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The 2002 French GP: Michael Schumacher’s 61st Career Win

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F1 Enthusiast | Michael Schumacher Fan | Grown to Respect Ayrton Senna | Discovering Past Masters in F1 | Amazed by F1 Cars!

The 2002 F1 Season

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During the qualifying, the Williams cars were one of the fastest on the track, but it was not the same on race day. The cars' lack of reliability kept Montoya or Ralf from launching a strong attack against Michael. To add to the woes, the McLarens weren’t fast either. All this worked in Ferrari’s favour.

So good was Ferrari’s run that Michael was in place to clinch his fifth world title at the French GP. If accomplished, it would be one of the fastest closures to the drivers' title race in any season. However, the McLarens had been looking good in the last few races, and the Williams team were continually seeing the chequered flag, so some challenge would be thrown into the mix. Would the challenge be strong enough to prevent Michael’s victory?

Let’s find out.

The 2002 French GP: Qualifying

Juan Pablo Montoya had earned himself a reputation of being a qualifying specialist as he quite often sat on the pole. Now, it wouldn’t be such a big thing any other season, but when Michael and Barrichello were at their marauding best in the Ferrari, you got to know that only someone special could beat them. And that someone special was Montoya.

It was once again the Columbian beating both the Ferraris by fractions of a second. It was so good that Michael’s repeated attempts at going ahead wasn’t enough. Take a look at one of Michael’s shot at the pole time:

Of course, both Michael and Montoya further improved their times after this attempt. Besides, Montoya once again brought up a time which only he could breach. He was the only driver in the 1:11 minute space while all others qualified in the 1:12 minutes bracket. What a qualifier!!

Michael Schumacher qualified just two-hundredth of a second slower than Montoya while Barrichello another two-tenths of a second behind. Kimi Raikkonen was on P4, thus completing the top four.

All eyes were on Montoya as he was the only one who had a chance of denying Michael a victory and a chance at his fifth world title at the French Grand Prix. Could Montoya stop the Michael juggernaut?

Let’s find out.

The 2002 French GP: Race Day

The 2002 French GP was a déjà-vu for Barrichello. He stalled again as in Britain and had to start at the back. The race started with the front runners getting away cleanly with Montoya leading Michael and Raikkonen. So, good was their battle in the beginning that at one point all the three cars came together to take the first spot.

You can watch that here:

Note: The video is not in English.

While you can watch Michael piling up on Montoya, it is at 1:50 minute mark where all three leading cars came together. But soon they fell back in the same order as at the start. The order then started to shift only after the pitstop. Montoya pitted first, and when Schumacher finished his stop, it was touch-and-go at the exit to the pitlane. Montoya was fast approaching on track, so Michael hurried out of the pitlane and drove over the pit exit line. That was a costly mistake as he had to take a drive-through penalty causing him to fall back to the third spot on track.

You can watch an extended part of the race highlights here:

Michael never backed off and kept pushing further. The next round of pitstops put Raikkonen in the lead with Michael in second place. Raikkonen drove well, and it appeared that Michael’s fifth title would have to wait for another race.

But luck favoured Michael as Raikkonen momentarily lost focus and went wide, allowing Michael enough time to take the lead. From there, it was sprinting to the finish with Raikkonen trying hard to make up for his mistake. The day belonged to Michael as he crossed the finish line taking home the victory and the fifth world title!

To come back from a drive-through penalty and win the race was a tremendous achievement. Michael Schumacher the world champion!

Back to the Pits

Michael did it again and won the championship. The 2002 world title was his third in succession and fifth overall. However, the constructors’ championship remained open, and both Michael and Rubens had to focus on that. So, while the season was over in one part, it was still mighty open on the other end. It was easy to fathom that the constructors’ title would also soon follow from the form that Michael exhibited.

© 2020 S K

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