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In honour of Gianni Agnelli

14 gennaio 2020

The 2003 season has gone down as one of the most fiercely fought in the history of Formula 1. Michael Schumacher and Ferrari finished top of the Drivers' and Constructors' championships, respectively. But, unlike the previous two years, they were forced to battle for the titles until the very last race of the season. Overshadowing preparations for the Formula 1 season was the loss of a hugely prominent figure in Ferrari history, when Gianni Agnelli, the man known respectfully as 'L'avvocato' – the awyer – in Italy, died on January 24th, little more than a month shy of his 82nd birthday.

In his memory, Ferrari opted to name the new single-seater for that season the F2003-GA, confirming its drivers as quintuple World Champion Michael Schumacher, and reigning runner-up Rubens Barrichello. For the Australian GP Ferrari also took the single-seater, the F2002, that had dominated the previous championship. But, unlike the previous season, the early races were to prove disappointing for Ferrari. McLaren driver Kimi Räikkönen had shone in the Malaysian GP and, true to form, continued to do so 'down under'.

The European season began at Easter with the San Marino GP at Imola. However, that Sunday saw the Schumacher brothers line up in the first row grieving for their mother, Elisabeth, who had died that very morning. Michael notched his first victory of the season but went up to the podium with grief written all over his face. Then he and brother Ralf took to the road straight away to head home to Germany.

Two weeks later, the F2003-GA debuted on the track in the best way possible when Schumacher dominated the GP in Spain. He stood out in Austria, too, reaching close to level-pegging with Räikkönen in the world rankings. The Finn was leading with 40 points, against 38 for the German. Meanwhile, Ferrari slipped out of top place in the Constructors' rankings for the first time. At the Monaco GP, won by Juan Pablo Montoya, the Williams team stepped into the three-way battle, squeezing between Ferrari and McLaren.

Schumacher succeeded in his pursuit of first place in the driver rankings on 15 June, when he won the Canadian GP and Räikkönen failed to make higher than sixth place. Ferrari also climbed back to first place in the Constructors' rankings, but were threatened by Williams, where Ralf Schumacher brought home two races in a row, placing them only three points behind the Prancing Horse. Victory in Hungary went to young Fernando Alonso, who became the eighth different driver to win a race during this exciting season, meaning that the standings could not have been tighter. Michael Schumacher was top, one point ahead of Montoya and two ahead of Räikkönen. Meanwhile, Williams now overtook Ferrari in the Constructors' rankings.

The season climaxed with races in Italy, America and Japan. There was a huge fans' party at the Monza circuit when Schumacher triumphed, getting pole position and fastest lap. Montoya came second, though, meaning he lost only two points in the rankings. Two weeks later, they were off to Indianapolis, where Schumacher enjoyed another key victory which, combined with Montoya's sixth-place finish, left the Ferrari man in a great position to win the title. He now boasted a nine-point advantage over Räikkönen and a ten-point lead over Montoya who was therefore mathematically out of the running for World Champion. It was party time for the Scuderia team, too, which in the same race snatched back first place amongst the constructors.

The 2003 season was not one to write home about for Barrichello, though, who found himself way off the pace too many times. That said, his contribution in the final race in Japan was vitally important to his teammate's success. After Montoya's withdrawal, Barrichello kept McLaren's Räikkönen behind him throughout the race, leaving the Finn with only eight points, not enough to snatch away the title win from a nervous Schumacher who managed to come in just 14th in the qualifiers, and then during the race smashed into home driver Takuma Sato, eventually taking just a single measly point when he finished eighth. Nevertheless, he was World Champion by two points and now boasted six titles, overtaking the great Juan Fangio's record. Montoya's withdrawal in Japan also led to Ferrari lifting the Constructors' trophy for the fourth time in a row, the 13th in the team's history.