Schumacher's sad win as Ferrari returns to form

Michael Schumacher took little joy in his first victory of the 2003 Formula 1 World Championship season, as his mother had passed away a matter of hours before the start of the San Marino Grand Prix. But showing the hallmark of a true champion, Schumacher was able to compartmentalise his personal trauma and concentrate on winning a race that has kick-started Ferrari's title defence

Schumacher's sad win as Ferrari returns to form

It was by no means a perfect performance from Michael, however. He lost his pole position advantage at the start and, uncharacteristically, resisted any temptation to attempt to chop across brother Ralf on the approach to the first corner and settled into second position ahead of team-mate Rubens Barrichello.

Having got ahead of Ralf at the first round of pitstops, Michael was able to put the hammer down. Also mindful of the challenge of McLaren, which was running a two-stop strategy to the three-stopper of Ferrari and Williams, he had to run at a high tempo throughout. His second mistake of the race came at the ultra-fast Piratella kink, when he slid wide on to the grass at about 100mph, for no apparent reason, but made a masterful recovery to minimise his time loss.

In the end, it was a dominant win in the style of the Schumacher of old. He made a brave appearance on the podium, biting his lip to keep his composure through the national anthems, but left it to sporting director Jean Todt to speak on his behalf after the race. Todt said: "It was very difficult for him today. He did the job because he felt he wanted to. He did a fantastic job for the team. It is important that he showed what he is as a man, as well as a driver."

The team's technical director Ross Brawn said: "He gave the team a big boost today in difficult circumstances. He was exemplary. Timing-wise, this win is crucial for us because a difficult weekend here would have made it even harder for us. We can go on now with more confidence. We hope it builds from here."

McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen was Ferrari's strongest challenger, as the Williams duo of Ralf Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya flattered to deceive. Taking full advantage of the two-stop plan, Raikkonen finished just 1.8secs behind M Schumacher at the flag, although he trailed the German by almost 18secs before the leader backed right off over the closing laps.

Raikkonen said: "It was a good race for us. We tried to hold on to the leaders at the start and the strategy worked out well."

The second Ferrari of Barrichello grabbed the final place on the podium, passing R Schumacher in the closing stages of the race at the final chicane, after Ralf had outbraked himself at the corner beforehand. "It was my chance and I went for it," said Rubens, who then chased down Raikkonen but was unable to find a way past, and added: "I tried all I could, but I was only close enough on the last lap. I just ran out of time."

Ralf had to settle for fourth, which was a little harsh given that he worked wonders to stay ahead of Michael in the lead for the first stint, despite the horrendous drop in performance from his Michelin tyres early on. A slow getaway from his first pitstop allowed his brother ahead of him, but he looked to have secured a podium finish when Barrichello's front left wheel stick during his final pitstop, but the Brazilian tigered back to usurp him near the end.

While all the headlines will be about Michael, spare a thought for Ralf who was going through exactly the same emotional distress as his brother. He did an admirable job in a car and a strategy that just didn't suit its tyres.

David Coulthard was a solid, if unspectacular, fifth and also benefited from McLaren's two-stop strategy. His most alarming moment came at the start when, from his lowly grid slot of 12th, he was forced to swerve on to the grass around both BARs which were themselves taking evasive action after Jaguar's Mark Webber made a painfully slow getaway from fifth on the grid.

Renault's Fernando Alonso was an impressive sixth, especially in light of team-mate Jarno Trulli's totally lacklustre effort to finish 13th. The Spaniard even set a fastest lap on the 10th tour, and took full advantage when Montoya had to make an extra pitstop after his fuel rig failed on his second stop. Montoya, who ran as high as fourth early on but complained of poor handling, finished seventh ahead of BAR's Jenson Button.

Olivier Panis (Toyota), Sauber duo Nick Heidfeld and Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Cristiano da Matta (Toyota), Trulli and Antonio Pizzonia (Jaguar) were the other finishers. Webber went out with a driveshaft failure, Brazilian GP winner Giancarlo Fisichella suffered a fire, as did Jordan team-mate Ralph Firman. Both Minardis went out, as did BAR's Jacques Villeneuve due to a suspected hydraulic failure.

Raikkonen continues to hold a solid lead at the head of the championship, 13 clear of Coulthard. But Schumacher is now looking ominous in third, just a point behind DC, and the Ferrari steamroller is beginning to pick up momentum.

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