Belgian GP 2002 - Michael romps to record
1 September 2002
Michael Schumacher produced another virtuoso performance at the Belgian Grand Prix to re-write the Formula One record books once again.
At the circuit where he won his first grand prix in 1992, and broke Alain Prost's all-time wins total nine years later, the German added the record for the highest number of victories in one season with his tenth success of 2002. The achievement broke the tie he has held for several years with Nigel Mansell - the man who won the title in the year Schumacher started winning races - and also marked the 50th consecutive event at which Ferrari had placed at least one driver on the podium.
Right from the off, it appeared that nothing was going to stop Schumacher breaking another record at the circuit that has played such a part in his career, and a sixth win in the Ardennes duly came his way with a comfortable lights-to-flag victory.
Starting from pole after his scintillating qualifying session on Saturday, the five-time world champion held on to his advantage as the 20-car field approached La Source for the first time. His task was eased by the scrap in the Ferrari's wake, as Kimi Raikkonen - starting from the front row for the first time - attempted to close the door on Rubens Barrichello, only to see the second Ferrari squeeze through on the inside entering the hairpin.
The Brazilian's move forced Raikkonen to back off slightly, and gave Juan Montoya the opportunity to close in on the rear of the McLaren through Eau Rouge. To the left of all three men, Ralf Schumacher, David Coulthard and Jarno Trulli came closest to contact, with the Renault driver - having already vaulted past the Scot courtesy of his superior launch control - being forced wide by Schumacher's Williams and dropping back behind both his adversaries.
Coulthard, having been least affected by the three-way brush, then carried enough speed through Eau Rouge to draft past Schumacher by Les Combes, allowing the Scot, on harder tyres, to chase after his team-mate. The Ferraris, meanwhile, were already edging out of reach of their rivals, with Schumacher opening out a two-second margin over his own team-mate.
Raikkonen and Montoya were not about to let the scarlet cars get too far ahead but, lacking the pace to stay in touch, their driving became increasingly ragged as they again indulged in a personal battle that began at Hockenheim. This time, however, it was a mistake from Raikkonen which settled the issue, the Finn all but losing the rear of his McLaren through Pouhon on lap two and having no answer to Montoya's charge as he sought to keep the bucking machine on the road. The Colombian was now in prime position to chase the two fleeing Ferraris, but Schumacher had already banged in a new lap record to further extend his advantage over Barrichello.
Tucked in behind the 'big three' teams, Trulli enjoyed a comfortable gap over Eddie Irvine, who held on to his eighth place starting spot on lap one, with Jenson Button - another beneficiary of Renault launch technology - and Mika Salo rounding out the top ten.
The biggest losers at the start were the Honda duo of Olivier Panis and Takuma Sato, who both dropped behind the fast-starting Saubers in 18th and 17th places respectively. While not last of all, the pair quickly moved one place closer to the back when Mark Webber pulled off after four laps with a recurrence of his Minardi's mechanical gremlins.
Further lap records between laps three and 15 established Schumacher as the clear leader as the first round of pit-stops began, but there was still plenty of intrigue back down the field to keep the enthusiastic Spa-Francorchamps crowd entertained.
As in Austria, Jacques Villeneuve was the man on the move in the opening stages, starting his climb by latching onto the tail of Giancarlo Fisichella's similarly-powered Jordan. For several laps, the pair duelled around the 4.3mile circuit before Jacques got close enough to benefit from a tow through Raidillon. Fisichella, however, was not about to make it easy for the Canadian, and pulled off a dubious 'double move' to keep him at bay on lap six. It mattered little, however, for the BAR's better braking ability in the early laps eventually saw Villeneuve duck past the Italian on lap eight as they approached La Source.
To make matters worse for Fisichella, Felipe Massa then used the tow from the Jordan to move ahead of it at Les Combes, having previously disposed of Sauber team-mate Nick Heidfeld in similar fashion. The Brazilian, still smarting from the news that he will not be racing for the Swiss team next season, was among the quickest of the midfield runners early on and, once past Fisichella, quickly closed in on Villeneuve who, in turn had caught up with Allan McNish.
The Scot had gained one place at the start, but quickly lost out again to Jaguar's Pedro de la Rosa. His Toyota appeared to be losing fluids, but managed to fend off Villeneuve's BAR until lap 15, by which time the battle was over eleventh, Button having recently pulled off at Pouhon with a smoking V10.
Massa's pursuit of the BAR was interrupted at the same time by the advent of the first pit-stops, where the Brazilian fared better than fellow stopper Sato, whose right rear wheelnut stuck, dropping the Japanese driver to the back of the field and ruining any hope he had of posting a competitive finish.
The leaders stopped a lap later, with Schumacher being the first to peel off at the revised Bus Stop chicane. The German was stationary for just 8.2secs but this was enough for him to cede the lead for one of only two occasions all afternoon. Team-mate Barrichello stopped exactly a lap later, handing back the advantage with the bonus of another couple of seconds when his fuel hose stuck momentarily.
Ralf Schumacher also stopped at the same time as the Brazilian, emerging in a lowly ninth place, having pitted outside the top six following a spin at Les Combes that allowed Trulli to move into a point-scoring position. Barrichello's problems dropped him as far back as fifth by the time he resumed, but such was his advantage over the chasing pack, he was easily able to regain second spot when Montoya, Raikkonen and Coulthard all stopped in the ensuing laps.
While the leaders were shuffling and reshuffling, two of the early backmarkers saw their races progress in wildly different manners. While Fisichella suddenly popped up into sixth spot, having not stopped with his peers, Anthony Davidson disappeared in a cloud of dust at Pouhon, having snagged the kerb on the way in. Minardi's day thus ended early, with the young Briton joining the luckless Webber on the sidelines.
Fisichella, meanwhile, continued to run in the points until lap 21, when it became apparent that Jordan had opted for a radical one-stop strategy in an effort to move the Italian up from his 14th place grid position. A long single stop, however, dropped Fisi back to 15th, where he became embroiled in a scrap with Honda stablemate Olivier Panis that was only broken up when the pair was lapped by Schumacher's Ferrari.
Almost as soon as the Italian had cleared his pit garage, Sato was back in to begin the second round of stops that saw Schumacher again give up the lead for the briefest of times. Despite now holding a lead in excess of 20secs, the German still emerged from the pit-lane in his team-mate's wake, only to regain top spot a lap later.
While the top two places were seemingly settled - barring a change in the Spa weather, a rare mechanical failure or unpredictable Ferrari team tactics - the rest of the point-scorers - or their positions - remained in doubt right to the end.
The closest battle would be between Montoya and Coulthard, after the Scot managed to get out ahead of Raikkonen on the second round of stops. The Finn, for all his practice pace, had been unable to do anything about JPM and appeared, if anything, to be holding his team-mate up. The Finn's miserable race, in which he ran little higher than fourth, ended not long after Coulthard had emerged from pit-lane in front of him, for his Mercedes engine let go at the top of the hill exiting Eau Rouge.
Coulthard, meanwhile, closed slowly but surely on to the tail of Montoya's Williams, but could not get closer than half a second to the man with whom he had exchanged words in recent press conferences. The pair eventually crossed the line some 18secs behind the cruising Schumacher, and separated by nine-tenths.
Raikkonen's exit, meanwhile, appeared to precipitate a rash of late-race retirements, with Jarno Trulli, elevated safely into the top six by the Finn's demise and pit-lane problems for Ralf Schumacher, pulling off in similar fashion to Renault team-mate Button.
Following hot on the heels - literally - of the Italian, Massa had his engine expire on the main straight, Fisichella saw his strategy go up in flames at Raidillon and Panis lose a third Honda of the weekend at Les Combes. The Frenchman parked up to find himself in good company, for Raikkonen was already installed in the car park, and Pedro de la Rosa was clambering out of his Jaguar after having the rear suspension fail at top speed approaching the corner.
The various problems duly promoted Eddie Irvine into the sixth place that he and Jaguar bosses were praying for after the team's solid qualifying performance, while Mika Salo, Jacques Villeneuve and Allan McNish could all count themselves unlucky not to have been pressing for points. Indeed, the Finn crossed the line just 0.5secs astern of the Jaguar for what would have been his third top six finish of the year. Nick Heidfeld and Takuma Sato rounded out the finishers, although Panis was credited with twelfth at the flag despite walking back to the paddock.
All of which provided a dramatic backdrop to another historic weekend for Michael Schumacher and Ferrari.It may have been a walk in the park for the German but, given the Ardennes scenery, what a park to walk in.
1. Michael Schumacher Germany Ferrari-Ferrari 44 laps 1hr 21min 20.634secs
2. Rubens Barrichello Brazil Ferrari-Ferrari +1.977secs
3. Juan Montoya Colombia Williams-BMW +18.445secs
4. David Coulthard Britain McLaren-Mercedes +19.357secs
5. Ralf Schumacher Germany Williams-BMW +56.440secs
6. Eddie Irvine Britain Jaguar-Cosworth +1min 17.370secs
7. Mika Salo Finland Toyota-Toyota +1min 17.809secs
8. Jacques Villeneuve Canada BAR-Honda +1min 19.855secs
9. Allan McNish Britain Toyota-Toyota +1 lap
10. Nick Heidfeld Germany Sauber-Petronas +1 lap
11. Takuma Sato Japan Jordan-Honda +1 lap
12. Olivier Panis France BAR-Honda +5 laps (not running)
Rtd Giancarlo Fisichella Italy Jordan-Honda 38 laps completed
Rtd Pedro de la Rosa Spain Jaguar-Cosworth 37 laps completed
Rtd Felipe Massa Brazil Sauber-Petronas 37 laps completed
Rtd Kimi Raikkonen Finland McLaren-Mercedes 35 laps completed
Rtd Jarno Trulli Italy Renault-Renault 35 laps completed
Rtd Anthony Davidson Britain Minardi-Asiatech 17 laps completed
Rtd Jenson Button Britain Renault-Renault 10 laps completed
Rtd Mark Webber Australia Minardi-Asiatech 4 laps completed
Michael Schumacher Ferrari-Ferrari 1min 47.176secs lap 16 new lap record