On 28th September 2003, Michael Schumacher won the USA Grand Prix. Two weeks earlier in Monza, the German had stopped the rot by securing a magnificent victory at the end of a very closely contested duel with Montoya in the Williams, but the situation in the championship was still very open with the two rivals, plus Kimi Raikkonen at loggerheads.
The weekend got off to a very well balanced start: Ferrari, Williams and McLaren were all pretty much on the same pace. During Saturday’s qualifying, Raikkonen took pole ahead of Barrichello, while Montoya was fourth and Michael was only seventh. The weather was very changeable on Friday and Saturday and it was the same story on Sunday, making the outcome of the race seem even more uncertain although it brought out all of Schumacher’s talent.
At the start, Michael got away well, to lie fourth at the first corner ahead of Rubens who suffered from difficulties selecting a gear at the off. The Brazilian’s race only lasted a few laps because, on lap 3, he was hit by Montoya who was trying to get past and ended up in the gravel: the Colombian was given a penalty which pretty much knocked him out, not only of the battle for the race win, but also the fight for the title, given that the Colombian then made a mistake which saw him end up retiring after crashing into the barriers. Michael moved up to third on lap 5, passing Panis, but then as the track surface got slippery as the first few drops of rain began to fall, he was unable to maintain his pace and was overtaken by three other drivers. Once the track dried again, Michael was back to lapping at a great pace and on lap 13, he set what would be the race fastest lap. On lap 14, Michael passed Trulli to go fifth Next time round, Ralf Schumacher began the run of pit stops for the leaders. Michael Schumacher came in on lap 20 when the rain returned, this time more heavily: he fitted dry weather tyres again at this time, as had his closest rivals. However the shower was heavy enough to force the Ferrari man to pit yet again next time round to fit rain tyres.
The superiority of the Bridgestone tyres in these conditions, the car, the engine and the talent of the driver, meant that he staged a fantastic climb back up the order, having started from eighth on lap 22. In four laps, Michael was back in fourth place, behind Raikkonen. The Finn was passed on lap 28 and the then it was Frentzen’s turn on lap 33. Another five laps and Michael had put himself in the lead, overtaking Button in the BAR. The performance of the Bridgestone tyres was such that Michael was able to continue to reel off quick laps, even when the track was drying out and the other drivers had chosen to return to the grooved tyres. The Ferrari man came in for his final stop on lap 48, keeping the lead when he rejoined. Over the final 25 laps, Michael’s lead over his pursuers first Frentzen and then Raikkonen, grew to around 20” before stabilizing. In the closing stages, Michael managed the situation without taking risks, thus securing another very important win: his lead in the championship grew to 9 points over Raikkonen, while the Scuderia was back in front in the Constructors’ three points ahead of BMW-Williams.
Jean Todt had lived through the usual sort of weekend on the pitwall, but in the end he was able to enjoy the moment, if in his usual characteristic fashion. “It was an incredibly intense race! With the very changeable weather it was very easy to make mistakes. Michael did a perfect job and has taken a good step towards his sixth world title, while the Scuderia has retaken the lead in the Constructors.’
After Rubens, who had already slowed at the start with an electronic control problem on the gearbox, ended up off track having been hit by Montoya, Michael was left alone to defend our colours and, thanks to the Bridgestone tyres, his bravura and the work of the whole team, he managed to secured a great win. We are very happy and it could not be otherwise, because for us, working for Ferrari is something special and we work with passion: the win is the best possible reward for all the effort we expend every day.”