The Brazilian Grand Prix was the third round of the 2003 Formula One season. Local hero Rubens Barrichello had given himself the best shot at a home victory when he took pole position, taking full advantage of team-mate Schumacher’s worst Qualifying performance in sixty Grands Prix.
Race director Charlie Whiting opted to delay the race start due to the wet weather conditions, and the race finally got underway behind the Safety Car. Barrichello led the procession of cars until the weather improved and the Safety Car pitted, but botched the race restart and lost the lead of the race to McLaren’s David Coulthard.
While the McLaren romped off into the distance, Rubens fell back the order, Juan-Pablo Montoya and Kimi Raikkonen slipping past the Brazilian, followed by Michael Schumacher and an on-form Mark Webber who was producing a stunning performance for Jaguar.
Nick Heidfeld was the first driver to leave the race, when the engine gave up on his Sauber. Justin Wilson, in his first race for Minardi, soon joined Heidfeld track-side when the tricky conditions saw him spin out of the race. On the next lap, Irishman Ralph Firman suffered a very scary suspension failure which saw him t-bone Olivier Panis’s Toyota and take both men out of the race.
Kimi Raikkonen, in the other McLaren, soon caught and passed David Coulthard for the lead of the race while Antonio Pizzonia spun into the barriers at turn 3. Mere seconds later, he was joined in the barriers by Montoya who had been catching Raikkonen for the lead of the race before hitting a stream of water running through the Senna S section and losing control. The stream was also the cause of Michael Schumacher’s retirement, sliding off track and narrowly missing the tractor which was in the process of removing Montoya’s stricken Williams.
Barrichello retook the lead of his home Grand Prix, the same Grand Prix that consistently denied him a home victory. And it looked like his Brazilian victory may come until his Ferrari’s fuel system saw him slow, allowing Kimi Raikkonen to retake the lead. Barrichello clambered from the cockpit, lamenting his ninth consecutive DNF at Interlagos, while Jenson Button and Jos Verstappen were also ending their races prematurely. Raikkonen now lead the race from the Jordan of Giancarlo Fisichella, before he too made a mistake which allowed the Italian to slip into the lead.
On the next lap, Webber spun out of the final corner, hitting a guard rail and throwing debris across the track, ending his much needed strong performance for Jaguar. The yellow flags came out for Webber’s crash, but when Fernando Alonso came across the crash, he clipped one of the tyres which had bounced across the track, spinning into the barriers on the left before being rejected violently across the track and hitting the barriers on the other side of the track. Debris now covered the track and a winded Alonso needed the attention of the medical crew, so Charlie Whiting made the decision to red flag the race. With over 75% of the race completed, the race was ended.
As Fisichella had led the race at the time of the red flag, it was presumed that Fisichella had won – his first win, and Jordan’s fourth. However, McLaren objected and claimed that as per the regulations, which state that a race ending red flag requires a two lap countback – i.e. the leader of the race two laps before the red flag was the race winner. While all this was being argued, Fisichella’s Jordan burst into flames in Parc Fermé.
Eventually, Raikkonen was declared the winner, much to Jordan’s disappointment. However, only Raikkonen and Fisichella were on podium as third-placed man Alonso was en route to the medical centre with an ankle injury. Several days after the race, details emerged which suggested that Fisichella should have been handed the win. As he was starting his 56th lap, the countback should have gone back to the 54th lap – which he led. However, race stewards believed he was starting his 55th lap, which put the countback back to the 53rd lap – which Raikkonen led.
The case was dragged to the FIA court in Paris on April 11th and it was deemed that Fisichella was the winner. At the next race in Imola, a ceremony was held where Ron Dennis and Raikkonen handed over the winning trophies to Eddie Jordan and Fisichella. It was to be Fisichella’s first race win, and Jordan’s last.