The British Grand Prix 2002 - Schumacher reigns in the rain
The bailiffs were knocking at the door to the paddock at Silverstone. After last year's will-they-won't they saga surrounding the survival of Prost Grand Prix, Arrows were the latest team to fall into financial difficulties. The cars didn't show up in the paddock at all on Thursday and rumours circulated that this was to avoid having their cars impounded as the list of creditors mounts. Tom Walkinshaw, the Arrows boss has had success at every other level of motorsport, but his attempts to turn Arrows into a top level racing team appear to have foundered. Earlier in the week, a High Court judge found against the team in a case brought by investment bank Morgan Grenfell, and in doing so described the Arrows management as "incompetent, dishonest and fraudulent." Whether this is a sign that the team's management were 'on the take' or whether it is simply that their dire financial situation forced them to resort to the kind of business practices more normally associated with Enron and Worldcom is unclear. Whatever the case, there were no Arrows on the track on Friday, as Cosworth were not prepared to fire up the engines until the bills had been paid. In the end, Tom Walkinshaw found the 4.7 million euros that were required, apparently from his own pocket, and the cars were able to take part in qualifying. The long term future for the team though, which has debts rumoured to be in the region of $100 million, look pretty bleak.
Up at the front end, qualifying followed the pattern that it seems to have done for a while. Barrichello pushed Schumacher, ultimately outqualifying him by a hundredth of a second, while both Ferraris were trumped at the last minute by a Montoya lap that seemed to come from nowhere. Ralf Schumacher, who had looked to have the edge over his Colombian team mate up until that point, would line up fourth ahead of the two McLarens. Mika Salo got Toyota's best qualifying result of the season so far in lining up eighth, alongside Trulli. To a certain extent he benefited from others misfortunes. Button lost a lot of time with a blown engine, while the Jordans which has been so quick in Canada, were nowhere, qualifying fourteenth and seventeenth. Jaguar's new aerodynamic package, of which there were such high hopes, failed to bring any material benefit, and once again all that Niki Lauda et al had to show for the afternoon was the fact that Webber had only outqualified one of their cars. Alex Yoong continued his unimpressive season, looking out of his depth all weekend and failing to make the cut. It seems a terrible waste that the money can't be found to put a proper racing driver in the second Minardi. Justin Wilson or Tomas Enge are two of the possibilities that spring to mind. Enge at least could claim victory in the F3000 race this weekend, while Wilson continues to sit on the sidelines, unable to find anything to drive despite his F3000 title and undoubted talent. Arrows were unable to make the most of their return from apparent oblivion, with Frentzen managing only 16th and Bernoldi 18th. The on-form team was BAR which was more than a little surprising, given how utterly hopeless they had looked just a fortnight ago. Villeneuve made the top ten and Panis wasn't far off. All of which must have added to Eddie Jordan's woes, all told. Whatever, it seemed that Sunday would be a straight fight between the two Ferraris, if their drivers were to be allowed to race each other, and Montoya, if his tyres would enable him to put up a decent fight. Unless of course, it rained in which case, a Ferrari victory was pretty well inevitable, but beyond that it would be a lottery.
The race started dry, but weather forecasters claims that it would stay that way seemed unduly optimistic. Barrichello suffered a repeat of his Barcelona misfortune when his car refused to get away from the grid on the warm up lap, but this time, he was at least able to start from the back of the grid. Alan McNish, at his first, and quite possibly only home Grand Prix was less fortunate, and a clutch problem ensured that his race was over before it started. Increasingly, it looks unlikely that he will be retained by Toyota next year, though his race performances have been consistent, his lack of qualifying pace next to the not particularly highly rated Mika Salo has probably done for his career. If he comes into money maybe he could take over the second Minardi seat, where he would certainly do a better job than the current incumbent can manage.
For seventeen laps, fans were treated to a very hard fought battle between Montoya and Schumacher, as the Colombian used every trick in the book, and probably a few more aside, to keep Michael behind him. Raikkonen passed Ralf Schumacher for third, the younger Schumacher having a somewhat lacklustre weekend. Coulthard couldn't find a way past, but gave every impression that he would disappear into the distance if he did. Behind them Barrichello was making short work of the rest of the field, with only Button, lying seventh in the Renault, putting up any kind of real resistance. Further down the field, there was a particularly fierce scrap going on over the last five places, fought over by the two Jaguars, Webber's Minardi, Frentzen's Arrows and Massa's Sauber. For men who were fighting over very minor places, they were certainly trying. Massa in particular, seemed to be trying too hard. Over the course of the race he would spin three times.
The rain began to come down much harder at around one third distance. Montoya maintained his lead as the front runners (bar Coulthard who took an ultimately unsuccessful gamble on staying out on dry tyres) pitted for wets. It soon became clear though, that the fight was no longer evenly matched. Schumacher was quickly past Montoya for the lead and lapping several seconds a lap faster. Barrichello didn't have to wait too long to find a way past either. The Ferraris clearly had a grip advantage that, in days past, would have led cynics to mutter darkly about illegal traction control systems. Further down the order, Frentzen was moving through the field very rapidly and now had his Arrows up to seventh, and seemingly moving rather faster than anything in front of it bar the two Ferraris and perhaps Montoya's Williams. I began idly speculating whether Frentzen could run out the winner of the British Grand Prix, if the two Ferraris were to encounter technical problems and it stayed wet. Such a result might not cancel out the team's £70 million debts, but it might at least ensure its short-term survival. Reality soon intervened, and the Cosworth engine that was costing the team so much duly cooked itself as Frentzen challenged Ralf Schumacher for sixth.
The Michelin runners had a terrible time of it. The company had no intermediate tyres worth the name, and consequently the McLarens, Renaults and Ralf Schumacher's Williams began to fall down the order. Only Montoya seemed relatively unaffected, if utterly unable to do anything about the pair of Ferraris in front of him. Coulthard, Button, Trulli and Raikkonen spent much of the race diving in and out of the pits in the desperate hope that Michelin might have something that would provide them with a little grip. The unexpected benefactors of all this were the BAR team, who capitalised on the opportunity rather better than the usual Bridgestone suspects - Jordan and Sauber, to run out fourth and fifth. Frentzen, who was ahead of both of them when he went out must have been cursing his misfortune. Whatever, the end result was 5 valuable points on the board for a team whose credibility was beginning to look seriously questionable, especially after the Nurburgring fiasco. Dave Richards and Jacques Villeneuve even managed briefly to look like they were friends at the end of it all.
Up at the front, Barrichello's attempt to reel in Schumacher came to an end with a spin at Priory which left him dangerously close to Montoya, who was finding rather more grip as the track dried out. At the final pit stops, Barrichello remained ahead, but Montoya was quickly past him at Luffield on their out-lap. Thus we were treated to our second Williams-Ferrari duel of the afternoon. Montoya may have been able, opportunistically, to find a way past Barrichello, but once they were both up to speed, it was clear that the Ferrari was faster. For five laps, the pair fought in close company, before Barrichello finally managed to outbrake Montoya into Copse, at which point he was able to disappear off into the distance.
By this time, though, Schumacher was too far up the road for Barrichello to do anything about him - even if the team were to have let him. Whatever, Michael took his second British Grand Prix victory (won this time on the track and not in the pitlane) and the 60th victory of his career. Perhaps not his greatest ever victory, but deserved one nonetheless. Behind them all, Heidfeld just held off a charging Fisichella in the closing stages to notch up another point for Sauber, while Ralf Schumacher finished a lapped eighth. Coulthard, who had had a disastrous weekend with endless pitstops, several half spins, and a fuel rig problem, finished a distant 11th, ahead only of Pedro De La Rosa's Jaguar. Raikkonen was running well down the order when his Mercedes decided enough was enough in the closing stages and exploded on the exit to Club, while the two Renaults, which had impressed in the dry, but looked lost in the wet, also failed to finish. For all that the battle for the lead fizzled out, it was one of the best motor races of the last few years, and one which categorically proved that overtaking in F1 is not impossible.
To return to racing lines.