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German GP 2002 - Michael completes dream weekend

28 July 2002


If there was one thing Michael Schumacher wanted more than his first pole position at the German Grand Prix, he said, it was to take victory for Ferrari in front of his adoring home crowd.

Already world champion - with six races remaining - and on course to break the tie he shares with Nigel Mansell for the record number of victories in one season, it was little surprise that Schumacher's dream season continued with the perfect weekend at Hockenheim. The maiden pole position arrived on Saturday afternoon, after a breathless scrap for top spot with younger brother Ralf, but there was to be no repeat on race day, as the Ferrari driver romped away to a comfortable German Grand Prix victory.

As the lights went out, Schumacher Sr lit up his rear tyres and was gone, leaving his sibling in the clutches of Ferrari team-mate Rubens Barrichello, who had been forced to start in the spare F2002 after the team suspected a repeat of the gearbox problems he suffered in the last two races. With second and third scrapping hard, the leader was able to pull away at a rate of knots, leaving many to suspect whether the Scuderia had opted for a surprise strategy. As it turned out, however, strategy was the least surprising thing in an eventful race.

From the start, the grid - which already featured one fewer driver than usual, following Alex Yoong's DNQ - was shorn of Heinz-Harald Frentzen, who stalled as the lights disappeared and had to pushed into the pit-lane, where he was eventually restarted. Jarno Trulli then aroused suspicion with a great getaway, but went unpunished, while team-mate Jenson Button joined Pedro de la Rosa in taking to the run-off area at turn one.

After last season, when Luciano Burti took flight, it was with some relief that the entire field made it unscathed through the first two turns but, remarkably, de la Rosa would fail to complete the first flying lap for the second year running. This time, unlike his 2001 assault on Nick Heidfeld, the Spaniard retired with a mechanical problem, leaving the field, temporarily, at 19 cars.

Among the losers at the start was Juan Montoya, who was forced to brake early by Rubens Barrichello ahead of him and had to let Kimi Raikkonen run around the outside of the Williams at turn one, and Jacques Villeneuve, whose eleventh grid slot became 15th in the race by the end of the lap.

Out front, Michael Schumacher was already flying, opening out a two-second advantage over his brother by the end of lap two and banging a string of lap records over the first few tours to give himself some breathing space.

The first three cars soon began lapping more than a second quicker than the rest of the field and, by the end of lap ten, had a comfortable gap back to Raikkonen and Montoya, who were scrapping hard over fourth. The Colombian knew that, even on what appeared to be an off weekend for him, his Williams was clearly faster than the McLaren, and took the situation in hand by challenging Raikkonen into the stadium Unable to seize the inside advantage, the former CART champion duly opted for the outside line into Sachs, giving Raikkonen no room in which reply. Once ahead, Montoya then set off in pursuit of the leaders, only to run by himself for much of the afternoon.

Although Frentzen managed to rejoin the race as the leaders began their third lap, he was destined not to go too much further and, having been lapped by the field not long after he took to the track, was forced to call it quits after 18 tours.

As a result, the German was not able to play a part in perhaps the best action of the season, as positions eight to 15 fought tooth-and-nail in a high-speed train. With the midfield closely matched, and the tricky surface still causing mistakes, the order was ever-changing until the first round of pit-stops interrupted the flow of overtaking moves.

The interest was further spiced by problems for both Renaults, and a strong recovery drive from Villeneuve, who was up to the fringes of the top ten after scything past rivals on consecutive laps. Button, meanwhile, was moving in the opposite direction as, having got up to tenth at the start, he began to suffer differential problems and a loss of power that saw him slip right to the back of the pack. Incredibly, team-mate Trulli also saw his good work off the line go to waste, as his tyres began to go away, leaving him at the mercy of those coveting his initial sixth place.

The Italian was the first to pit, giving up tenth place in the process, but began a process that saw much of the midfield train disintegrate around one-third distance. He also rejoined in front of the chasing Williams of Ralf Schumacher who, having managed to pull out a gap over Barrichello, then had to do it all again as he was held up by the Renault. Naturally displeased, a blue-gloved fist rose from the cockpit of the FW24, earning Trulli a drive-thru penalty for his pains.

By this stage, it was clear that neither Ferrari was running a lighter fuel load, and it wasn't until lap 27 that the leader pulled in for new tyres and fuel. Added to the retirement list by then were Mark Webber, who crawled back to the pit-lane, Allan McNish, who was robbed of a good result by hydraulic failure immediately after his pit-stop, the luckless Button and Jacques Villeneuve, who slowed with engine problems.

With Schumacher's Ferrari stopped, his brother banged in the fastest lap of the race in an attempt to close the gap and seize the lead on his own pit-call but, again, luck was not on Ralf's side. This time, he came across the crawling Villeneuve at the entry to the pits, and lost a couple of seconds before the BAR pulled aside to allow him through. When he rejoined, Ralf was no better off than he had been...

After the top six had pitted, the order remained much the same as it had before, with the McLarens of Raikkonen and David Coulthard giving vain chase to the leaders as their cars failed to reproduce their Magny-Cours form. In an attempt to gain time and ground, Raikkonen even opted not to change tyres on his stop, but was to pay the penalty twelve laps later when his left rear blew approaching the braking area for the new hairpin.

Somehow, the young Finn kept control, wrestling the McLaren back on track before setting off at speed for the pits. In a recreation of the late Gilles Villeneuve's antics, the car quickly shed the offending rubber, causing Raikkonen to take a short cut across gravel and grass before he made it to the garage, where his second pit-stop was duly carried out, albeit dropping him to 14th on the road.

One lap later, any hopes Renault had of salvaging points from what was quickly becoming a race of attrition evaporated when Trulli spun his R202 into the barriers at Sachskurve, and BAR, too, was left to pack up early, when Olivier Panis spun away sixth place at the new second corner.

The second round of stops began on lap 44, with Felipe Massa heading the midfield charge for new boots, but the now strung-out order was not to change much until Barrichello came in for his refill. Incredibly, given his season of misfortune, the Brazilian was kept waiting for some 21secs as the first attempt to refuel went awry, dropping him behind Montoya by the time he rejoined the fray.

Now safe in second place, Ralf opted not to take on tyres as he made one last attempt to catch and pass his brother and repeat his 2001 victory, but almost ran down his 'lollipop man' in his haste to get away. The hesitation when he realised the stop board was about to hit his visor prevented him from making any inroads into the deficit, but he was able to keep his position as team-mate Montoya opted for tyres and fuel.

Enrique Bernoldi joined the list of retirees two laps after his final stop, leaving just twelve cars running with 15 laps to go, but the action was not done there. Eddie Irvine finally called it quits following his third spin, all caused by his traction control malfunctioning, and then a misfire, which sapped the R3 of power. Giancarlo Fisichella, impressive in qualifying and the warm-up, had endured an anonymous race by the time his Honda engine expired, and Raikkonen's eventful day ended with the McLaren heading backwards into the tyres at the final turn.

Engine supplier Mercedes had already suffered the indignity of Coulthard being lapped in front of its brand new corporate grandstand, but the Scot at least went on to salvage fifth from a trying weekend to keep his hat in the ring in the battle for second in the points. Nick Heidfeld, who had qualified poorly in the Sauber, raced maturely, ahead of team-mate Massa, to take the final point. Just nine cars took the chequered flag, with Takuma Sato finishing ahead of Mika Salo's Toyota to round out the order. The Japanese rider was unlucky that, with the points beckoning, the only retirements happened in his wake, and had to settle for his best result since graduating to Formula One.

Just as the positions up front appeared to have been settled, however, an eventful race produced its final twist, with Ralf Schumacher heading for the pits a mere four laps from home. Many suspected that the German's tyre gamble had failed, but it was later revealed that his car was suffering a pneumatic problem which, after quick attention allowed him to return in a podium position.

The race was all about his elder brother, however, as Michael took one further step towards another record. Victory in Hungary would give the German a tenth success in 2002, and sole possession of the title but, in the meantime, with the summer break beckoning, Michael has three quiet weeks to reflect on his dream weekend.



Race result:

1. Michael Schumacher Germany Ferrari-Ferrari 67 laps 1hr 27min 52.078secs
2. Juan Montoya Colombia Williams-BMW +10.503secs
3. Ralf Schumacher Germany Williams-BMW +14.466secs
4. Rubens Barrichello Brazil Ferrari-Ferrari +23.195secs
5. David Coulthard Britain McLaren-Mercedes +1 lap
6. Nick Heidfeld Germany Sauber-Petronas +1 lap

7. Felipe Massa Brazil Sauber-Petronas +1 lap
8. Takuma Sato Japan Jordan-Honda +1 lap
9. Mika Salo Finland Toyota-Toyota +1 lap

Rtd Giancarlo Fisichella Italy Jordan-Honda 59 laps completed
Rtd Eddie Irvine Britain Jaguar-Cosworth 59 laps completed
Rtd Kimi Raikkonen Finland McLaren-Mercedes 57 laps completed
Rtd Enrique Bernoldi Brazil Arrows-Cosworth 48 laps completed
Rtd Olivier Panis France BAR-Honda 39 laps completed
Rtd Jarno Trulli Italy Renault-Renault 36 laps completed
Rtd Jacques Villeneuve Canada BAR-Honda 27 laps completed
Rtd Jenson Button Britain Renault-Renault 24 laps completed
Rtd Allan McNish Britain Toyota-Toyota 23 laps completed
Rtd Mark Webber Australia Minardi-Asiatech 23 laps completed
Rtd Heinz-Harald Frentzen Germany Arrows-Cosworth 18 laps completed
Rtd Pedro de la Rosa Spain Jaguar-Cosworth 0 laps completed

Dnq Alex Yoong Malaysia Minardi-Asiatech

Fastest lap:

Michael Schumacher Ferrari-Ferrari 1min 16.462secs lap 44




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