2002 Season Review
Minardi - Asiatech
Minardi continued to field what was effectively a one car team this year. With Fernando Alonso safely returned to Flavio Briatore's store cupboard of Benetton test drivers, this year Paul Stoddart was given lend of Mark Webber - an Australian who had shown well in F3000 the previous year and was yet another of Flavio's increasingly large stable of young drivers.
Webber instantly proved his worth by fending off a late charge from Mika Salo's Toyota to score a fifth place finish through the carnage that was the Australian Grand Prix. That, somewhat inevitably, was as good as it got all year for Minardi, at least in terms of points. This year's Asiatech engine - effectively a development of a three year old Peugeot V10 which was not a particularly competitive device at the time, was by some way the most gutless engine on the grid. The car, on the other hand, was basically sound, as was shown by Webber's considerable pace at Monaco, where horsepower counted for rather less than it usually does. There were flashes of promise elsewhere too - where Webber mixed it with the Toyotas in the midfield in Germany, and pushed the Jaguars hard at Silverstone, but for the most part, they were relegated to the back row of the grid.
The second car was again wasted on a driver who had no idea what to do with it. On the positive side, Alex Yoong, unlike the equally hopeless Marques, at least brought some much needed money to the team, without which it might not have been on the grid at all. Yoong proved sufficiently hopeless that the team opted to replace him with lanky British F3000 champion Justin Wilson for a couple of races. He impressed the team with his pace in the old car, but, it turned out, simply couldn't fit in the new one. Faced with this problem, the team opted for another British driver - from the other end of the size scale - diminutive Anthony Davidson. The BAR tester showed rather more pace than Alex Yoong, but couldn't really get on terms with Webber and ended up spinning out of both the races he competed in.
Yoong came back for the final three races, and was inexplicably quick at Indianapolis, running comfortably with his team mate until the Asiatech engine decided enough was enough and brought the Malaysian back down to earth. Two weeks later in Japan, he was back to his hopeless old self, running way off the pace and ending his season in the gravel trap.
Two points, picked up seven months before in Australia, were enough to secure joint ninth in the Constructors championship. This, together with money coming in from Russian oil giant, Gazprom , might just provide sufficient funds to pick up a supply of Cosworth V10s next year, which should move the team up the grid, providing that the engine bills don't break the bank, as they did for Arrows. On the driver front Justin Wilson has been hired to drive one of the two cars next year - which should prove an interesting prospect as he was comfortably quicker than Mark Webber in F3000 back in 2001. The number two seat may go to Jos Verstappen, or perhaps even the relatively unknown fellow Dutchman, Christijan Albers. That said, if the Russian sponsorship remains, there is the worrying thought that competent Russian journeymen are even thinner on the ground than Malaysians, which could result in someone really clueless tooling around in the second Minardi next year.
Long time F1 observers have often wondered just what kind of a car Gustav Brunner might be able to build if he had the resources to do the job properly. In the past, the German designer has built neat looking cars for Rial, Zakspeed, and most recently Minardi, but the engines, and for that matter, the money, had never really been there to show these cars off to their best effect. In 2002, thanks to Toyota's theft of Brunner from Minardi, we finally got to see what a pukka Brunner car was like, and truth be told, it was a bit of a dog.
The season wasn't the disaster that last year's testing times suggested it might be. It helped that right from the word go, Toyota had one of the best engines in F1, and the two red and white cars regularly topped the speed traps, but the car simply didn't seem to corner well. It was particularly hopeless over kerbs, as we saw at Imola, where the cars ended up pretty near the back of the grid, after showing reasonably well in the opening three races of the season. The Toyota was also absolutely hopeless in the wet, for reasons that were never entirely satisfactorily explained, though Michelin's often questionable rubber probably didn't help.
The team's points haul came in the first three races of the year. Salo scored in Australia, despite being the in the last car running that didn't have Alex Yoong sitting in it. McNish might have scored in Malaysia, had the team not made a mess of changing his wheels, while Salo was in the points again, against strong opposition in Brazil. And that was it for the year. It was hard to put a finger on exactly why Toyota's season went so quickly downhill - though the fact that Malaysia and Interlagos both put a premium on horsepower may go some way towards explaining this. McNish looked like scoring in Monza until dropping out of the race.
The other problem seemed to be the drivers. At the start of the season, I wrote that Toyota appeared to have hired two Number twos, and nothing that happened during the year did anything to change my mind. Salo has been knocking around in F1 seemingly since the dawn of time, and has never really looked as though he quite has what it takes. This year, there were flashes of speed, but in truth, it appeared his heart was no longer really in it, and by the end of the season in Suzuka, he seemed relieved to be out of the sport. McNish has been in motorsport for even longer than Salo, having narrowly lost out in the British F3 championship in 1989 to David Brabham, and narrowly lost out in the F3000 championship to Erik Comas the following year. Since neither Comas nor Brabham had achieved much in F1, there seemed little reason to hope for much from McNish. He had been quick in sportscars but an awful lot of journeymen have looked competitive in sports cars. After all, even Jean Denis-Deletraz seemed competent in a Porsche 911. As it turned out, McNish was only slightly slower than Salo, and would probably make a good number two somewhere, but is never likely to really frighten the big boys. It was a shame that his season, and presumably his F1 career, ended as it did, with a huge practice accident that put him out of the final race. Given the magnitude of the crash though, he was probably be thankful simply to be alive and relatively unscathed.
Next year, Salo and McNish will be replaced by Panis and Christian De Matta. De Matta represents something of a gamble - CART champions have a mixed record in F1 - some have proved incredibly fast (Villeneuve, Montoya) others have looked utterly lost (Michael Andretti, Zanardi). Panis on the other hand, is another decent journeyman and it seems hard to explain why he is replacing McNish and Salo, unless of course, Toyota have simply noticed that there are a lot more people to sell cars to in France than in Finland or Scotland.
Its strange that Tom Walkinshaw never really got to grips with Formula One. For years, the motorsport world believed that the words TWR were a little akin to magic fairy dust - you just stuck them on your touring car, or your sports car, and instantly you had a race winner. Arrows, on the other hand, were known mainly for the fact that they had been around for twenty five seasons and had never won a single Grand Prix. Some thought this might change when Tom Walkinshaw took charge - instead the team went bust.
The Arrows A24 looked the part, and over the course of the season, there was sporadic evidence that it was a pretty decent race car. There was never the money to run a proper development programme though, and inevitably this led to teething problems. Neither car even got off the line in Australia, which did at least mean that Arrows escaped the expensive carnage that ensued at the first corner, but it would not be until Imola that either car finished a race.
Thereafter things seemed to improve with evergreen Heinz Harald Frentzen, fulfilling his role of guardian angel to financially troubled racing teams, finishing in the points both in Spain and at Monaco. Enrique Bernoldi continued to mark time in Formula One, and achieved nothing of note, though he looked a good deal more like he belonged in the sport than say Alex Yoong..
By the British Grand Prix, the vultures were circling around the team. A High Court judge overseeing a winding up case brought against the team, denounced its management as "Incompetent, fraudulent and dishonest" and engine bills to Cosworth remained unpaid. On Friday morning at Silverstone, the cars failed to turn a wheel, with Cosworth refusing to supply ECUs for its engines until the bills were paid. Walkinshaw was faced with the further problem that legally, he couldn't pay off his trade creditors (Cosworth) until his investment creditors (Deustche Bank) were paid off. Quite how this quandary was resolved remains something of a mystery, but the ECUs found their way back into the Arrows for qualifying and both cars made the race. Frentzen even ran in the points, looking really quite impressive in the rain until the expensive Cosworth expired in a cloud of expensive oil smoke.
Thereafter Arrows descended into farce more quickly than Prost Grand Prix - though thankfully Gaston Mazzacane's face didn't pop up at any point. The team deliberately sabotaged their qualifying efforts in France so as to meet the criterion for remaining in the world championship (i.e. turning up for the race) without actually racing. The team regrouped in Germany for what would turn out to be their final race, where the cars were somewhat off the pace, and in any event did not go beyond half distance.
After that, the team would sometimes turn up at the pits, there would be statements from lawyers, rumours of buyouts and press speculation as to what on earth was going on, but the cars never actually turned a wheel again. Frentzen abandoned the team, sensing the way the wind was blowing, and joined the long list of creditors seeking their share of whatever was left of the team's assets. He would later turn up driving a Sauber in place of Felipe Massa in Indianapolis.
Officially, Arrows are not yet dead, though the FIA have refused their entry to next year's championship, and the staff have all been laid off. Realistically though, it is hard to see what they have to sell. No work has been done on a new car for 2003, there is no engine contract, no employees, a huge pile of debts reckoned to be in the region of £50 million and no sponsors in sight. The Arrows story looks to be have been told. And they never did win a race.
The ski instructor was gone for 2002. Dave Richards came over from Prodrive and set to work about turning the team's fortunes around. The results were not immediately apparent, at least not on the track. Jacques Villeneuve clearly didn't get on with the new management as well as the old. and throughout the year stories circulated that Dave Richards was trying to offload the expensive Canadian to anyone who would have him.
At the start of the year, there was the usual optimistic talk of the new chassis being "a significant step forward" and of the engine developing a lot more horsepower than the previous year's Honda. In the event, this all proved to be so much hot air. The BAR chassis was still not up to the job, and the Honda was, initially at least, underpowered and overweight. Still it is a mystery that the Japanese, despite their renowned excellence in the art of miniaturisation, cannot produce a small, light F1 engine. Villeneuve had a reliable car, but not one that enabled him to score points in the normal run of things - with the Ferraris, Williams, McLarens, Renaults, Saubers, and often the Jordans proving quicker, top six finishes were always going to be hard to come by. Panis had it worse. After many wasted years at Prost, his hapless career continued He failed to finish the first seven races, though he could take comfort from running Villeneuve closer than usual in qualifying.
The only ray of light in a disappointing season came at Silverstone, where the Honda engine's lack of grunt didn't matter so much, and the traditional English Summer weather played into the hands of the Bridgestone runners, whose wet weather tyres worked a lot better than the Michelins. Even so, the team benefited considerably from the misfortunes of others in picking up a fourth for Villeneuve and a fifth for Panis. That, and a couple of sixth place finishes towards the end of the year, was it for BAR.
Despite having vastly more money to play with than Jordan, they were usually the slower of the two Honda teams - one never saw BAR producing anything so impressive as Fisichella's fifth at Hungary - though arguably this was not entirely the fault of the car. Nonetheless, Dave Richards industry pedigree and BAT's money were instrumental in persuading Honda that its works engines should go exclusively to the Brackley team next year. Whether this is a blessing or a curse rather depends on whether the Japanese concern can finally get its act together in 2003.
On the driver front, Villeneuve remains but Panis has headed off to see if Toyota can provide him with a more reliable car. Through the in-door comes Jenson Button, who must know that this will be a make-or-break year for him after two inconclusive years at Renault.
Things could only get better. Except, of course, they didn't. It was clear right from the moment that the Jaguar R3 first turned wheel that it was even more of a disaster than its predecessor. In initial testing it proved to be some three or four seconds slower than the old car - it was hard to see how so much resources could have been dedicated to what appeared to be a dramatic step backwards.
As time progressed the team were able to patch the car so as to mitigate its fundamental design flaws up to a point but it was apparent from early on that the R3 tub was plain wrong, and any modifications would always be so much papering over the cracks. Matters weren't helped by the driver line up - Irvine is quick on his day, but not as quick as he thinks he is - faced with another year of making up the numbers at the back, his heart clearly wasn't in it. De La Rosa was clearly all at sea with the evil-handling Jaguar, and there seemed little sign of the speed that he had shown at Arrows two years previously. To make matters worse, the two drivers plainly hated each other, and co-operation in solving the car's problems was non-existent.
A very good engine continued to go to waste this year. The Cosworth appeared to have the legs of all but the Ferrari and BMW engines this year, but only at Monza was this anything like enough to compensate for the weaknesses of the car. This would prove the team's highlight, with Irvine scoring a freak podium. It was not enough to save his drive though. At the end of the year, Lauda fired Irvine and De La Rosa, bringing in Webber and Pizzonia to replace them. Two months later, Ford completed the makeover by firing Lauda and the team is now without either a Principal or a Technical Director. The world's largest car maker continues to make an utter mess of Formula One. much as it has done for the last twenty years.
It seems hard to believe that just three years ago, a Jordan driver was in with an outside shot at the World Championship. This year, money was the root of the team's difficulties. Benson & Hedges had scaled back their support for the team when they hired Takuma Sato, rather than their preferred choice Justin Wilson and in the context of a global economic recession, this was a tough blow indeed for the Silverstone based team. The give-away came in Spain, where the team announced that they were laying off 40 members of staff. Given how the cars were running, this was a development that was very tricky to put a positive spin on. Eddie Jordan, who has never lacked the gift of the gab, tried his best, and was happy to tell anyone who would listen that this was all about turning Jordan into a "lean, mean operation" but there was no hiding that it was simply necessary, desperate cost cutting.
The Jordan EJ12 was a temperamental machine - on the occasions when the team were able to set it up properly, it was blisteringly quick, at least in the hands of Giancarlo Fisichella. At other times, though, it was way off the pace - particularly at tracks where power was at a premium. Takuma Sato, on the other hand, looked out of his depth. The Jordan's knife-edge handling was clear too much for the Japanese novice to cope with, and he added to Eddie Jordan's monetary woes by crashing an awful lot during the course of the year. Ironically, the most serious of these accidents was not his fault at all - Sato had to be airlifted to hospital after a horrifying accident at the A1 Ring when Nick Heidfeld lost control of his Sauber under braking and speared the side of Sato's Jordan.
Fisichella notched up a string of fifth place finishes, which while unremarkable in themselves, were usually more than the car really deserved. His drives in Canada and in Hungary- where despite struggling with difficult tyres, he held on to his grid position of fifth suggest that a top team who want to take a gamble might be well advised to consider the Italian. Sato never really looked like making the points all season, but surprised everyone with an aggressive drive to fifth place in Suzuka at the end of the year. The Japanese driver did have access to a new 'evolution' Honda engine, but he certainly made full use of it. After a year in which he had done little to suggest he really belonged in F1, this was a drive which just might have saved his career.
Jordan meanwhile is more concerned with saving his team. Financial troubles at Deutsche Poste mean that he has lost his title sponsor for the second year running, and while his Honda engines came for free, next year's supply of Cosworths will set him back an estimated £12 million. The next year may simply be about survival for this most proud of the independent teams.
Sauber were always going to struggle to repeat their giant-slaying performance of 2001, but while the small Swiss team could not repeat their 4th place this year, they continued to punch above their weight.
The car was an evolution of the successful 2001 car, complete with last year's Ferrari engine, and it proved to be a neat, straightforward package. It was a known quantity (even down to being just as hopeless at Monaco as it had been the previous year), which doubtless helped with setting it up, and ensured that that the Saubers were the most mechanically reliable cars in the field. Last year's revelation, Kimi Raikkonen, was away to greater things, so Peter Sauber decided to continue his "youth over experience" policy and picked up a rather wild young Brazilian by the name of Felipe Massa. Nick Heidfeld provided some stability in the number one seat and he would pick up the majority of the team's points.
Massa proved fast, but he went off a lot - more often, in fact, than Sato. His driving style was quite different to that of anyone else on the grid, and while he could turn in the lap times, it seemed that he was driving over his head on occasion. All this did not please Peter Sauber, whose primary interest was in picking up points, and when Massa picked up a 'start ten places back' penalty at Monza, he wasted no time in drafting in rent-a-driver Frentzen to replace him for Indianapolis.
If the team's conservative approach paid dividends early on in the year, their performance trailed off as the season progressed. It was clear that the 2001 concept had reached the end of its development, and the BARs, Jordans, and even, to some extent, the Jaguars were catching up with them. The majority of the team's points came in the opening races with Heidfeld's 4th in Spain, where the team did the majority of their winter testing proving to be the highlight.
For 2003, there will be a completely new car, and a competent if unspectacular line up of drivers, with Frentzen coming in to partner Heidfeld who, if one is being realistic, seems to have lost some of his sparkle since losing out on the McLaren drive to Raikkonen. Whether he has simply reached the limit of his potential, or whether he was a little disillusioned with the relative lack of pace with the Sauber later in the year, he rarely looked the man he had been the previous year, and was frequently outpaced by Massa - at least when Massa could stay on the road. A windtunnel is coming on stream, but like all the other independent teams, surviving the recession and hoping that cost cutting measures will have some effect will be Peter Sauber's primary concerns next year.
Towards the end of the last year, Renault (or Benetton as it was known at the time) began to make rapid progress towards the front of the grid after spending the early part of the year squabbling with the Minardis while they tried to sort out the problems with their wide-angle V10 engine. That progress continued at the start of the new season, with Trulli briefly running ahead of Michael Schumacher at the opening race.
Jenson Button put a nightmare 2001 behind him, and looked to be in contention for a podium at the second race in Malaysia until his suspension collapsed two laps from the end, making him easy prey for a recovering Schumacher. another fourth place followed at the third race of the year in Brazil, where both Renaults mixed it with the admittedly troubled McLarens, but thereafter the team appeared to lose its way somewhat. Trulli was desperate to dispel a reputation for being quick over a single lap, but unable to hack it over a whole race distance. In the first part of the season, in particular, his Renault was not reliable enough to allow us to draw any conclusions either way. Suffice to say that, in general, Trulli was quicker in qualifying (His Monaco performance being something of a highlight) , and Button was quicker in race trim, though matters were complicated when it was announced Button was being dropped from the team, after which Trulli appeared to have the edge over the young Briton. Ultimately, it mattered little for Renault seemed to go backwards as the year progressed.
Fundamentally, Renault's problem was that their 111 degree engine was a radical concept too far. For a company which made the best Grand Prix engines throughout most of the previous decade, it was a little surprising to see them get it so wrong. The ultra wide vee angle does lower the car's centre of gravity by approximately five centimetres, which should improve its cornering, but this did not seem to be enough to compensate for the fact that it simply wasn't possible to get as much horsepower out of it.
Renault's trump card was its electronics. Their traction control system consistently enabled them to leap-frog several cars at the start of races and there was talk up and down the pitlane that Renault were doing something a little different from everyone else in that area - certainly it worked. It would have been interesting to see how effective this system might have been in the wet, but sadly Michelin's tyres concealed any advantages that their traction control system might have brought them.
Next year, Button is replaced by Spaniard Fernando Alonso, who remains something of an unknown quantity. Trulli remains, as, for the time being does the wide-angle V10. It seems unlikely that this will be enough to enable the team to challenge the big three, but it may well be enough to ensure they will be 'best of the rest' again.
2001 was generally regarded as a disappointing year for the Woking team, with just four wins to their name. That being so,. 2002 must have rated as a disaster. David Coulthard put in a brilliant qualifying performance at Monaco to start from the front row, and his software engineers ensured that he reached St Devote before pole man Montoya. Thereafter he simply had to keep a queue of faster cars behind him all afternoon to win McLaren's first and only Grand Prix of 2002. It was a great drive, but that aside, there was precious little reason to be cheerful in the McLaren camp. Rival team bosses pointed to Ron Dennis' huge new motorhome and the work on a new factory and questioned whether the team were focusing enough on the job in hand. That most of these people work for teams which haven't won a race in years is something we shall gloss over, but it seems the criticism was misdirected.
In all, there wasn't a lot wrong with the McLaren chassis. The problem lay with Mercedes, or rather with their contractors, Ilmor Engineering. Quite simply, their new engine wasn't up to scratch. Mercedes wouldn't admit there was a problem, and neither, directly would McLaren. For much of the season, the drivers would report that the car was quick through the corners, but that the lap times just weren't there. Which is about as close as you can get to saying the engine isn't powerful enough without actually saying so.
Both Raikkonen and Coulthard had much to prove this year. Raikkonen's opening season at Sauber was promising but inconclusive - there was evidence enough that he was quick on his day, but in remained unclear whether he was really a premier league driver. Coulthard, on the other hand, knew that if he was less competitive than Raikkonen, his career would be as good s over. The end result was a tie of sorts. Raikkonen was generally quicker in qualifying, and looked to be the ultimately faster driver of the two - Coulthard has never been capable of the kind of qualifying laps that the young Finn was putting in at Spa for example - but it was Coulthard who seemed slightly better on raceday, and Coulthard who won McLaren's only race. To be entirely fair, it was Raikkonen who suffered the lion's share of the mechanical misfortune in the McLaren camp - failing to finish on ten occasions - this including six engine failures.
Raikkonen nearly added a win of his own to McLaren's tally at Magny Cours, but a late race 'off' on oil dropped by McNish's exploding Toyota handed victory to Schumacher. We saw enough this year, though, to know that it is only a matter of time before Raikkonen stands on the top step of the podium. Coulthard did enough to justify his continued presence in the team, and generally drove well for a man in his ninth year in the sport, stuck in a car which afforded him little real chance at the title. That said, there were times, notably at Austria and San Marino, where Coulthard really didn't look interested, never mind competitive. Next year almost certainly really will be his last shot at the World Championship, and one can't help but feel that Raikkonen will prove all the more difficult to beat then. All of which will be entirely academic if Ilmor don't do their homework over the winter.
Last year, Williams expected to maybe win a race, and came away with four victories. This year, they expected to win several races, and came away with but a solitary race victory, for Ralf Schumacher in Malaysia. It was a disappointing year for the Didcot squad, who really only had themselves to blame. BMW once again produced the most powerful engine in the field, and if its margin of superiority was not what it had been the previous year, it was still as much as the team could reasonably ask for. The problem was that Williams had produced conservative evolution of their 2001 car which simply didn't generate enough downforce to compete with the Ferraris. The car was at least generally reliable, although not on the few occasions when it was quick - both Williams retired at Monza where they had monopolised the front row of the grid, while Montoya's charge at Canada came to an end with engine failure, in a race where he had looked well able to take on Michael Schumacher.
The team could at least take comfort from the fact that they were usually faster and more reliable than the McLarens, with second in the constructors championship being their best result in five years - though they could hardly fail to be disappointed at how far behind the Ferraris they were. There were also a whole string of pole positions for Colombian hotshoe Juan Pablo Montoya - seven in all, which was as many as Schumacher managed in the Ferrari. Ralf Schumacher didn't start once from the pole spot, though this doesn't reflect entirely badly on him. He was generally quicker than Montoya on slower, more technical circuits, where his superior ability to set up a car pays dividends, but as the Williams was pretty hopeless at such places, this counted for little.
Indeed the battle between the two Williams drivers was one of the major points of interest this year. It would be hard to think of two more different personalities really. Montoya , a flamboyant, old fashioned racer who has a bit of the Gilles Villeneuve about him - a favourite up on the grandstands. Ralf Schumacher, a Germanic technical, thinking driver - a man who understands the importance of working on a car's set-up, but not a driver who can be counted upon to liven up a dull Sunday afternoon - there is an echo of that other great 'technical driver' of the recent past - Alain Prost. Needless to say, the two men did not get on, and surprisingly, given their respective temperaments as drivers, it was Ralf Schumacher who seemed most fazed by this. If Ralf was to be seen overdriving or falling off the road at all this year, it was usually because Montoya was going quicker than him. The low point of his year came at Indianapolis, when he missed his braking point into the first corner and slid into his team mate as he went past him. An incident which considerably lowered the ambient temperature in the Williams camp, coming as it did, so soon after he had risked an accident with a frankly ridiculous manoeuvre on his team mate on the opening lap at Monza.
Undoubtedly, this pairing will continue to prove volatile and exciting into the new year. With Montoya having another year's F1 experience, there may well be less between himself and Ralf in terms of ability to set up a car, and few doubt that on driving talent alone, Montoya is the better of the two drivers. Seconds out, round three.....
Back in the 1960s, a little known Swedish Science Fiction author wrote a book about how the Soviet's destroyed motor racing by building a technically perfect F1 car, driven by a robot. While Michael Schumacher may not be the most charismatic driver ever to have walked the face of the earth, it would perhaps be going a little too far to describe him as a robot, and while Ferrari may always have been red, there is little evidence to suggest that Di Montezemelo, Todt et al are Communists. But the technically perfect car.......
If there was anything wrong with the Ferrari F2002 its hard to imagine what it could be. Admittedly, Ferrari's latest V10 probably didn't have quite the sheer grunt of BMW's 19000 rpm screamer, and there were niggling reliability problems with the car early in the season, though mysteriously they simply never affected Schumacher's car, but really that is about it.
The F2002 only lost one race all year, that being at Monaco where the lack of overtaking places prevented Schumacher from finding a way past Coulthard, despite the fact he was clearly able to go a lot quicker, and Ferrari's tally of 15 victories equalled McLaren's record, set with the MP4/4 in 1988. Schumacher remained as committed as ever, while Barrichello either raised his game considerably or found the new car much more to his liking, and appeared able to take the fight to the German is a way that no other team mate of Schumacher's has ever been able to do. However, if there was no way you could fault Ferrari's achievements this year, the way they went about it was sometimes questionable to say the least.
Lets leave aside Schumacher's sometimes questionable track manners - they were much as they ever were. It really started at Austria, where Barrichello had dominated the meeting all weekend, only to receive orders to let his team mate through and take the victory. This is hardly without precedent in F1, which has always been a team sport, but what made it so unacceptable in this instance (apart from the manner of its doing - inches from the finish line, when we thought we had just seen Barrichello beat the greatest driver of our age) was that there seemed little need for it in a team/strategic sense. The Ferrari F2002 was far and away the fastest car all season, and Schumacher had a massive lead in the driver's championship - a Ferrari title was all but guaranteed even this early in the season. Ross Brawn poured oil on the flames in attempting to tell Ferrari's side of the story, by suggesting that the cars had been holding station throughout the race - not given permission to race each other by the top brass at Ferrari. So had we just seen the greatest drive of Barrichello's career, or had we just been watching a farcical, high speed parade ? And if the latter, then what motivation was there to tune in and watch the next one ?
A month later, at the Nurburgring, Barrichello did beat Schumacher, helped by a rare error by the German, when he spun while chasing the Brazilian. Again though, by the end of the race, it was clear that neither driver was going quite as quickly as they could have been. Once more, it had appeared orders had been given, and the Ferrari drivers were not racing. Again we found ourselves asking - is this worth watching ?
The apotheosis of Schumacher's year came at Spa. This fantastic race circuit, which F1's suits have unforgivably dropped from the calendar next year, is truly a fine place to watch the talents of Michael Schumacher. That day, he simply ran off the distance, and not even Barrichello could get close to him. It may not have been close; nor particularly exciting, but it was real racing - and a sublimely talented man at the very peak of his ability.
It was back to farce at Monza, where we got another orchestrated one-two, Barrichello this team leading his team mate over the line for the third time in 2002. Then came Indianapolis, where the Ferrari drivers appeared to be racing once more. Schumacher held a slender lead over Barrichello all race long, but on the final lap, the German appeared to slow and Barrichello went by to win by the slenderest of margins. Schumacher later made out that this was payback for Austria (though one would have thought that after Hungary and Monza, in particular, that debt was already settled) but more than one observer thought that Schumacher had actually been trying to arrange a dead heat and had simply got his sums wrong. Either way, it was not real racing, and the crowd reacted accordingly.
Ferrari's technical achievements, and for that matter, the performance of the two drivers was enormously impressive this year, but the manner in which they did what they did left a nasty taste in the mouth, and did much to devalue the whole sport. People go to races to watch the greatest drivers in the fastest cars going all out to win - be it the race or the title - not to watch one team turn Grand Prix racing into their own personal play thing - with race wins traded between drivers according to the political climate in Maranello. I only hope that Williams and McLaren can do enough to ensure that Ferrari will not be afforded such a luxury in 2003.
To return to racing lines.