For the 3rd Round of the 2003 Formula 1 season, the teams arrived at an extremely wet Interlagos for the Brazilian Grand Prix.
McLaren had unexpectedly won the initial two rounds of the championship and lead the constructors’ championship by ten points ahead of defending champions Ferrari. Kimi Raikkonen topped the drivers’ championship by six points from his McLaren teammate, David Coulthard, after the Finn achieved his first win in the searing heat of Malaysia. But if McLaren’s early-season success was unexpected, what happened during this race was the stuff of legends.
Rubens Barrichello put his Ferrari on pole at his home race with Coulthard alongside him on the front row. Raikkonen qualified in fourth but the best performance in qualifying was from Mark Webber in the Jaguar, who put his midfield car into third place, less than half a tenth off pole. Defending World Champion, Michael Schumacher for Ferrari, was down in seventh and Juan Pablo Montoya, all the way down in ninth for Williams.
After a delayed start and eight laps behind the safety car, Barrichello got the race going but a poor restart by the Brazilian cost him the lead to Coulthard into Turn 1. A lap later and Raikkonen was also ahead of Barrichello to make it a McLaren 1-2 before the Finn sensationally went down the inside of his teammate, again into Turn 1, courtesy of an excellent out-breaking manoeuvre on Lap 10.
On Lap 18, the suspension on Ralph Firman’s Jordan failed and his car careered into Olivier Panis’ Toyota, littering the circuit with debris and brought out the safety car again. The green flag was shown a few laps later and then, chaos descended…
Turn 3 was the Curva do Sol and it lead onto the back-straight so was crucial for drivers to get on the throttle as soon as they could. However, as the rest of the circuit began to dry, a river started to run across the tarmac playing havoc with the cars. At first, cars just spun and re-joined but soon enough the likes of Antonio Pizzonia (Jaguar), Juan Pablo Montoya (Williams), Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) and Jenson Button (BAR) all helplessly slammed into the wall.
After several safety car periods and a poorly-timed pit-stop, Kimi Raikkonen was down in fifth place but was a man on a mission. He wasted no time in dispatching Jarno Trulli in the Renault and set about chasing after David Coulthard who was now leading in his McLaren.
On Lap 44, Rubens Barrichello was all over Coulthard’s gearbox and was desperately trying to regain the lead he had lost so easily at the start of the race. When Coulthard ran wide at Turn 1, Barrichello swept up the inside and immediately began to build a gap, no doubt buoyed by the ecstatic Brazilian fans.
A few laps later, Barrichello’s Ferrari slowed heading out of Turn 5 and his wretched Brazilian GP luck continued forcing him to retire from the race. Heart-breaking for the man who grew up just a few streets away from Interlagos yet held a record ten retirements in his first eleven home Grand Prix.
Lap 53 of 71 and race-leader David Coulthard pitted for the final time for fuel and new tyres allowing Kimi Raikkonen to take the lead once more. Raikkonen was being followed closely by Giancarlo Fisichella in the Jordan who had come through the field to the surprise of many.
When Kimi ran wide at Mergulho, the Italian nipped down the inside to take the lead and crossed the line in 1st position at the end of Lap 54. Soon after, Mark Webber lost traction and crashed out of the race heading up to the line after Juncao.
This brought out the safety car once more however Fernando Alonso, who was 3rd at the time in his Renault, crashed heavily into a loose wheel on track, forcing the red flag to bring the race to a stop.
At this point, there was a huge amount of commotion. Jordan were celebrating as if they won the race, Giancarlo Fisichella’s Jordan caught fire in Parc Ferme and Alonso was quickly taken to hospital. There was also uncertainty around whether the race would resume or not as despite extreme track conditions, there were still seventeen laps remaining.
Eventually Race Control announced Kimi Raikkonen as winner, ahead of Fisichella, and with Alonso receiving treatment, the Finn took the top step of a two-man podium. Jordan understandably felt robbed of the win.
However, all was not lost for the team, a few days later the FIA discovered that a time-keeping error had wrongly credited Raikkonen with the win. Fisichella was indeed the rightful winner and trophies were later presented prior to the Italian Grand Prix at Imola.