Sunday, April 06, 2003

Raikkonen wins crash-strewn Brazil GP, April 06 2003, By Alan Baldwin

Sao Paolo - McLaren's championship leader Kimi Raikkonen won a wreckage-strewn and chaotic Brazilian Grand Prix cut short by crashes on Sunday. The 700th grand prix in Formula One history started late and behind the safety car and ended in chaos and confusion 18 laps before the scheduled finish. Cars and wreckage were strewn across the rainswept Interlagos track as the red flags came out in a race that world champions Ferrari and Michael Schumacher failed to finish. There was heartbreak for the home fans
Only Raikkonen and Italian runner-up Giancarlo Fisichella appeared on the victory podium, with Renault's third-placed Spaniard Fernando Alonso taken to hospital after being injured in a massive final crash. Officials said the 22-year-old, also third in Malaysia, was not seriously hurt. There was heartbreak for the home fans and their local favourite Rubens Barrichello, who retired agonisingly for the ninth year in a row while in the lead for Ferrari after starting on pole position. There were mixed emotions for struggling Jordan, who thought Fisichella had won them their 200th grand prix only to have their celebrations cut short. Fisichella, 110 starts without a win, had swept past Raikkonen into the lead on lap 54 only for the race to be halted immediately afterwards and the winner declared to be the driver leading at the end of lap 53. Fisichella's car later caught fire in the pits before officials announced there would be no restart. "It's obviously very disappointing," Jordan's head of race and test engineering Gary Anderson told ITV. "But if somebody had said we'd finish second at the start, we'd have taken that very happily." The day was marked by torrential rain and the race started late with the field lined up tamely behind the safety car for the first eight laps. McLaren have now won the first three races of the season, and Raikkonen two in a row. The 23-year-old Finn, whose victory in Malaysia was his first in Formula One, leads the championship with 26 points to team mate David Coulthard's 15. Coulthard was fourth, ahead of Germany's Heinz-Harald Frentzen for Sauber and Canadian Jacques Villeneuve in a BAR. Australian Mark Webber was seventh for Jaguar, despite having no wheels on his car after a massive accident on lap 53 that Alonso then ran into. Alonso's Italian team mate Jarno Trulli picked up the final point for Renault. Nearly half the 20 starters had crashed out before the halfway point, with only a handful of cars still running by the finish and the safety car deployed five times. Ferrari's five-times world champion Schumacher was one of the casualties, his car aquaplaning backwards into the barriers on lap 27 while he had been challenging in third place. The accident compounded the German's nightmare start to the season, already the worst of his career, and left him with just eight points from the first three races. The same turn three caused repeat mayhem, with the space behind the tyre wall soon turned into an expensive scrapyard for shattered cars. Schumacher's wingless Ferrari joined the Williams of Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya, the Jaguar of Brazilian rookie Antonio Pizzonia as well as the Minardi and BAR of Britons Justin Wilson and Jenson Button. "There's a river running off the grass banking and it's changing on every lap," said Wilson. The safety car was deployed for the second time at the end of lap 19 after British rookie Ralph Firman suffered a catastrophic suspension failure while flat out on the start-finish straight in his Jordan. The right front wheel broke off on its tethers and Firman became a passenger on the slippery track. A wheel from his Jordan then took the wing off the back of Frenchman Olivier Panis' Toyota but neither driver was hurt.

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