The Styrian hills will be alive with the sound of Formula 1 racing this weekend for the first time in 11 years. The last Austrian Grand Prix, which took place back in 2003, was won by Michael Schumacher.
The German qualified on pole position for the sixth round of the season, narrowly beating Kimi Raikkonen by 0.039 seconds. Juan Pablo Montoya was third on the grid, with Nick Heidfeld impressing for Sauber in fourth and Rubens Barrichello six tenths behind his Ferrari team-mate in fifth.
The first start was aborted on Sunday due to a problem with Cristiano da Matta’s Toyota. The same issue occurred on the next start, which caused another one to take place. When the race eventually got under way, Schumacher had a strong opening lap and held onto the lead.
Barrichello attempted to pass Raikkonen after a poor start for the Finn but was unable to move ahead around the outside. Heidfeld also dropped behind the second Ferrari driver, with Antonio Pizzonia making up two positions and David Coulthard advancing from 14th to 12th.
Jos Verstappen was unable to take the opening corner due to a launch control failure. Heinz-Harald Frentzen failed to even make the third attempt at a race start due to a problem on the final parade lap. He tried to switch to the T-car but there was not enough time.
Verstappen’s broken-down Minardi was parked alongside the inside wall on the run to turn one and brought out the safety car at the end of the first lap, with a few drivers taking to the pits to try out a different strategy.
The race resumed on lap four with Schumacher defending heavily from Montoya. He quickly established a 10 second lead over the following 11 laps, before rain started to fall at different points on the circuit. The tricky conditions suited the slick Michelin tyre, which caused Schumacher’s advantage to be cut to three seconds over the following few tours of the A1-Ring.
Once the rain had moved across the circuit, Schumacher began to pull away once again. The German driver pitted on lap 23 but a leak from his refuelling nozzle – which had previously been used on Barrichello’s car after his one failed – caused a brief fire. He was able to continue but the delays for the two Ferrari drivers dropped them to third and fifth.
Schumacher displaced Raikkonen for second on the 32nd lap, before re-claiming the lead from Montoya a little further round the lap after the Williams driver’s BMW engine blew up. He dominated the rest of the race, only surrendering the lead to Raikkonen and later Barrichello when he pitted for the second and final time.
He eventually took the chequered flag three seconds clear of Raikkonen, who just managed to hold onto second from Barrichello after a close battle in the final laps. Jenson Button had a strong race to finish fourth, some way behind the leading trio. It proved to be one of the Brit’s best results of the 2003 season.
Coulthard was fifth in the second McLaren and Ralf Schumacher finished sixth. Mark Webber and Jarno Trulli completed the point’s finishers, with Pizzonia and da Matta rounding out the top 10. Fernando Alonso and Nick Heidfeld missed out on good results due to engine problems.
It was Schumacher’s third consecutive victory and helped him close to within two points of Raikkonen, who managed to keep hold of the championship lead. Unfortunately the Austrian Grand Prix disappeared from the F1 schedule, but has made a return this season.
Images courtesy of Ferrari