3 March 2002
Australian GP 2002 - Schu escapes to victory.
Michael Schumacher began his title defence in perfect fashion at the Australian Grand Prix, running apparently uncontested to a comfortable 54th career victory, and his third straight 'down under'.
The story of the race could have been somewhat different, however, had it not been for a massive accident at the first corner, which took out eight cars, hobbled others and promoted the unlikely into point-scoring positions.
The 22 drivers on the grid - following Takuma Sato's reinstatement on Saturday - were grateful for a dry track to begin the 2002 season, but failed to make the most of it as they rushed towards the first corner.
Schumacher himself was squeezed out of second spot by polesitting team-mate Rubens Barrichello and brother Ralf, who made a great getaway from third on the grid. Benefiting from the grippier side of the road, both eased ahead of the world champion but, not heeding his call for sense into the first turn, continued to scrap into the braking zone.
Running on a heavier fuel load and cold tyres, Barrichello duly surprised his rival by braking earlier for the corner, having twice moved to defend his line. Ralf, with nowhere left to go, then appeared to miss his braking point completely, vaulting over the Ferrari and skittering into the gravel trap and escape road beyond the corner.
Barrichello, now devoid of his rear wing, spun to a halt, broadside across the road, scattering those in his wake and causing a chain reaction that would decimate the field.
In all, both Saubers, Jenson Button's Renault, Giancarlo Fisichella's Jordan, Olivier Panis' BAR and Allan McNish's Toyota joined the two frontrunners on the injured list, while several others took to the grass and gravel in avoidance. Fortunately, all the drivers directly involved were able to extricate themselves to begin the long jog back to the pits, and all were eager to take the restart.
They were all to be uniformly disappointed too, as the stewards took the decision to deploy the safety car rather than stop the race and risk a repeat on a second start. This left David Coulthard at the head of the field, with Jarno Trulli and Juan Montoya immediately behind him. Michael Schumacher had, with his inevitable luck, found an escape route through the mayhem, as had Kimi Raikkonen, and this pair sandwiched an unlikely looking top ten complement comprising both Jaguars, Sato and the two Minardis, all up from the very back of the grid.
Also counting his lucky stars not to have been involved was Heinz-Harald Frentzen, frantically chasing to make up lost ground having been stranded - along with Arrows team-mate Enrique Bernoldi - on the grid before the formation lap. Both Orange-backed cars were pushed into the pit-lane, from where the German had started - but both would pay for their attempts to capitalise on the carnage.
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