Described at the time by Martin Brundle as the most enjoyable season he had the pleasure of commentating over, 2003 was a great year for Formula One fans.
A new set of regulations, such as the introduction of one-shot qualifying, Friday testing, a new points system and one compound of wet weather tyre per Grand Prix, allowed the likes of Kimi Rӓikkӧnen and Juan Pablo Montoya to challenge Michael Schumacher’s dominance in the sport.
Across the year, eight different drivers won a Grand Prix across 16 races, each one leaving fans on the edge of their seats.
Here is a look back at how the drivers got on in what was a thrilling campaign.
Michael Schumacher – 6 Wins, 4 Pole Positions, 93 Points
There is no better place to start than with the World Champion, Michael Schumacher.
On paper, the fact that Schumacher claimed his sixth F1 title seems like a no brainer, having won six races in 2003, whilst no other driver managed more than two.
However, the German did struggle at times in what was a competitive season.
Schumacher’s brilliant run of consistency had suddenly disappeared, and at times he had to scrape his way into the points.
He was even lapped en route to an eighth place in Hungary; a race Ferrari’s Technical Director Ross Brawn would later go on to describe as “desperate”.
He also experienced some bad luck, including a tyre puncture in the German Grand Prix which dropped him to seventh.
On the other hand, Schumacher demonstrated why he is regarded as one of the sport’s all-time greats.
His first win of the season came at the San Marino Grand Prix in difficult circumstances, after his Mother, Elisabeth, had passed away the day before.
He also overcame a pitstop fire to win the Austrian Grand Prix, as well as proving he skill in the wet to win the United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis.
The season finale in Japan was a dramatic one for Schumacher, as a collision with BAR’s Takuma Sato forced him into an unscheduled pit stop, before going to finish in eighth and secure that historic sixth world title.
“It has been a very tough race, probably one of my toughest,” Schumacher stated in the press conference at Suzuka.
“How many people wrote us off? How many people wrote things about us, outspoken things.”
“And here we are, we’re back and we never give up”
“It’s just a huge big family, which we’re all proud to be a part of it.”
Kimi Rӓikkӧnen – 1 Win, 2 Pole Positions, 91 Points
Driving in a year-old McLaren, Kimi Rӓikkӧnen came agonisingly close to winning his first Drivers’ title, and what an achievement that would’ve been.
The Iceman started 2003 positively, and claimed six podiums in the first seven races.
This included his maiden win in Formula One at the 2003 Malaysian Grand Prix, which Rӓikkӧnen was almost 40 seconds ahead of his nearest competitor at the chequered flag.
On the other hand, Rӓikkӧnen’s run of form was blighted by his lost victory in Brazil due to a timekeeping error, and his crash with Jaguar’s Antônio Pizzonia on the start grid in Spain.
And as the season wore on, McLaren had no answer for the pace shown by Ferrari and Williams.
Furthermore, an engine failure whilst leading the European Grand Prix, and a first lap retirement in Germany caused by a collision with Rubens Barrichello and Ralf Schumacher, hampered the Finn’s title chances.
This left Rӓikkӧnen heading into the final race at Suzuka knowing he needed a win and hoped that Schumacher finished outside of the points to become world champion.
Despite his best efforts, Rӓikkӧnen couldn’t match Barrichello on the day and to settle for second in the race, and indeed the championship.
Juan Pablo Montoya – 2 Wins, 1 Pole Position, 82 Points
As ITV F1’s Louise Goodman put it, 2003 was a season of elation and frustration for Juan Pablo Montoya.
The Colombian’s two wins in Monaco and Germany were great performances which put him amongst Michael Schumacher and Kimi Rӓikkӧnen in the title fight.
Yet Montoya made silly mistakes, spinning off in Australia and Canada to throw away further victories.
His BMW engine also gave way in Austria whilst out in front, adding a further dent to his title hopes.
Nevertheless, between the Monaco and Italian Grand Prix’s Montoya claimed eight consecutive podiums, leaving him just three points behind Schumacher with two rounds left.
At Indianapolis though, Montoya’s world championship dream came to an end when an incident with Rubens Barrichello at Turn 1 resulted in the Colombian receiving a stop-go penalty, dropping him to sixth.
The Japanese Grand Prix didn’t go much better for him either, as a hydraulics issue forced him into retirement and ended Williams’ chances of winning the Constructors’ Championship.
Rubens Barrichello – 2 Wins, 3 Pole Positions, 65 Points
2003 was viewed as a make-or-break season for Rubens Barrichello at Ferrari, and if it weren’t for so much misfortune, then the Brazilian might have had a shot at the championship.
Barrichello had a rough start to the season, with his second-place finish in Malaysia sandwiched between his crash in Australia and a painful retirement at his home race in Brazil.
‘Rubinho’ then started to find his rhythm with a run of four third-places in the space in six races to put himself within the title contenders.
Then at Silverstone, Barrichello pulled off one of the overtakes of the season, forcing his way past Rӓikkӧnen’s McLaren at Bridge to take the lead, and eventually win the race.
This left Barrichello fifth in the standing and only 20 points adrift of Schumacher in the sister Ferrari.
However, successive retirements caused by a first lap collision in Germany with Ralf Schumacher and Rӓikkӧnen, and a suspension failure in Hungary saw Barrichello’s title hopes fade away.
Despite this, Barrichello went on to finish third at Monza to aid Ferrari fight in the Constructors’ before winning the Japanese Grand Prix to help Schumacher towards his sixth championship title.
Ralf Schumacher – 2 Wins, 2 Pole Positions, 58 Points
Schumi Jr. spent the first part of 2003 in the shadow of his Williams team-mate.
Whilst Montoya was fighting for race wins, Ralf was off the pace and was struggling to keep up with those in front.
A mid-season resurgence changed this though, claiming a hat-trick of victories.
This included back-to-back wins in the European and French Grand Prix’s, suddenly launching him into the title picture.
But as soon as he was in it, he was back out of it again as failure to score in the British Grand Prix was followed by the crash at Hockenheim involving himself, Rӓikkӧnen and Barrichello, with the German driver being blamed for incident.
Ralf had a tough end to the season, withdrawing from the Italian Grand Prix with a concussion and only scoring five more points.
Fernando Alonso – 1 Win, 2 Pole Positions, 55 Points
After spending 2002 as a test driver for Renault following his F1 debut with Minardi, Fernando Alonso was given a race seat by the French team in 2003 and immediately repaid his employers.
The Spaniard took three podium finishes in the first part of the season, including second at his home race at the Catalunya circuit in Barcelona.
His highlight of the season was undoubtedly the Hungarian Grand Prix, where he took Pole Position and lapped Michael Schumacher en route to his first race win.
Alonso also challenged Barrichello for victory in Japan before an engine failure ended what was a remarkable season for himself and the Renault team.
David Coulthard – 1 Win, 51 Points
In his penultimate season at McLaren, David Coulthard got off to the perfect start as he inherited what would turn out to be his final F1 win in Australia, after Montoya spun out late on.
The Scot was then robbed of another win in the next race at Malaysia thanks to an electrical failure, likewise in Brazil, where a scheduled pitstop put him out of position when the race was red flagged.
As McLaren’s pace started to disappear as the season wore on, so did Coulthard’s form and he had to play second fiddle to team-mate Rӓikkӧnen in the championship.
Jenson Button – Having found refuge at BAR after he was released by Renault, Jenson Button proved his doubters wrong and pulled off some incredible performances.
Over the course of the season, Button made mince-meat of his former world champion team-mate Jacques Villeneuve, despite his heavy crash in qualifying for the 2003 Monaco Grand Prix.
Two fourth-place finishes in Austria and Japan was the best he could manage, although Button would have earned a well-deserved podium in the US Grand Prix if it weren’t for an engine failure.
Mark Webber – Driving what was an average car by Formula One standards, Mark Webber did well to put the Jaguar in the points on a regular basis.
The Aussie also showed he could unlock potential from the car and managed to qualify third for the Brazilian and Hungarian Grand Prix’s.
Heinz-Harald Frentzen – Heinz-Harald Frentzen spent most of his swansong season at Sauber outside of the limelight, but this didn’t stop him from putting in some credible drives.
The German took fifth in the torrential Brazilian Grand Prix, before taking advantage of his well- suited Bridgestone tyres to finish third in Indianapolis.
Giancarlo Fisichella – In what proved to be a difficult season for himself and the Jordan team, Fisichella’s triumph in the 2003 Brazilian Grand Prix is highly regarded as one of the sport’s greatest underdog wins.
Apart from this, the highly rated Italian didn’t have much to cheer about and could only manage one more points finish, courtesy of his seventh-place finish in the United States Grand Prix.
Marc Gené – Called up by the Williams team to replace the concussed Ralf Schumacher for the Italian Grand Prix, Marc Gené put in a respectable race.
Having qualified fifth, Gené managed to get his head down, briefly leading the race before going on to finish fifth.
Takuma Sato – Drafted in by BAR for the season finale in Japan to replace the disgruntled Jacques Villeneuve, not many expected Takuma Sato to have an impact in the race.
Despite a brush with Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari at the chicane, Sato went on to finish in sixth-place, to the delight of the adorning crowd at Suzuka.
Justin Wilson – Having spent most of the season with minnows Minardi, Justin Wilson replaced Antônio Pizzonia at Jaguar in the hope that he could help change the team’s fortunes.
Although the former F3000 champion failed to threatened Mark Webber in the sister car, Wilson did manage to pick up a point for his eighth-place finish in the United States Grand Prix.