French Grand Prix: Second win in eight days for Ralf

Ralf Schumacher put himself in serious contention for the 2003 world drivers' crown with a dominant victory in the French Grand Prix at Magny-Cours. It was the German's second win in eight days, having been victorious in the European GP at the Nurburgring last weekend, and was his third podium finish in succession. He now lies just 11 points behind his brother Michael, who leads the championship, and eight points behind Kimi Raikkonen in second

French Grand Prix: Second win in eight days for Ralf

Starting from pole position, Ralf led every lap, and with the exception of his third stint where he considered himself the victim of tyre pressure issues, was well capable of controlling the attack from his rivals. The nearest of those was his team-mate Juan Pablo Montoya who pushed hard despite a number of problems during the race to get within striking distance of Ralf in that third stint. But after the final round of pit stops the Colombian gave best to the German and that, pretty much, was that.

Michael Schumacher finished third having bided his time behind the two McLarens until the final stops. The Ferrari star jumped ahead of them both as he made full use of blindingly fast in and out-laps. Raikkonen came home a distant fourth ahead of team-mate David Coulthard, who may well have placed ahead of the Finn had he not suffered a calamitous final pit stop which resulted in him pulling away from his slot with his fuel rig, and two mechanics, still attached. Fortunately, no-one was hurt.

Ralf assumed the lead at the start with Montoya slotting in behind. Michael Schumacher made a terrible getaway and Raikkonen was ahead of him before Turn One, while Coulthard was alongside the Ferrari for the first three turns. By the end of the first lap the order was Ralf Schumacher, Montoya, Raikkonen, Michael Schumacher, Jarno Trulli, Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber.

Rubens Barrichello spun at the end of the first lap and effectively eliminated himself from the race for serious points. The Brazilian's fight-back was spirited however and he would eventually pick-up two for seventh place as he benefited from retirements ahead of him.

The order remained the same up to the first pit stops with Ralf steadily building a lead over Montoya. Both WilliamsF1 BMWs quickly put some space between themselves and Raikkonen. Schumacher could not stay with the Finn and appeared to be holding up the progress of Coulthard and the two Renaults. McLaren decided to bring Coulthard in and thus the first round of stops began. Everyone except Barrichello and Heidfeld three-stopped.

Coulthard moved ahead of Schumacher, whose Ferrari F2003-GA did not seem to have the legs (or the tyres) to stay with the cars ahead of him, and the Scot set off in chase of his team-mate.

While Ralf enjoyed a super-fast stop, Montoya had problems with his. "The first stint was not very good," said the Colombian, "I couldn't push the car and there was a problem with a wheel nut in the stop which cost me a lot of time." Schumacher took advantage of this and with an initial lead of 7.5s after the stops, began to slowly build on that advantage.

It was after the second stops that things became complicated for Ralf. "I was able to disappear in the first and second stints, but maybe we got the tyre pressures wrong on the third set. I got stuck in traffic, especially when Trulli slowed under the yellow." The yellow flag was for the sister Renault of Alonso whose engine had detonated. Embarrassingly for the Regie on home ground, Trulli would retire moments later on lap 46, just as Giancarlo Fisichella's Jordan-Ford would too. These were the only mechanical official retirements of the race. Jenson Button also dropped out but only because his fuel rig failed to deliver his BAR-Honda enough fuel.

Ralf was now having problems and Montoya was closing fast. By the time the German pitted there was just over a second between the two cars. "It was close," said Ralf, "I pitted early, because I knew if I stayed out longer he would have caught me." When Schumacher returned to the track, Montoya already on to his last set of tyres, was apexing Turn Three. Ralf got out just in front, but only by 0.6s.

"I pushed very hard and I was with him before the last stop," said Montoya. "Despite all the advantage I made I probably needed one more second to get ahead of him [after the pit stop]. After that I backed off."

In the last 15 laps, Ralf built the lead back up to 14s, with only a minor moment at Chateau D'Eau, where he out-braked himself a little, to halt his progress.

Michael Schumacher was not surprised to finish third but was disappointed at Ferrari's apparent lack of pace: "I was hoping for better this weekend but the race is what I thought we'd do."

Coulthard lost a huge amount of time during his bodged stop, which was further complicated by the team having to switch to the spare rig, and thus was never really given a fair crack at fourth-placed Raikkonen. Mark Webber was sixth for Jaguar, having run in the points all day ahead of Barrichello and Toyota's Olivier Panis. Jacques Villeneuve finally finished a race for BAR in ninth and Antonio Pizzonia rounded out the top ten.

Cristiano da Matta was 11th ahead of the lacklustre Sauber team. Heinz-Harald Frentzen three-stopped to 12th and managed to run over one of his pit crew by being over eager to get away. Again there were no injuries but the German apologised. Heidfeld made a bad call by two-stopping and finished 13th. Justin Wilson enjoyed another good race, outpacing team-mate Jos Verstappen while Ralf Firman was sandwiched between the two Minardis in 15th.

Despite hitting a fantastic vein of form during the summer races of this season, Ralf is still keen not to get too excited: "If the two of us [myself and Montoya] and the team keep working together we'll keep going forwards like this. It is certainly the right direction. But nothing is certain in Formula 1 and some circuits will be harder than this." Everyone not driving a WilliamsF1 BMW right now will be hoping that Ralf's last point is true.

shares
comments
Team bosses meet over Silverstone situation
Previous article

Team bosses meet over Silverstone situation

Next article

Ralf Leads Montoya for Another Williams 1-2 - France

Ralf Leads Montoya for Another Williams 1-2 - France
The inconvenient truth about F1’s ‘American driver’ dream Plus

The inconvenient truth about F1’s ‘American driver’ dream

OPINION: The Formula 1 grid's wait for a new American driver looks set to continue into 2023 as the few remaining places up for grabs - most notably at McLaren - look set to go elsewhere. This is despite the Woking outfit giving tests to IndyCar aces recently, showing that the Stateside single-seater series still has some way to go to being seen as a viable feeder option for F1

How a bad car creates the ultimate engineering challenge Plus

How a bad car creates the ultimate engineering challenge

While creating a car that is woefully off the pace is a nightmare scenario for any team, it inadvertently generates the test any engineering department would relish: to turn it into a winner. As Mercedes takes on that challenge in Formula 1 this season, McLaren’s former head of vehicle engineering reveals how the team pulled of the feat in 2009 with Lewis Hamilton

Formula 1
Aug 15, 2022
The under-fire F1 driver fighting for his future Plus

The under-fire F1 driver fighting for his future

Personable, articulate 
and devoid of the usual
 racing driver airs and graces,
 Nicholas Latifi is the last Formula 1 driver you’d expect to receive death threats, but such was the toxic legacy of his part in last year’s explosive season finale. And now, as ALEX KALINAUCKAS explains, he faces a battle to keep his place on the F1 grid…

Formula 1
Aug 13, 2022
The strange tyre travails faced by F1’s past heroes Plus

The strange tyre travails faced by F1’s past heroes

Modern grand prix drivers like to think the tyres they work with are unusually difficult and temperamental. But, says  MAURICE HAMILTON, their predecessors faced many of the same challenges – and some even stranger…

Formula 1
Aug 12, 2022
The returning fan car revolution that could suit F1 Plus

The returning fan car revolution that could suit F1

Gordon Murray's Brabham BT46B 'fan car' was Formula 1 engineering at perhaps its most outlandish. Now fan technology has been successfully utilised on the McMurtry Speirling at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, could it be adopted by grand prix racing once again?

Formula 1
Aug 11, 2022
Hamilton's first experience of turning silver into gold Plus

Hamilton's first experience of turning silver into gold

The seven-time Formula 1 world champion has been lumbered with a duff car before the 2022 Mercedes. Back in 2009, McLaren’s alchemists transformed the disastrous MP4-24 into a winning car with Lewis Hamilton at the wheel. And now it’s happening again at his current team, but can the rate of progress be matched this year?

Formula 1
Aug 11, 2022
Why few could blame Leclerc for following the example of Hamilton’s exit bombshell Plus

Why few could blame Leclerc for following the example of Hamilton’s exit bombshell

OPINION: Ferrari's numerous strategy blunders, as well as some of his own mistakes, have cost Charles Leclerc dearly in the 2022 Formula 1 title battle in the first half of the season. Though he is locked into a deal with Ferrari, few could blame Leclerc if he ultimately wanted to look elsewhere - just as Lewis Hamilton did with McLaren 10 years prior

Formula 1
Aug 9, 2022
The other McLaren exile hoping to follow Perez's path to a top F1 seat Plus

The other McLaren exile hoping to follow Perez's path to a top F1 seat

After being ditched by McLaren earlier in his F1 career Sergio Perez fought his way back into a seat with a leading team. BEN EDWARDS thinks the same could be happening to another member of the current grid

Formula 1
Aug 8, 2022