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“Ferrari” Schumacher caught fire, but still won! 20 years since Michael’s epic victory

Date: April 21, 2024 Time: 20:53:27

There are many great victories in Michael Schumacher’s career, and one of them happened exactly 20 years ago, at the Austrian Grand Prix, held on May 18, 2003. On that day, the German Ferrari caught fire at the pit stop, but this did not stop the pilot – he was even faster and convincingly won the race.

In honor of the anniversary, we remember the 67th victory of the Red Baron in Formula 1.

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Start on the third try

That race at Spielberg was the last for the A1-Ring: the track returned to the championship calendar just six years ago, it enamored the drivers, but for financial reasons, local promoters were unable to renew Bernie Ecclestone’s contract. The racetrack rebuilt with the money of Dietrich Mateschitz, already under the name “Red Bull Ring”, will return to F-1 only after 11 years.

Kimi Raikkonen and Michael Schumacher in 2003

Photo: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

McLaren’s young Kimi Raikkonen arrived in Austria as the leader of the general classification. Schumacher had just taken two wins in a row, but was still four points behind the Finn. In qualifying, in which the drivers now only had one try each, Schumacher made several mistakes, but due to the killer third sector, Kimi was several hundredths ahead.

On Sunday, in the paddock, they wondered if it would rain – the weather forecast was very uncertain. However, the mechanics soon had other problems: the start of the race was postponed twice in the last second: Cristiano da Matta’s Toyota kept stalling. Not everyone put up with such a surge: on the third warm-up lap, Heinz-Harald Frentzen’s Sauber, who was celebrating his 36th birthday that day, stalled.

The race started only on the third attempt.

Photo: Mark Thompson/Getty Images

However, at the third attempt, the peloton started the race: Schumacher confidently accelerated from the clean side of the grid, and Raikkonen missed Juan Pablo Montoya and barely struggled against Rubens Barrichello. Meanwhile, deep in the pack, Jos Verstappen’s Minardi didn’t even make it to the first corner, and soon the safety car came onto the track.

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Pit stop too hot

In combat mode, the race resumed on the fifth lap, and Schumacher confidently began to pull away from Montoya: by lap 12, the Colombian was almost seven seconds behind, while Michael set the fastest laps one by one. Soon the rain began to fall on the track, not too hard to drive into the pits, but enough to cause problems. And on lap 14, the race leader loses the first lap and loses four seconds. “Ferrari” is less confident, and Montoya begins to close the gap a little.

On lap 21, Montoya pitted and Barrichello “dives” behind him. Rubens’ mechanics have a problem: there were problems with the filler hose, they had to find another one, intended for Schumacher’s car. The Brazilian loses time and returns to the track behind Jenson Button in the BAR-Honda.

Michael makes a pit stop on lap 24, and also has problems in the pit stop: the hose neck was probably damaged when refueling Barrichello, and fuel began to leak onto the red-hot engine cover. The fuel ignited instantly, mechanics with difficulty disconnected the hose, which was still spewing flames, and quickly extinguished the fire. Schumacher was not lost and in the same second, after cleaning his helmet visor, he was back on track: a 20-second pit stop put the German in third position.

Montoya dug in at the head of the pack – Schumacher quickly caught up with Raikkonen, but as he searched for a place to attack, he fell further and further behind the leader. On lap 33, Juan Pablo was almost five seconds ahead of his pursuers, but at that moment the BMW engine, which had not failed since the beginning of the season, blew up. In literally the same second, Michael passed Kimi at turn four and passed the smoking Williams for the race lead.

Schumacher began to attack even more actively and stamped circles at qualifying pace. In refueling, less fuel entered the tanks, it was necessary to go to the second pit stop earlier, and the mechanics searched for the cause of the fire and manually fixed the refueling equipment. Over ten laps, Michael separated from Raikkonen for eight seconds, and at 43rd he pitted for the second time.

Räikkönen ahead of Schumacher at the 2003 Austrian Grand Prix

Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images

This time the pit stop was normal, but the tactical initiative passed to Raikkonen: the longer Kimi stays on the track, the less time he spends refueling and the better chance he has of overtaking Schumacher. The Finn held on until lap 50, but left Michael seven seconds behind and in the end was unable to force a fight on him: Schumacher went further and further and pushed his lead to ten seconds.

Raikkonen also came close to losing second place. In the final segment, the Finn quickly caught up with Barrichello, but Rubens managed to make only one attack: three laps before the finish line, the Brazilian entered the fourth corner from the outside and tried to cross the trajectories, but in the fifth, McLaren stuck to a more profitable line and held out.

Pit stop incidents are not uncommon:


Thanks to second place, Raikkonen managed to maintain the championship lead, although his lead over Schumacher was reduced to two points. Barrichello, on the other hand, moved up to third: he was ahead of Renault rookie Fernando Alonso, who made his way after starting from pit lane but spun off the track when his engine stalled on lap 45. .

Raikkonen, Schumacher and Barrichello on the Spielberg podium in 2003

Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images

Ferrari, thanks to a double podium finish, for the first time since the start of the season, was able to take the lead in the Constructors’ Championship, one point ahead of McLaren. This time the Scuderia, they said in the paddock, will no longer be able to win the championship as easily as it happened a year earlier, four stages before the finish line. And they were right: the fight reached the final stretch, but not with McLaren, but with Williams.

How was the 2003 season:

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Puck Henry
Puck Henry
Puck Henry is an editor for ePrimefeed covering all types of news.

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