French GP 2002
JULY 21, 2002
French GP, 2002
Michael has greatness thrust upon him...
SHAKESPEARE once wrote that "some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them". Michael Schumacher managed to achieve all three on Sunday at Magny-Cours. He was born with an amazing talent, he has worked hard at his art and on a lot of occasions he has had the luck that it needed to be great. On Sunday Michael equalled Juan Manuel Fangio's record of five World Championship titles and, ironically, this was truly a case of having greatness thrust upon him.
He looked to be on course for victory until, coming out of the pits, he stuck one wheel over the white line at the pit exit. He was one a series of drivers to do the same thing. His penalty was a drive-through and by the time he had done that he was down in third place. Juan Pablo Montoya's challenge faded as his car began to handle oddly and so it was left to Michael and Kimi Raikkonen. It all came to a head just a few laps from the finish when Allan McNish's Toyota blew up and dropped some Esso on the race track. McNish departed the circuit in a spin and when Kimi arrived he did not see the oil, locked up as he tried to keep control of the car and slithered off the racing line in a wide arc. As he came back towards the track Schumacher aimed for the same piece of tarmac. They got there at the same moment but Michael was on the track and Kimi was not. Kimi had to lift off.
Later there were questions about what had happened but Michael did nothing wrong. He saw the opportunity and he grabbed it as he has so often done in his career. After the incident Schumacher radioed the team and asked if he should let Raikkonen ahead again because he was not sure about the passing maneuver but the team told him in several small words that it was not a good idea. And then Michael realized that his dream was about to come true. For the next five laps he suffered, realizing that he had his fifth title in the palm of his hand. He did not want to blow it.
He did not blow it and came home to record what one must say is an amazing achievement. Perhaps one cannot compare different eras in the sport but the domination we have seen his year from Schumacher and Ferrari is a thing to behold. It will not last long and so we should enjoy it while we have it. Formula 1 is a sport which operates in cycles and, soon enough, we will see McLaren or Williams topple the mighty Ferrari. Perhaps a new challenger will emerge from the chasing pack. Who knows? But at the moment we should just enjoy what we have and not say that it is dull racing. Michael may have won eight victories in 11 races but they have all been quite interesting. Perhaps the most impressive thing is that it is 16 races now since Michael did not finish in the points - a new record - and in that time he has won 11 of them. He has been on the podium in every race this year.
We know that the Ferrari is a superior car to that of its rivals, but at Magny-Cours Williams and McLaren looked to be a little bit closer. But were they really? Montoya took pole (as usual) but it was soon clear in the race that he was staying ahead only because the track allows for no overtaking. He took care of this problem by pitting and was in the lead and pulling away when he was given his penalty and dropped back to third place behind Montoya and Kimi Raikkonen. For a few laps the three circulated together and then Montoya pitted and the fight was on between Michael and Kimi.
Overtaking was not possible and so it was down to the pit stops but this time McLaren outdid Ferrari. Raikkonen was on his way to his first Grand Prix victory. But when all is said and done, Raikkonen would not have been there at all if Montoya had not held Michael up in the opening laps so the idea that the McLaren is suddenly a match for the Ferrari is not one which should be discussed openly. If Michael Schumacher had not made his error at the pit exit he would have been so far ahead that he would have had time to stop for tea.
Williams was just not on the pace in the race - as has happened in the recent races. Both drivers struggled more and more as the race went on and so ended up back in fourth and fifth places. Ralf did not help his course with a white line infringement but he was never really offering a real challenge to Montoya.
Coulthard made the same mistake as the two Schumacher Brothers but he lost only time as he was never ahead of Michael and Kimi except when the pits stops were in process.
If anything the chasers had an easier task than normal because once again Rubens Barrichello had all the Ferrari bad luck. His car refused to fire up. And never started the parade lap, let alone the race. Barrichello was very unhappy but when he was on his way home he heard that Michael had won the race and the title and, being a nice fellow, returned to Magny-Cours to join in the celebrations.
For the rest of the grid there was little to celebrate: Jenson Button did what he set out to do and made Renault's decision to dump him next year look like the dodgy decision that it is. But the Renault is not a challenger at the moment and sixth, a lap down, was all that Jenson could do.
The others were only survivors: Nick Heidfeld finished seventh after a race with electronic problems. Mark Webber was eighth and this was a good effort for Minardi with Mark concentrating on the crucial laps before and after his two pit stops. This enabled him to pass Allan McNish's Toyota, which when you stop to think about it, was a very good effort.
The only other finisher was Pedro de la Rosa in 10th place. His race was compromised from the start when he had to take avoiding action to avoid the incident between Olivier Panis and Takuma Sato. After that he was playing catch up. Eddie Irvine would probably have ended up seventh but on the 53rd lap his rear wing fell apart - which was not a great advert for the team - and he went spinning off at the Adelaide Hairpin.