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The 2002 Japanese GP: Michael Schumacher’s 64th 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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The 2002 season will be remembered as the one where Ferrari truly dominated the proceedings. True, they were good in 2000 and also in 2001, but 2002 catapulted the team to be counted among the Titans. After all, their performance comes close to what Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost achieved in the McLarens of 1988. How many of us remember the other drivers of the 1988 season? Not many, I am sure. Unfortunately, the same would happen with the other teams of the 2002 season.

But let’s be honest, the Williams team and McLarens were good. The three drivers who emerged as the finds of the season—Ralf Schumacher, Juan Pablo Montoya and Kimi Raikkonen—all of them belonged to the said team. The 2002 season may not have gone their way, but they sure made their mark. In fact, all three drivers were good to succeed Schumacher as the next best. But let’s take a moment to talk about the current best.

Michael Schumacher broke and continued breaking all known records built over the years across seasons by different era drivers. Read that again. It was evident that Michael would leave his signature across the board. All known records would now belong to just one driver – Michael Schumacher. And whoever is next in contention to break those records, will be reminded again and again, that it was one great driver who set the bar high across the board.

That said, Michael had some more time to go before he hung his boots. Could he continue his domination in Japan?

Let’s find out.

The 2002 Japanese GP: Qualifying

The final race of the season did not see any let off from Schumacher who powered his way to the top. At one point he was setting the provisional pole laps, but once he hit the final pole time, the other drivers seemed to forget Michael and compete among themselves. It was a funny situation as none of the drivers, including Barrichello, could challenge Michael’s nearly half a second faster pole time.

Take a look at one of Michael’s provisional pole runs:

And this wasn’t even the pole time. He improved more than 1.5 seconds on the recorded time in the video to take the pole. The usual pole specialist team or Ralf and Montoya were nowhere close. In fact, the McLarens were faster.

So, Michael was followed by Barrichello on P2, David Coulthard on P3, Raikkonen on P4, Ralf Schumacher on P5 and Montoya on P6 brought up the top six drivers. The lineup appeared choreographed with the top three teams taking one row each.

The 2002 Japanese GP: Race Day

Once again the start of a Grand Prix in the 2002 season was favourable to the Ferraris as no other cars were fast enough to challenge them. Michael and Barrichello got away clean while the other cars packed up behind Barrichello. However, Rubens soon pulled away from the pack as much as Michael.

The top six cars started in the same order, with the only change being Ralf overtaking Raikkonen. Thereafter, the order remained unchanged until the pitstops. Take a look at the race summary here:

Note: Loud music at the beginning. Turn down the volume a bit until the race starts.

David Coulthard and Ralf Schumacher retired through the race and Kimi came up to third place while Montoya ran in the fourth position. The Ferraris were too far ahead for any of the other cars, and that’s how they ended also.

In fact, Michael slowed the car almost to a stop before crossing the line, and Ruben tucked up behind him to cross the line in a formation. It was a sight and also the sheer domination on display. Despite the cars crawling over the line, neither Raikkonen nor Montoya were close enough to challenge the lead cars.

With that victory, Michael Schumacher brought home his sixty-fourth win and a plethora of other records at the Japanese GP.

How Did the Season End?

After Belgium GP victory, Michael finished second in the Italian and the U.S. GP behind teammate Barrichello. There wasn’t much to read in the Italian GP, but the U.S. GP was of interest. What interest, you ask?

Well, let me explain after you watch this end to the U.S. Grand Prix:

Note: Watch from 0:40 minutes

To this day, I am not sure if Michael gave away the win to Rubens or he expected Rubens to cruise behind him to the finish. It was an exciting end where both cars planned to win side by side with Rubens getting ahead.

Now, when we see the end of the Japanese GP, you start thinking whether Rubens coming behind Michael for the formation finish was what was expected at the U.S. Again all speculations without us knowing what really happened. But it was fun when it did happen.

So, that was curtains down to the 2002 season.

Back to the Pits

Michael had three back-to-back titles, and he was at the top of his game. It made one wonder if his performance would spill over to the next season and if the fans would witness an even more dominant Ferrari team. Would that be the case? We wouldn’t know, but for now, Ferrari team and Michael Schumacher were sure to party through the new year!!

© 2020 S K

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