Malaysian GP 2002
MARCH 17, 2002
Malaysian GP, 2002
Ralf gets lucky...
THE BMW WILLIAMS F1 team scored a 1-2 in the Malaysian Grand Prix and took the lead in the FIA Formula 1 Constructors' World Championship. It was, so Ralf Schumacher said, "almost a perfect race" and he admitted that he was "amazed at how quick the car was today". Ralf was delighted, of course. A win is a win but the real story of the Malaysian Grand Prix was not that Ralf won but rather that Juan Pablo Montoya did not for in a perfect world that would have been the result. Montoya was quicker than Ralf all weekend but at the first corner he came to blows with Michael Schumacher ” and suffered at the hands of not only the World Champion but also the FIA stewards. After the race even Michael Schumacher said that he felt that Montoya's "drive-through" penalty had been overly harsh...
"I think we have seen far more extreme situations where nothing has happened," Michael said. We do not seem to have a very consistent situation. That is something we may all want to improve in future."
Montoya was less diplomatic, as one would expect.
"I think it was very unfair," he said. "I gave Michael room, he understeered a bit and touched me and that was it. It was a racing incident. I think that after what happened at the first race they went a bit extreme and I had to take it!"
The first corner clash spoiled what could otherwise have been a great race between the two men who are emerging as the major forces in F1 this year ” as it was expected they would.
At the start Montoya got away faster from his second position on the grid. Michael Schumacher did what one expects him to do and came across the road to block the progress of the Colombian.
"He has done that plenty of times," said Montoya, "and I knew he was going to do it. It was quite predictable. He always does it. So it was just a matter of getting a good start and then being with him in the braking area because I knew that if I could stay on the outside then when we came to the next corner I was going to be on the inside. I was not going to give him a lot of room but I gave him, enough to get around the corner. He understeered a little bit and we hit. It was a racing incident. Very simple. I was fairly pissed off when they gave me the penalty."
In the immediate aftermath of the crash, Montoya was pretty annoyed at Michael Schumacher as well. As he went past the Ferrari, which was hobbling back to the pits, he gesticulated in an irate fashion.
Up in Race Control they had different ideas on the subject (as they often do) and they decided that Montoya was to blame. How they reached this conclusion is something of a mystery but then Nazir Hoosein, the chief steward has a bit of a history of making weird decisions, notably at Silverstone in 1998 after which he lost his licence to be a steward for a year...
The only good thing one can say is that the penalty was not as severe as it might have been. The FIA last winter dreamed up a new penalty called a "drive-through" and this was applied to Montoya. That cost him about 20 seconds. He had of course already lost a chunk of time on the first lap ” around 10 seconds on the leader Rubens Barrichello ” and then there was added time lost as he ducked and weaved through the traffic. This meant that he was half a minute behind Rubens when his debt to society had been paid.
The punt that Montoya received from Michael pushed him wide in the first turn and as he teetered on the edge of the circuit the front of the field went past him ” Barrichello leading Ralf Schumacher, Kimi Raikkonen, David Coulthard, Nick Heidfeld and Jenson Button. Also ahead of Montoya on the road were Jarno Trulli, Giancarlo Fisichella, Mika Salo and Takuma Sato. The first targets took care of each other. At the start of the second lap the two Jordans collided, Sato running into the back of Fisichella. The pair were dicing behind Salo and there is little doubt that Sato made a mistake.
"I am really sorry about what happened," said Sato. "I apologized to Giancarlo immediately after the race and he took it very well which I think says a lot of good things about his character."
"There is no point on dwelling on it," said Fisichella. "I think he has learnt his lesson."
The sound of the engines roaring drowned out any noise of weeping which may have emanated from the Jordan garage. Both cars were eventually repaired and they ran on all afternoon, finishing ninth and 13th but that was not much consolation for the team.
The demise of the Jordan team allowed Montoya to move onto Salo's tail and he quickly dispensed with the Finn. Trulli conveniently disappeared with an engine problem and so Juan Pablo stalked Button and nailed the Englishman on lap 7. He was sixth. Then came the penalty and suddenly he was back down in ninth again with two Toyotas and Button to deal with. The Toyotas were soon out of the way and then Monty had to deal with Heidfeld (which he did on lap 27) Barrichello's Ferrari conveniently expired on lap 40 (although it was clear by then that the Ferrari was beaten anyway) and so Montoya was left with Button in his gunsight. It was a joyful little joust but the result was never much in doubt as the prodigious oomph of the BMW V10 made the Williams a lot quicker than the Renault.
From then on, it was just cruising to the flag half a minute behind Ralf. A Williams 1-2.
Both men were happy enough but actually neither was truly happy. Ralf knew that he would have been beaten but for his brother's indiscretion and Montoya was annoyed because a win had got away from him.
Michael Schumacher had to work hard for his third place but it was well-deserved considering that at the end of the first lap he was back in 21st place ahead of everyone apart from the inevitable Arrows in the pitlane, Heinz-Harald Frentzen having failed to come off the start line again.
Michael drove hard but it was the middle of the race before he was back in the top six and fourth looked like the best he could hope for until the last couple of laps when Button's rear suspension went wrong.
"The car was running on three wheels," said a disappointed Jenson later. "Obviously I am disappointed for myself and the team not to get our first podium but fourth is still a good result."
"He was very unfortunate," Schumacher admitted. "But it was very fortunate for me."
Michael got Jenson on the last lap of the race...
Sauber ended up with points from both cars: Nick Heidfeld taking fifth place and Felipe Massa sixth. The two men were both a lap down at the end but the speed and reliability of the Swiss cars gave an indication that we can expect to see a lot more points this year. The disappointment of Melbourne was, in part at least, forgotten.
Toyota once again did well ” surprisingly so ” with Allan McNish keeping his car on the road and finishing seventh, although he nearly ended up in a sandtrap on lap 15 when he was under pressure from Montoya. Mika Salo also did well, running in the top six early on (while Montoya and Michael Schumacher were carving back through the field). If his electronics had not started to misbehave he might have scored points. Having Michelins obviously helped but it was a good effort from the new team.
The same could not be said for Honda. The engines are clearly underpowered at the moment and while the Jordan seems to be a reasonable chassis, the BAR is clearly not very good. Jacques Villeneuve finished eighth in Malaysia but it was triumph of survival over speed. A technical shake-up will come shortly.
Jaguar had a poor day with Irvine going out with a hydraulic problem after losing time when he had his front wing removed by Alex Yoong, who was not looking in his mirrors. Pedro de la Rosa lost his front wing in an early clash with Olivier Panis but he finished 10th at the end of the day which was rather better than Panis, who had his car grind to a halt early on with a technical problem.
Both Minardis retired without making much of an impression (no surprise there) and the Arrows had a fairly dreadful time again with Frentzen left on the grid at the start although he did eventually join the race several laps down and Bernoldi ran out of fuel just before his first pit stop.
The race was always going to be a battle of the tire companies and on this occasion Bridgestone was outgunned by Michelin, although the fight is still a close one
"Today, I was certainly a bit lucky with the two running into each other," said Ralf, "but the car was simply perfect, the times were there and I could control it from there."