The cynics suggested that the idiot who ran on to the fastest part of Silverstone on the 12th lap of the British Grand Prix was going to be charged - with causing a motor race.
Certainly, the appearance of the religious protester on Hangar Straight, wandering in the path of 200mph traffic, created a rash of pit stops on that 12th lap that dictated the fate of several drivers. But the result was far and away the best race of the season, and a superb win for the beleaguered Rubens Barrichello. Coincidentally, the last time anyone got on to a track during a race, at Hockenheim in 2000, the little Brazilian was also the victor.
"This is a fantastic feeling," Barrichello said, the tear tracks of pure emotion still visible on his face. All year he has been criticised for lacklustre performances for Ferrari, but there was nothing half-hearted about his drive yesterday as he beat allcomers.
He was beaten into the first corner by Renault's Jarno Trulli, who led for the first five laps until the safety car was deployed on lap six while debris - the headrest from David Coulthard's McLaren - was cleared away from Copse Corner. Trulli set about rebuilding his lead when racing resumed on lap eight, with the fast-starting Kimi Raikkonen and Barrichello in hot pursuit.
But on lap 12 came the incident when a spectator apparently making a religious protest - he carried a placard bearing the words "Read the Bible, the Bible is always right" - began running down Hangar Straight into the path of the cars exiting Chapel Curve. The safety car was immediately redeployed as marshals tackled the unnamed man, and stayed out until lap 15.
This prompted a rash of pit stops on that 12th lap, by Trulli, Barrichello (who had overtaken Raikkonen at Abbey Curve on the 11th lap), Raikkonen, Ralf Schumacher, Michael Schumacher, Juan Pablo Montoya, Fernando Alonso, Jacques Villeneuve, Mark Webber, Nick Heidfeld and Jenson Button (who made very swift progress after starting from the back of the grid).
Inevitably, the second cars in each team lost time as they waited for their team-mates to be refuelled. Alonso and Michael Schumacher suffered most, and though Alonso passed Schumacher during this period, both were leapfrogged by Montoya.
This was when Schumacher lost his chance, for he would remain trapped in the midfield traffic for another 20 laps, in particular being frustrated by the never-say-die fortitude of the BAR driver, Jacques Villeneuve, his old nemesis from their 1997 title fight. The champion had no complaints later, however, simply accepting his misfortune as part of the game.
When the safety car went back into the pits by lap 16, spectators were treated to what many believe was a preview of 2005: two Toyotas heading the field. Cristiano da Matta and Olivier Panis had refuelled on lap six when the safety car first came out, and now they were in first and second place ahead of Coulthard (who had pitted on lap six to have a new headrest fitted). Then came Trulli, Raikkonen, Ralf Schumacher, Barrichello, Ralph Firman (who did not pit), Webber, Villeneuve, Antonio Pizzonia, Montoya, Alonso and Michael Schumacher.
Raikkonen soon disposed of Panis, but Da Matta was a different proposition and the Finn had to wait until the Brazilian stopped to refuel on the 30th lap. Meanwhile, Barrichello had been busy making up ground after mechanics had to wait until they could safely release him into the flow of traffic during his pit stop. On the way he had disposed of Trulli, and moved up when Coulthard made his second stop on lap 28.
Montoya was also driving well and Alonso eventually moved up to chase his team-mate, Trulli. The world champion remained trapped in 13th place behind Firman, Webber, Pizzonia, Villeneuve and Alonso. The Spaniard and the French-Canadian proved particularly resistant to his attempts to pass.
Raikkonen's next stop on the 35th lap handed the lead for the first time to Barrichello, chased by Montoya and the Renaults. Raikkonen went back in front when the Ferrari refuelled on lap 39, but it was immediately obvious that the Italian car was faster than the Anglo-German one in this race. All weekend the Ferrari had been ideally suited to this circuit, and though Raikkonen led laps 40 and 41, the writing was on the wall. Under pressure from Barrichello on lap 42, Raikkonen slid wide at Bridge Corner and Barrichello pounced into a lead he would never surrender. Six laps later Raikkonen had another off-course moment, at Abbey, which let Montoya into second place.
Almost half a minute behind, Michael Schumacher worked up to fourth by lap 48, leaving Trulli to fend off Coulthard and Da Matta. Closing in on them, Button, Alonso and Villeneuve waged a great battle which was resolved when the Spaniard's car, which had been without traction control from the 38th lap, lost its electrics, and finally when Villeneuve spun trying to catch his team-mate.
The victory boosted Ferrari's points lead and pushed Barrichello closer to the leading quartet, in which Schumacher extended his lead over Raikkonen and Montoya jumped to third ahead of team-mate Ralf Schumacher, who was delayed by an extra stop to have debris from his own car removed from the radiators after an off-track moment.
The British Grand Prix will be remembered not just for the errant spectator, but for the excellence of the racing. There were more overtaking moves than in all other 2003 races put together: Barrichello v Raikkonen, Raikkonen v Trulli, Button v Fisichella, M Schumacher v Alonso, Barrichello v Trulli, Pizzonia v Webber, Button v M Schumacher, M Schumacher v Villeneuve, Webber v Firman, Montoya v Trulli, Button v Villeneuve, Barrichello v Raikkonen again, Montoya v Raikkonen, M Schumacher v Trulli, and finally, Coulthard v Trulli. And it all took place, not in the pits, but in full view of a highly appreciative crowd.
In the paddock afterwards, Bernie Ecclestone stood fending off questions about whether the track invasion might further aggravate the ongoing battle between Silverstone and its detractors. "A good race, wasn't it?" he said reflectively, as ever a master of understatement.Reuse content