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US GP 2002 - Schumacher repays Barrichello favour
29 September 2002
Rubens Barrichello stood on top of the podium at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but his appearance there belied another dominant performance from Michael Schumacher in the United States Grand Prix.
The German controlled the race from start to finish, emerging ahead of his team-mate after both of his scheduled pit-stops and monitoring the gap between them until the final corner, when he casually allowed his F2002 to ride higher than usual on the famous banking to let Barrichello through. Schumacher claimed that, in a season full of records, he was trying to create another by manufacturing a dead-heat, but there were those in the audience who saw it merely as another cynical piece of stage management.
The majority of the 73 laps passed without incident for the Scuderia, with its two cars running 1-2 for the entire race distance. Schumacher got the jump at the start to head Barrichello and David Coulthard - who drew alongside the Brazilian - into turn one. In their wake, the entire field made it through unscathed, but was already chasing the world champion who, with Barrichello in close attendance, began to draw inexorably away.
By the end of the fifth lap, Schumacher had a gap of just over a second back to his team-mate and, although that ebbed and flowed as they navigated the traffic, Barrichello was never within passing distance. Lap records were exchanged with some regularity, such was the pace at the front ahead of the first round of stops, and Coulthard was soon some six seconds and more in arrears.
The Scot's tenure of third place was eased at the end of the opening lap, when the two Williams drivers chasing him tangled coming off the main straight. Ralf Schumacher, ahead, tried to fend off the challenge of team-mate Juan Montoya - who had made a slow start from grid four - but succeeded only in clipping the inside kerb when the Colombian pinched down on him. The corner marker unsettled the rear of the German's FW24 and he spun, tail first towards the second Williams, breaking the wing clean off on Montoya's right corner as the Colombian passed by. Montoya was delayed in the incident, and resumed in seventh, but Ralf would lose an entire lap as the Williams mechanics slaved to fit a new wing, rejoining last of all.
The incident - which is sure to sour relations between the two Williams drivers even further - allowed Jarno Trulli, Kimi Raikkonen and Jacques Villeneuve to move up a place apiece without making a true overtaking move but, further back, the innovative use of Indianapolis' famous banking was providing the capacity crowd with all manner of thrills.
Mika Salo, starting on the last row after a miserable qualifying session, was the man on the move, climbing into the heart of the midfield very early on, while Takuma Sato showed that he can be a force to reckon with as he passed returning veteran Heinz-Harald Frentzen not once, but twice in the space of three corners.
With the long-forgotten art of slipstreaming brought back into vogue by the American layout, Taku drafted up behind the German's Sauber approaching turn one, only to find the road rapidly disappearing from beneath him. Undeterred, the Japanese rookie kept his foot in across the grass, narrowly missing grateful recipient Jenson Button as he rejoined, and proceeded to repass Frentzen at turn three. This time, the move stuck, and Sato was quickly on his way in pursuit of Button and team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella.
Villeneuve ensured that the top six would not be devoid of passing opportunities, however, as, after one rebuffed attempt, he managed to slice past Raikkonen at the beginning of the straight, and quickly closed in on Trulli. Part of the reason for the Canadian's pace was the growing presence of the recovering Montoya in his mirrors, and the Colombian soon returned to the point by also passing Raikkonen, who was exhibiting the first signs of a poorly engine.
Remarkably, not only did the first corner not claim a victim until the second pass, but the race also failed to produce a retirement until half of the field had decided to make its opening stop. The unlucky man was Pedro de la Rosa, who had fallen behind both Minardis early on, before pulling off with a smoking Cosworth. To compound his injury, the Spaniard then took a tumble over the barriers as he was ushered away by the efficient marshals.
The nature of the Indianapolis circuit gave most teams the option of making one or two stops, and much of the mid-race interest lay in discovering who was running what plan. Olivier Panis was the first to show his hand, stopping on lap 21, with team-mate Villeneuve interrupting his pursuit of Trulli to follow suit four laps later.
Ferrari's 2001 event had featured a split decision, with Schumacher stopping once and Barrichello twice, but this time around, both men opted for three short stints. Identical eight second stops punctuated the trade of lap records, but Barrichello, who had lost almost a second while lapping Eddie Irvine and Allan McNish, banged in the quickest lap of the race on his in-lap to ensure he resumed right in his team leader's tracks.
It was also touch and go whether either man would make it out before Coulthard arrived on the scene but, in both cases, a nigh-on 25-second advantage ensured that the Scot remained in third place.
The order further down the field was left more disrupted by the pit-stop window, with Montoya up into fourth when Trulli pitted on lap 29, ahead of Raikkonen and Fisichella. Button, recovering from a poor qualifying session, was on the fringe of a top six place but soon to stop, while Trulli - who was making an early single stop, now had Villeneuve bearing down on him again.
The Villeneuve-Trulli battle was soon the one to recapture the crowd's attention, with the Canadian making a first attempt to pass at turn one only to follow the Sato route to turn three. Three laps to regather himself, and the 1997 world champion tried again, belying his suggestion that his car was not good enough for the race by making the move stick this time around.
The retirement list remained stubbornly at one until the race passed into its second phase, but was quickly populated by both Minardi drivers. While Mark Webber's exit was relatively quiet, the Australian pulling into the pits with disconcerting steering after a race-long battle with Eddie Irvine, team-mate Alex Yoong made a more dramatic statement by obscuring much of the approach to turn one in white smoke, following a comprehensive engine blow-up. To that point, the Malaysian had enjoyed perhaps his best showing in an F1 car, harassing de la Rosa until the Spaniard's retirement and running in close company with his team-mate thereafter.
The last remnants of Asiatech smoke heralded the next round of pit-calls, with the majority of those opting for one stop coming in between laps 42 and 45. Coulthard was the first to stop, dropping momentarily behind team-mate Raikkonen, who continued to plug away despite a down on power Mercedes. When the Finn stopped, DC was promoted back to the final podium position, and his tenure was again eased when the second McLaren expired shortly afterwards.
Prior to his stop, Coulthard had latched onto the tail of the Ferrari train, closing in through the twisty infield section of the circuit where the Scuderia cars were expected to excel over their rivals. his stop interrupted what could have been a fascinating battle, however, and, when both Ferraris stopped just before lap 50, they had enough of an advantage to easily regain the lead.
With the race seemingly in their pocket, Schumacher and Barrichello cut the pace, allowing DC to close again slowly. The man on the move, however, was Montoya, who really had the bit between his teeth as he ran down a podium position he felt would have been his by right had it not been for his team-mate. The Colombian's increased pace, in turn, caused Coulthard to up his, and the gap to the leading pair shrank perhaps a little more than either Ferrarista had anticipated.
The Scuderia remained firmly in control, however, but just as it appeared that Schumacher would be celebrating his eleventh win of the year, the world champion performed what many will regard as a cynical piece of generosity. Whether this was truly the case, or whether the German had wanted, as he claimed, to set up a dead heat, will never be proved, but Barrichello seemed happy enough as he claimed not only a slightly bigger piece of silverware, but also a permanent hold on second place in the championship.
Perhaps now we will get to see a straight race between the pair as the season climaxes in Japan....?
1. Rubens Barrichello Brazil Ferrari-Ferrari 73 laps 1hr 31min 07.934secs
2. Michael Schumacher Germany Ferrari-Ferrari +0.011secs
3. David Coulthard Britain McLaren-Mercedes +7.799secs
4. Juan Montoya Colombia Williams-BMW +9.911secs
5. Jarno Trulli Italy Renault-Renault +56.847secs
6. Jacques Villeneuve Canada BAR-Honda +58.211secs
7. Giancarlo Fisichella Italy Jordan-Honda +1 lap
8. Jenson Button Britain Renault-Renault +1 lap
9. Nick Heidfeld Germany Sauber-Petronas +1 lap
10 Eddie Irvine Britain Jaguar-Cosworth +1 lap
11. Takuma Sato Japan Jordan-Honda +1 lap
12. Olivier Panis France BAR-Honda +1 lap
13. Heinz-Harald Frentzen Germany Sauber-Petronas +2 laps
14. Mika Salo Finland Toyota-Toyota +2 laps
15. Allan McNish Britain Toyota-Toyota +2 laps
16. Ralf Schumacher Germany Williams-BMW +2 laps
Rtd Kimi Raikkonen Finland McLaren-Mercedes 50 laps completed
Rtd Alex Yoong Malaysia Minardi-Asiatech 46 laps completed
Rtd Mark Webber Australia Minardi-Asiatech 38 laps completed
Rtd Pedro de la Rosa Spain Jaguar-Cosworth 27 laps completed
Rubens Barrichello Ferrari 1min 12.738secs lap 27