14 April 2002
San Marino GP 2002 - Schu in a class of his own.
By lap 16, the leader was already setting new lap records, knocking a couple of tenths off his brother's existing mark to set the pattern for the race. Only Barrichello's brief spell at the front interrupted Schumacher Sr's serene progress, as he swept into a 14-point championship lead.
That Barrichello could lead at all necessarily required a change of ownership of second place, but the Brazilian was made to wait until he and Ralf Schumacher made their first stops at around half-distance to effect the switch. The long opening stint, allied to the slower-than-expected pace of some drivers, prompted many to suspect that one-stop strategies were being employed in various quarters, but this proved to somewhat wide of the mark.
Both Ferrari and Williams always intended to run both their drivers on two stops, but filled the cars sufficiently to make the halfway point in case a change of plan was required in the early stages.
The Schumachers pitted together - or as close as the expanding gap would permit - and recorded the same stop time. Barrichello and the lacklustre Montoya followed a lap later, but the Brazilian's pace once free of Schumacher's Williams was enough for him to vault ahead of the German when he resumed.
With Raikkonen holding onto fifth, and Montoya slotting back into fourth after his stop, the only other change in the top order was the appearance of Button ahead of Coulthard in sixth. The Scot was already deep into another frustrating race, his McLaren struggling to compete on power with its rivals, but Button was flying. Once free of the two Saubers, which pitted earlier than anyone, he then out-paced his team-mate over the respective in and out-laps surrounding their one-third distance stops to take a clear seventh.
This duly became sixth when Coulthard stopped late, and began a battle between the two Britons that would last until the end of the race. Never close enough on track to really fight for position, both were relying on their pit crews to keep the advantage. Coulthard moved back ahead when Renault effected an early second stop for its charge, only to lose it again when Button's pace gave him enough time to get back in front of the McLaren late in the race.
The outcome would have left Coulthard without a point had it not been for the unexpected demise of team-mate Raikkonen. The Finn appeared in the pits for what many expected to be his second stop of the race, but turned right into the garage, where the MP4-17 was promptly surrounded by engineers and screens. Television replays showed the following Heidfeld avoiding bouncing bodywork, although this has yet to be confirmed as being of McLaren origin.
Coulthard was also fortunate that neither Trulli nor the Saubers were in a position to demote him further. The Italian was hampered by what appeared to be an inferior car to that of his team-mate, while Sauber's early stop policy failed to give either Heidfeld or Massa the opportunity of bypassing the traffic en route to the top six.
Indeed, the luckless Heidfeld, having said that seventh on the grid was as good as pole behind the 'big three' was forced to make stops in all, after the frustration of having to make two in five laps to correct a fuel problem led to a pit-lane speeding violation and a drive-through penalty.
The German eventually came home a disappointed tenth, two places behind his spirited team-mate, who continued to show his attacking nature when camped behind Heidfeld in the opening laps. Despite being able to attain no higher finish than eighth, the Brazilian hunted down Trulli's Renault for the spot in the closing laps to further underline why, if speculation is true, Ferrari are keeping tabs on him.
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