while running 8th.
Along with Hockenheim in 2000, Rubens maintained his 100% winning record at races interrupted by track invaders, and rode the momentum of his fabulous victory all the way to his maiden World Drivers Championship! Haha, yeah right. He actually retired from three of the next four races, but the twists and turns of a classic year were not finished yet, as in typical Formula 1 style there was major controversy just around the corner.
At the next two races at Hockenheim and then Hungaroring Schumacher struggled to score 3 points with 7th and 8th places respectively, whereas Montoya scored 16 points and Kimi 8, meaning with three races to go the top three in the championship were separated by just 2 points. Shuey - 72, Montoya - 71 and Kimi - 70. Crucially, the Michelins were coming on ever stronger and had clearly gapped the Bridgestones in terms of outright performance, but then, as is so often the case with Formula 1, the FIA interfered.....
Ferrari had complained that Michelins tread width altered from the tyre being new to when it was worn. Remember, this is back when the tyres had those awesome looking grooves, (sarcasm for the win!) and they had to be constructed to a maximum tread width which was always measured before use. So despite Michelin building the same tyres that satisfied the exact letter of the rules all season long, the FIA ‘clarified’ the relevant rule to stipulate that from the Italian Grand Prix, all tyres will be measured after they’ve been used, effectively branding the French rubber illegal.
See all of these? They’re now useless! Thanks a fucking bunch FIA!
Michelin then had two weeks to come up with a completely new tyre to satisfy the FIA, and despite talk about a Monza boycott all the teams attended, but their pace was not what it was before. Michael Schumacher, on his unchanged Bridgestones, went on to win at Monza and Indianapolis, and although he had a shocker at the Suzuka finale he only needed a single point by that stage to seal the deal, which he got....just.
It didn’t all go to plan, but Super Rubens had his back!
Silverstone 03 turned out to be Pizzonia’s last race for Jaguar. He was replaced by Britain Justin Wilson from the next round at Hockenheim.
The marshall who took down the weirdo Neil Horan was awarded the BARC Browning Medal for bravery, the first recipient for 21 years when David Purley tried valiantly (although futilely) to save Roger Williamson’s life at the 1973 Dutch grand Prix.
As for the fruitcake himself, he was jailed for two months for his Silverstone stunt, then decided he should take his lunacy on a world tour. He was tackled by police at the 2004 Epsom Derby, moments before running onto the track in front of the horses, then he went on to assault Brazilian runner Vanderlei de Lima at the Greek Olympics.....while he was leading the men’s marathon! Vanderlei ended up finishing in 3rd and swears the crazy priest cost him a gold medal.
Someone lock this twat up!
His shenanigans don’t end there, but I’m not giving him any more of my precious words so if you really want to read the rest of his lunacy you can find it here.
As for Rubens, we all know that he was firmly in Schumacher’s shadow during his time at Ferrari, and although he never did quite win the World Championship, every now and then he opened his full bag of tricks to prove his ultimate class, and on a windy weekend in Britain he was easily a class above the rest.