YEAR IN REVIEW

Introduction: Michael mops them up again; but is Ferrari domination good for business?


Michael Schumacher, Hungarian GP 2001

Michael Schumacher, Hungarian GP 2001 

 © The Cahier Archive

OVER THE NEXT FEW WEEKS GRANDPRIX.COM WILL BE REVIEWING THE 2001 FIA FORMULA ONE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP TEAM BY TEAM. TODAY WE START WITH A GENERAL OVERVIEW.

FERRARI's F1 revival was good for business, said the F1 insiders. The most charismatic brand on the Grand Prix scene for more than half a century, it was obvious that the combination of Michael Schumacher, Ross Brawn, Rory Byrne and engine wizard Paolo Martinelli would eventually crack a World Championship title. Yet it was less certain they would crack two in a row, let alone feel confident enough to predict they had a good chance of scoring a hat trick in 2002.

By any standards, Ferrari had a storming season with Schumi winning nine of the season's 17 races. Baby brother Ralf Schumacher won three for the emergent Williams-BMW-Michelin alliance, while both McLaren-Merc drivers David Coulthard and Mika Hakkinen took two apiece. The final solitary victory fell to Juan Pablo Montoya, arguably the most exciting new talent to emerge in the F1 jungle since Michael himself a decade ago.

Yet F1 in 2001 was about much, much more than the racing. In the future it could be looked back on as a turning point; the year in which Bernie Ecclestone finally began to loosen his 25 year grip on the sport's commercial arm now than 75 per cent of his SLEC empire has been sold to the German Kirch media group.

Simultaneously, the major automobile manufacturers have signalled their firm intention to take a bigger stake in the business. Either an extra share of the commercial cake - which currently stands at 47 per cent of the television income split amongst the top ten teams - is ramped up dramatically, or the car makers go their own way.

In fact what they're saying is that they will bypass Kirch as commercial rights holder and not sign up to a new Concorde Agreement, thereby threatening the deal whereby the FIA leased its commercial rights to Ecclestone for 100 years from 2011 for around $300 million, a one-off payment.

With Ecclestone having sold his business to Kirch, it's now up to the media group to cut a deal with the teams to ensure that they get their money back. And this is clearly set against the backdrop of long-term involvements by the major car companies via their partner teams. The car makers say they are in for the long haul and want their fair share of the commercial cake.

Although F1 continued to offer TV viewers entertainment in the tactical vein which FIA president Max Mosley likens to a game of chess, there was also some lurid wheel-to-wheel moments to sate the appetite of dyed-in-the-wool race fans. Three of those were courtesy of Juan Montoya who, of whom one F1 old hand was heard to remark: "trouble is that nobody's told him you can't overtake in F1."

For those fascinated by statistics it's worth mentioning that Montoya overtook Michael Schumacher three times during the course of the season in the heat of battle, an achievement which Michael never managed to reverse. Not that he needed to, you might rightly observe, since he was usually well ahead of the pack, doing his own thing.

There are many, of course, who feel that F1's overtly tactical dimension simply does not provide enough lively action for the viewers. On the other hand, the slick showmanship, the impeccable presentation and the residual fascination which inevitably attaches to the F1 business saw the FIA World Championship through another compelling season, the first since 1992 in which the World Champion has been anointed as early as the Hungarian GP in August.

Yet however F1's commercial and geographic future may shape up, 2002 will overwhelmingly be recalled as the year in which Michael Schumacher broke most of the records in the history books. With 52 race wins and a record tally of World Championship points, only Fangio's extraordinary record of five title crowns remains to fall to the 32-year old from Kerpen. As it almost certainly will in the fullness of time.

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