The 2003 Australian Grand Prix was a race of expectation and attrition, even more so than all season-openers Down Under. Headlining the weekend was the usual first-race-hype; whether Ferrari had maintained their advantage over the rest during winter, how McLaren would cope with a car past it’s sell-by-date, and everyone else with just what the questionable Melbourne weather forecast would throw up.
Despite all these variables however, it was business as usual at the front on Saturday as Ferrari locked-out the front row of the grid, ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya’s Williams and Heinz-Harold Frentzen’s Sauber on the row behind, with the McLarens far down the field in 11th and 13th respectively. With a track drying out quicker than a [insert witty Aussie catchphrase] the grid was split between dry and wet Michelin rubber, with David Coulthard the first to admit the error of his ways on lap three, pitting for a set of dry tyres after a largely uneventful start to proceedings.
With DC setting purple sector times, the wet-tyre-shod runners began to follow suit. It was something Rubens Barrichello failed to do before binning it at Turn 5 on lap 6, ending his race and signalling the start of Ferrari’s misfortune in Melbourne. Reigning champ Michael Schumacher did manage to get it back to the pits, albeit several laps too late, and Montoya stormed into the lead as a result. His joy was short lived though, as a stop for fuel just a few laps later dropped him back down the field, promoting Kimi Raikkonen to the fore.
Stage two of Ferrari’s demise occurred on lap 38, when Schumacher attempted a bold move around a stubborn Raikkonen, only to be forced wide by the Finn and suffer floor damage in the process. As a result the German was forced to pit, and ultimately leave himself out of contention, as Montoya began stretching his regained lead out again over Coulthard in second.
The race provided one final twist on lap 49 with Montoya proving too eager on the throttle on the exit of turn one, and spinning as a result. Coulthard took the lead, and the chequered flag just a few laps later, for what would be his thirteenth and final victory in Formula One, his second in Melbourne. Montoya came home second, ahead of Raikkonen and a resurgent Schumacher in fourth.
Quite the race it was.