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The 2002 F1 Season
After five races of the 2002 season, Michael Schumacher was storming ahead in the prancing horse. There was no stopping him while Ferrari seemed to have come good with a strong car for the 2002 season. The only worry was the second car of Rubens not finishing in most races. However, a 1-2 finish in Spain kept the hopes alive for what the Ferrari team could achieve.
Despite only Schumacher finishing the races while both the Williams car regularly ending on the podium, the Ferrari team was just about ahead in the constructors. Coming to Austria, Ferrari would be hopeful that they could ensure more podium finishes for Barrichello also. In that sense, their job was well cut out for them.
Austria would allow Michael to continue his strong outing, and hopefully, one more win for the season. But the flip side was that Austria happened to be one of the few circuits where Schumacher had never won. To add to that, Ferrari had to ensure reliability for Rubens’ car.
Could the Austrian GP be different for both Ferrari and Michael Schumacher? Could both Ferrari cars finish and Michael Schumacher win his maiden race on the track?
Let’s find out.
The 2002 Austrian GP: Qualifying
While there was a call to get a reliable car for Rubens Barrichello, Ferrari did just that and that too in style. The only thing was that the car was so good that Barrichello took pole almost with ease. It was not always that a driver took pole when Michael was in a commanding position in a flying Ferrari. So then, what happened?
It was understood after the qualifying that a brake problem prevented Schumacher from going fast. To add to the woes, he remained unlucky with traffic. Michael, in fact, took the spare car for the last run but to no avail. The pole that day belonged to Barrichello.
Here is a look at one of Michael’s pole attempt:
Just before Michael finished his qualifying run in the video, Barrichello had clinched the pole from Ralf Schumacher. While Michael ended up faster than Ralf, he was still P2 behind Barrichello. Of course, the P2 was provisional as Ralf was the one who ended the session on P2.
For the first time since the 2001 Italian GP, Michael would not be on the front row of the grid. He was on P3 about four-tenths of a second faster than Juan Pablo Montoya in the fourth position.
Everyone wondered if Schumacher could start the race from the third position and still go on to win. Let’s find out what happened on race day.
The 2002 Austrian GP: Race Day
Everyone had their eyes on Schumacher to figure out what would happen at the turn of the lights. The start was an impressive one where Schumacher shot ahead of Ralf and more or less kept everyone behind but Barrichello. Barrichello too had a decent start and remained ahead of Schumacher. But both the Ferraris were too fast for the rest of the field, and they opened up quite a gap over the third-placed car.
Around the first couple of laps, it appeared as if Schumacher would catch up with Barrichello and pass him, but that was not to be. Barrichello put up some blistering laps to open up a lead to Schumacher. The general trend continued throughout the race and even after the pits. The two cars were running a race of their own, much like Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna’s McLaren in the 1988 season. However, it was still Rubens leading Michael.
When the penultimate lap came by, it appeared that Rubens would take the chequered flag. However, team orders denied Ruben the win just a few meters from the start-finish line. Take a look at the end of the race and the post-race press conference.
The change in orders caused a furore which refused to die down even after the race. The Ferrari fans booing Schumacher was something no one would have imagined in a thousand years. However, that was the sentiment towards Ferrari as the team orders robbed Barrichello of a well-deserved victory.
Jean Todt ordering the pass was also captured in a rare video. Take a look here:
Note: The video is not in English. Jump to 0:20 minutes for Jean Todt’s team orders (that part is in English).
Now, remember, this was not an era where team communication was broadcast live but remained secretive. So, this video of Jean Todt asking Barrichello to move over is all the more a gold catch. Interestingly, this video grabs the moment Jean Todt passed the order from the pit wall, and not as heard over the radio by the driver. How cool is that? But that said, the end of the race caused a reputation nightmare for Ferrari. This incident led to the FIA disallowing team orders from the 2003 season.
Back to the Pits
Notwithstanding the end, Michael Schumacher got his fifty-eighth career win and the fifth win of the season. Michael further bolstered his position at the top while Juan and Ralf were on the second and third spot, respectively. Ferrari’s hope of Barrichello also finishing the race came true but little did they know that that would involve Rubens going for the win. It was a healthy situation but depended on how the team perceived the outcome.
© 2020 S K