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The 2001 F1 Season
Michael’s five-year wait for his first championship with the Ferrari team officially ended in the 2000 season. Ferrari got a double by winning the constructors’ and drivers’ championship in the previous year. The team would want to carry the winning momentum into the 2001 season.
Even before the season started, people were already talking about the 2001 Ferrari being a lot better than the previous one. How good or how fast was anybody’s guess. Despite the rumors about the car, nobody had any doubt that Michael would come out uber-confident for the new season.
Michael always went for the top prize, even when he had a less competitive car, as he did from the 1996 to 1999 seasons. So, it was a foregone conclusion that he would compete strongly in the 2001 season.
It would be easy for Ferrari, given this enthusiasm, to underestimate the competition. That would be the last thing that the Ferrari team would want to do. This time, there might be more than one main competitor. Not only the McLarens but also the Williams-BMW team were looking strong in the practice sessions. Would Michael be able to defend his championship?
Let’s find out.
The 2001 Australian GP Qualifying
The first qualifying session of the 2001 season witnessed Michael Schumacher in a different class. Unlike the 2000 season where there was constant trading of poles between Ferrari and McLaren cars, the 2001 season was mostly between the Ferrari teammates.
Barrichello was the first to set a blistering lap and was a distant first from the other cars on track. It was Michael who eclipsed him and continued to set some impressive lap times. Interestingly, while the McLaren team came close to the time, they hardly bothered Michael much. In fact, Barrichello was faster than the fastest McLaren, indicating Ferrari had come out with a competitive package. That hypothesis was soon proved right as the Ferraris locked out the front row.
Michael Schumacher took pole while Rubens Barrichello was on P2 leading Mika Hakkinen, Frentzen, Ralf Schumacher and David Coulthard in the top six. David was more than a second off Michael’s pole position time. For the first time in five years since Michael joined the Ferrari team, it appeared that he would remain unchallenged in the Australian GP.
Would that be the case? Let’s find out.
The 2001 Australian GP – Race Day
The start of the Australian GP was without the usual showdown between the pole position car and others on the track. Michael Schumacher got such a good start that he left the rest of the pack way behind. The challenge then was between the rest of the cars among themselves. Not one race in the 2000 season saw such a great launch at the turn of the lights by Michael Schumacher.
Take a look at the start of the race and a summary of the race:
Barrichello lost his position by the first turn and fought hard to make places, but none was as impressive as David Coulthard in overtaking. At one point, David passed Trulli and Ralf Schumacher together jumping to the fifth position from seventh. He was ballistic. David even had an impressive overtake on Barrichello in the second Ferrari. If Michael was in a league of his own, then so was David.
The race position soon stabilized with Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari in front followed closely by David in the McLaren and Barrichello a distant third. Michael’s lone pitstop did not bother the track positions much, though he did lose it to David, momentarily. The race ended with Michael leading from David by just over a second. Barrichello finished third half-a-minute later.
The race was not all happy endings. Jacques Villeneuve and Ralf had an accident during the race which ended up turning fatal for one of the track marshals, Graham Beveridge. Take a look at the accident.
Note: Video starts from 0:20 minutes.
Nobody knew why Ralf braked almost in the middle of the straight. Maybe he had a problem with the car. That abrupt braking caused Villeneuve to crash into Ralf, and he got launched in the air. Both the drivers were safe though.
The drivers came to know about the fatal accident only after the race, and Michael Schumacher expressed his sadness and condolences during the post-race press conference.
A moment of prayer for the marshal!
Back to the Pits
The 2001 season started on the right note for the Ferrari team, and Michael had an easy drive to the finish. The start was reminiscent of the 2000 season, except that the Ferrari cars looked even more robust. Would Michael be the champion again? The season had just started, and there was a long way to go to answer that question.
The Next Win..
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