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San Marino GP 2002 - Schu in a class of his own

14 April 2002


Michael Schumacher celebrated becoming the longest-serving Ferrari driver in history by leading a comfortable 1-2 finish for the Scuderia in front of its adoring tifosi.

The German was only briefly headed during the pit-stops - by team-mate Rubens Barrichello - as he cruised to a 17secs win in the San Marino Grand Prix adding a fourth podium finish to those already achieved this season, and extending his world record for victories to 56.

Just as in the previous day's F3000 support race, the top four finished in grid order but, again like the Saturday event, this belied the battle for positions going on in the leader's wake. Unlike the F3000 race, however, most of Sunday's positional alterations took place in the pits.

While Schumacher Sr got away best of all to lead into Tamburello for the first time, it was younger brother Ralf who followed him through the opening corner, having repeated his rapid start of 2001 to slot in behind the Ferrari. Indeed, so quick was Ralf's take-off, he had to lock up his wheels to avoid collecting his sibling in the braking zone.

Barrichello faltered slightly and, despite lining his F2002 up for a straighter run into the curve that ends the main straight, was forced to slot between the two Williams entries, with Juan Montoya also making a slow start in fourth.

Behind the leading quartet, however, both McLaren and Sauber struggled to get away cleanly, with the Renaults of Jarno Trulli and Jenson Button making the most of their superior launch control system to vault past the Swiss cars. Both could have gone further has David Coulthard and Kimi Raikkonen not fanned out across the road, with the Finn slotting into fifth at Tamburello.

The order remained unchanged over the opening ten laps, but Schumacher was already beginning to disappear at the front, easing out an eight-second advantage over his brother. At the other end of the grid, Toyota's Allan McNish was out, his TF102 failing to get off the line after losing all drive when the lights went out.

The Scot was quickly joined on the sidelines by Jordan's Takuma Sato, whose car became stuck in gear on lap five. The Japanese rookie prolonged his departure by making it back to the pits for repairs, but whatever the Jordan mechanics managed to do lasted until the first corner of his return when the 'box refused to select anything other than first.

Jordan's miserable day was compounded when Giancarlo Fisichella pulled off with a similar problem some 14 laps later, but at least the predicted rain did not return to frustrate a team that had shown so much promise ion the wet conditions of Friday.

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.

The retirement list between Fisichella and Raikkonen was filled by Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Mika Salo, Pedro de la Rosa and Olivier Panis, while Eddie Irvine and Enrique Bernoldi added themselves to the list in the closing stages.

There was better news for Jacques Villeneuve, however, who claimed BAR's best finish of the season in seventh, and Mark Webber, who maintained Minardi's position towards the head of the 'laps completed' table as the last finisher in eleventh.

Back at the front, there was little to trouble the other Italian team, with Schumacher clearing his final stop to ease towards a third victory of the year. Only a bobble on Barrichello's second tyre change looked to threaten the 1-2, but Schumacher Jr's Williams was just far enough back to take advantage.

Thus the F2002 retained its 100 per cent winning record, Schumacher extended the target for career wins to 56 with a record fourth at Imola, and Barrichello racked up his first finish of the year. A few good reasons for the tifosi to celebrate.



Results:

1. Michael Schumacher Germany Ferrari-Ferrari 62 laps 1hr 29mins 10.789secs 205.613kph
2. Rubens Barrichello Brazil Ferrari +17.907secs
3. Ralf Schumacher Germany Williams-BMW +19.755secs
4. Juan Pablo Montoya Colombia Williams-BMW +44.725secs
5. Jenson Button Britain Renault-Renault +1min 23.395secs
6. David Coulthard Britain McLaren-Mercedes +1 lap

7. Jacques Villeneuve Canada BAR-Honda +1 lap
8. Felipe Massa Brazil Sauber-Petronas +1 lap
9. Jarno Trulli Italy Renault-Renault +1 lap
10. Nick Heidfeld Germany Sauber-Petronas +1 lap
11. Mark Webber Australia Minardi-Asiatech +2 laps

Rtd Enrique Bernoldi Brazil Arrows-Cosworth 50 laps completed
Rtd Eddie Irvine Britain Jaguar-Cosworth 45 laps completed
Rtd Kimi Raikkonen Finland McLaren-Mercedes 44 laps completed
Rtd Olivier Panis France BAR-Honda 44 laps completed
Rtd Pedro de la Rosa Spain Jaguar-Cosworth 30 laps completed
Rtd Mika Salo Finland Toyota-Toyota 26 laps completed

Rtd Heinz-Harald Frentzen Germany Arrows-Cosworth 25 laps completed
Rtd Giancarlo Fisichella Italy Jordan-Honda 19 laps completed

Rtd Takuma Sato Japan Jordan-Honda 5 laps completed

Rtd Allan McNish Britain Toyota-Toyota 0 laps completed

Dnq Alex Yoong Malaysia Minardi-Asiatech 29 laps completed


Fastest lap: Rubens Barrichello Ferrari-Ferrari 1min 24.170secs new lap record




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