Coulthard wins thrilling Australian Grand PrixPosted: Sunday March 09, 2003 6:14 AM
Updated: Sunday March 09, 2003 12:30 PM
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) -- For the first time in 20 races, Michael Schumacher wasn't on a Formula One podium.
McLaren's David Coulthard took advantage of a spinout by leader Juan Pablo Montoya and a black flag to earlier leader Schumacher to win Sunday's season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
Schumacher, winner of 11 races last season while his Ferrari team took 15 of 17, had not missed a podium appearance for first, second or third places since the Italian Grand Prix at Monza in 2001.
Ferrari had been on every podium since September 1999, and Schumacher had not relinquished a lead in Formula One since the U.S. Grand Prix in September 2000.
That all changed Sunday when Coulthard won his 13th career race.
Coulthard, trailing Montoya by nearly three seconds with 11 laps to go, watched as Montoya's Williams spun out on turn 2 of the Albert Park circuit, allowing Coulthard to take the lead for good.
Montoya had taken the lead only two laps earlier when Schumacher, trying for his fourth consecutive win in Australia, was black-flagged by race officials because the barge board from the side of his cockpit was dragging under his Ferrari.
Schumacher had damaged the underside of his car after being forced off the track two laps earlier trying to pass McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen.
Coulthard's victory margin in the 58-lap race around the 5.303-kilometer (3.295-mile) circuit was 8.6 seconds in 1 hour, 34 minutes, 42.144 seconds.
Montoya finished second, Raikkonen third and Schumacher fourth.
"It's natural that one day it will change," Schumacher said of his absence from the podium. "In sport that's the way it goes."
It was McLaren's first victory since Coulthard won the Monaco Grand Prix last year. Coulthard, who made an early pit stop Sunday to change tires on a rain-slicked track, started 11th on the grid and Raikkonen 15th after a poor qualifying session Saturday.
"It's a great result. From a team point of view, we should just enjoy the first and third place," said Coulthard. "We can be satisfied, but there is still work to be done to be competitive against Ferrari."
Coulthard feels Ferrari can be beaten.
"It's encouraging, occasionally they are dropping the ball," Coulthard said. "Under pressure they can make mistakes, but the conditions were a little bit unusual today."
Coulthard, a 31-year Scotsman, has won at least one Formula One race in every season since 1997 when he won in Melbourne. Coulthard was second here in 2001 but had not finished this race in three of the last four years.
There were some anxious moments for Schumacher on lap 38 when he tried to pass Raikkonen. The Finish driver, placed second at the time, held his ground, forcing Schumacher on to the infield.
"It was a bit too tight for him to try to pass," said Raikkonen. "Someone had to give way. I guess I enjoyed it."
Moments later, Raikkonen was ordered to do a drive-through time penalty for speeding in pit lane, dropping him back off the lead.
Ferrari's Rubens Barrichello, who qualified second behind Schumacher, saw his race end on the sixth lap when he spun out on turn 5 and hit the wall, leaving his front left tire dangling from the chassis.
That ended any hopes of Ferrari finishing one-two in six consecutive races. Schumacher and Barrichello finished first or second in the last five races of 2002.
"It was not a good weekend," said Barrichello. "I think we are still doing well, we are still quite strong."
The track was partially wet at the start due to morning and early afternoon rain. That forced race organizers to make a decision 80 minutes before the start of the race to allow the teams to make changes to brake set-ups and tires due to the rainy conditions.
Otherwise, due to new rules established this season to try to reduce Ferrari's dominance, teams would not have been allowed to make any changes to the car's set-up or tires following qualifying until the race started Sunday.
The teams were, however, obliged to keep the same fuel allotment they had in their tanks when qualifying ended Saturday.