Spanish GP report: Schumacher chased all the way

It was victory first time out for the Ferrari F2003-GA thanks to the efforts of five-time World Champion Michael Schumacher, but it was the speed and bravado of Fernando Alonso who finished a competitive second for Renault that really caught the eye

Spanish GP report: Schumacher chased all the way

The 21-year-old, in only his 21st Grand Prix, harried Michael for every lap of the race to end up just five seconds behind after they both ran three-stop strategies in a Grand Prix that was packed with incident and scrapping from a startline shunt and a first corner accident to the closing metres of the final lap.

Indeed, the first driver to drop out was points leader Kimi Raikkonen who was starting from the rear of the grid after he'd aborted his qualifying lap, as Antonio Pizzonia had a problem with his launch control four places ahead of the Finn on the grid and the McLaren driver guessed wrong and slammed into the back of the Jaguar, eliminating both on the spot.

More trouble was soon to follow, when McLaren's day was made doubly bad by David Coulthard colliding with Jarno Trulli's Renault, leaving the Italian driver on the sidelines and the Scot needing a pitstop to replace a puncture. With the remains of a Jaguar and a McLaren stranded on the start/finish straight it was thought that the race might be stopped, but the Safety Car was deployed instead.

Ahead of all of this, there was a sensational start by Alonso who passed Rubens Barrichello for second place as they accelerated through the gears and took a run at Michael. Rubens then tried to go around the outside of both into the tight first corner, but got on the dirt and slotted back into second. It was behind this tussle for supremacy that the field bunched and more trouble came McLaren's way when David Coulthard collided with Jarno Trulli's Renault, leaving the Italian driver on the sidelines and the Scot needing a pitstop to replace a puncture.

The Safety Car withdrew at the end of lap 5 and Michael got the jump on Rubens to give himself a tidy lead. Using his Champ Car restart experience to good effect, Juan Pablo Montoya dived past Jenson Button's BAR for fifth into the first corner. The order then settled with Michael leading from Alonso, Barrichello, Ralf Schumacher - a big winner in the first corner mess-up, Montoya, Button, Jacques Villeneuve, Toyota's Cristiano da Matta and the ever fast-starting Justin Wilson who was up nine places from 18th for Minardi.

Alonso was the first of the frontrunners to make his first scheduled stops, suggesting that he was running light, however at the second round of pitstops he came in after the Ferraris, having already got ahead of Barrichello in the first stop sequence. This suggested that he was much more of a threat than expected, with his Michelins coming on song later in each stint, just as the Ferraris' Bridgestones appeared to go off. Indeed, Michael's second set of tyres looked close to being slicks when they came off at the end of his second stint.

However, Michael had enough in hand to win by five seconds, but he certainly knew that he'd been in a race and, perhaps, sees Alonso as a driver very much as he was in his early Benetton days a decade ago: a World Champion in the making. The 20,000 fans who drove right across Spain from his home town of Oviedo were thus sent on the long journey home with huge smiles on their faces.

Barrichello finished third, 13 seconds down on Alonso but easily clear of Williams driver Juan Pablo Montoya who demoted his team-mate Ralf Schumacher with a wonderful manoeuvre that saw him take the inside line into Turn 5 and finally nose ahead two corners later. After an off when Alonso lapped him, Ralf struggled increasingly with his handling, only to have to drive super defensively to hold off the advances of Toyota's Cristiano da Matta in the final 10 laps.

The final points went to Mark Webber - Jaguar's first of the year - and Ralf Firman taking his first point after a drive that required some forthright driving to keep Button at bay. The BAR driver would have been safely in the points, but he emerged from his second pitstop only to arrive at the first corner at the same time as Coulthard. With the Scot not knowing that Button was there, and on the inside line, they touched, spinning the McLaren driver out of the race and having to pit for a new nosecone.

The fourth British driver, Wilson, made it to the finish for the first time, crossing the line in 11th place, two laps down but ahead of his Minardi team-mate Jos Verstappen.

The result means that Michael Schumacher is now second in the championship, just four points behind Raikkonen. Likewise, his team, Ferrari, has closed the gap to McLaren to three points in the constructors' championship.

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