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Features - Year in Review

DECEMBER 6, 2001


Ralf Schumacher, San Marino GP 2001
© The Cahier Archive

Four wins in only the second year of the BMW Williams F1 partnership represented one of the great achievements of the 2002 season. After being away from the F1 winner's rostrum since Jacques Villeneuve triumphed in the 1997 Austrian Grand Prix, Williams was back in the big time thanks to the efforts of Ralf Schumacher and the team's new prodigy Juan Pablo Montoya.

The team started the season with a formidable technical armory, the second generation type P80 BMW V10, 90-degree V10 propelling the aerodynamically much-improved Williams FW23. Williams also had a new deal as F1 returnee Michelin's prime flag carrier a calculated gamble to gain a significant performance edge in the medium-to-long term.

The potential of the new alliance was writ large on the F1 horizon after Montoya, unimpressed by the status of his new track mates, elbowed his way past Michael Schumacher's Ferrari F2001 to lead the Brazilian GP at Interlagos. Montoya might well have won this race had he not been rammed off the road by Jos Verstappen's Arrows, a most unfortunate lapse on the part of the Dutch driver.

Montoya was lauded by the media for his achievement at Interlagos and perhaps some of this ecstatic praise went to his head. Mid-season he slipped into a period of patchy performances and with Ralf Schumacher nailing decisive victories in the San Marino and Canadian Grands Prix, there were worries that the Colombian might need a subtle change of approach to realize his full potential.

Montoya, demonstrated considerable intelligence and self-analysis, went away and re-thought his approach, much to the benefit of the balance of his season. He should have won the German GP at Hockenheim, but an unexpectedly long refuelling stop while he was comfortably in the lead causes a residual heat build-up which the BMW engine was unable to stand. Soon after resuming the race it suffered a valve failure, handing a lucky win to Ralf Schumacher who, rather disingenuously, some felt, tried to suggest that Montoya had in fact pushed too hard and was somehow the architect of his own misfortune.

This was nonsense, of course, since both drivers had their rev limits pre-set to a level some 500rpm down on the maximum and neither man had over-used his car in any way. Montoya eventually delivered his first F1 victory at Monza where Ralf wound up an off-the-pace third, like his brother preoccupied with the events of 11 September.

Neither Williams not BMW were happy with their technical reliability, problems ranging from installation faults such as a broken hydraulic pump which deprived Montoya of victory at Indianapolis to main bearing failures on the BMW engines at Magny-Cours (Montoya) and Silverstone (Schumacher). There were also unacceptable brake cooling problems which led to Ralf Schumacher's retirement in Austria, another race which slipped through the team's fingers.

There were also the wing beam cracks which led to the team's embarrassment at Spa, but given the relative inexperience of the BMW Williams alliance, all in all, it was a good year for the re-emergent British team.