The 2003 Formula 1 season will be remembered as one of the most hard-fought in the history of the sport. Although Michael Schumacher and Ferrari once again took both Drivers’ and Constructors’ titles, they had to battle until the very last race of the season to secure victory –a very different story from the previous two years. A shadow was cast over preparations for the F1 Championship by the death of a key individual in Ferrari’s history, Gianni Agnelli, who passed away on January 24, a little over a month short of his 82nd birthday.
It was decided to name the new single-seater the F2003-GA in celebration of his life. Both five-time World Champion Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello remained with the team. Once again in 2003, Ferrari took the single-seater that had dominated the last championship -the F2002 – to Australia. However, unlike 12 months previously, the early races were short on satisfaction. McLaren’s Kimi Räikkönen sprang to the fore, proving extremely consistent and winning the Malaysian GP. The European season opened at Imola at Easter with the San Marino GP. The front row on the grid that Sunday was taken up by the Schumacher brothers who were competing with heavy hearts as their mother, Elisabeth, had passed away the same morning. Michael delivered his first victory of the season and took his place on the podium wearing a black armband as a sign of mourning before he and Ralf set off for Germany together. Two weeks later, the F2003-GA made a spectacular track debut. Schumacher dominated the Spanish GP and also won in Austria, climbing back to just behind Räikkönen in the Championship standings. The Finn was leading on 40 points and the German now had 38. Ferrari too moved to the top of the Constructors’ points for the first time that season. After Juan Pablo Montoya won the Monaco GP, however, Williams also joined in the battle between Ferrari and McLaren. Schumacher returned to the number one spot in the standings on June 15 when he won the Canadian GP in which Räikkönen couldn’t manage better than sixth. Ferrari was now also back in the lead in the Constructors’ Championship but, after Ralf Schumacher won two races in a row, it had to reckon with Williams which was now just three points behind. In Hungary, victory went to the young Fernando Alonso who became the eighth driver to win a race that season. The standings could not have been tighter: Schumacher was leading just a point ahead of Montoya and two ahead of Räikkönen. Williams had also replaced Ferrari at the top of the Constructors’rankings.
At this point, the Italian, US and Japanese Grands Prix were still left to go. There were massive celebrations at Monza after Schumacher not only took pole and the race fastest lap but also victory. Montoya, however, was second and lost only two points, so he was still nipping at the German’s heels. Two weeks later at Indianapolis, Michael delivered another pivotal victory which, combined with Montoya’s sixth-place finish, meant the Ferrari driver was now best placed to win the title: he was holding a nine-point lead over Räikkönen and 10 over Montoya, who was thus out of the running altogether. The team was also celebrating as the Scuderia jumped back to the top of the Constructors’ standings after the same race. 2003 did not prove a great season for Barrichello, who all-too often finished well behind the leaders. He did, however, make a vital contribution in Japan to Schumacher’s title victory. After Montoya retired, in fact, he held Räikkönen in the McLaren at bay for the entire race. The Finn eventually just took eight points – not enough to win him the title. Schumacher, on the other hand, was particularly nervous. He only qualified 14thand, in the race itself, struck local Japanese driver Takuma Sato’s car, thereafter struggling to take even the single point available to the eighth-place finisher. But in the end, he did it and was World Drivers’ Champion by two points, outdoing Fangio with his sixth title. Montoya’s retirement also saw Ferrari clinch the Constructors’ Cup, the 13th of its career and its fourth in a row.