A late race pass in Sunday's French Grand Prix gave Michael Schumacher his fifth World Championship and a place in Formula One history. Schumacher's win, the 61st of his career, gives him the 2002 drivers' championship, and puts him equal with...
A late race pass in Sunday's French Grand Prix gave Michael Schumacher his fifth World Championship and a place in Formula One history.
Schumacher's win, the 61st of his career, gives him the 2002 drivers' championship, and puts him equal with Juan Manuel Fangio's record of five titles, the last of which was earned by the Argentinean driver in 1957. This is Schumacher's third-consecutive drivers' title, and was earned in the shortest amount of time in Formula One history.
"I was just so glad that we have achieved this together with a tremendous team, with people behind who you can just love and can just admire with the effort that they put in, the workload, the motivation they have," said Schumacher. "It's probably wrong to mention names because we are so many of us. I really love all those guys because we have such a great relationship and it's fantastic to achieve this all together. Thank you is very small words for what you have done for me, thank you very much."
Ten years on from Nigel Mansell's record-setting championship run, Schumacher is set to eclipse the Britain's record of Grand Prix wins in a season, nine, which he and Mansell share. Schumacher's win at the 2.64-mile Nevers Magny-Cours circuit was his eighth of the season with six more races to go. Although he downplays his interest in shattering records, explained he is still hungry for success.
Kimi Raikkonen of McLaren-Mercedes had the lead late in the race when he locked his wheels in the final laps on a patch of oil laid down at the Adelaide Hairpin by the retiring Toyota of Allan McNish, the Finnish driver running wide, which allowed Schumacher to make a daring pass.
Although Schumacher made the pass under a yellow flag, McLaren-Mercedes did not challenge the Stewards decision that it was legal. Raikkonen finished second in the race, with his teammate David Coulthard finishing third.
Schumacher now has 96 points in the drivers' standings with six races left to run, and heads to his home race in Germany next weekend as the 2002 world champion. Although he now stands equal to Fangio, the German would not draw comparisons between himself and the Argentinean.
"I feel it is not appropriate to compare these things, at least from my point of view, and I simply enjoy the achievement myself without trying to compare it to someone."
Schumacher's title-challengers, teammate Rubens Barrichello, and Williams-BMW driver Juan Pablo Montoya, failed to score enough points to keep the title chase alive. Barrichello never made it off the grid after his car would not start. Montoya, who was on pole, lead early but faded because of the team's choice of Michelin tire, the Colombian finishing the race in fourth.
Montoya now sits second in the drivers' championship with 34 points. Michael's brother, Ralf Schumacher of Williams-BMW, who has 32 points, is tied for third with Barrichello. Ralf Schumacher finished fifth with Jenson Button of Renault sixth.
Other finishers in the race included Sauber-Petronas' Nick Heidfeld in seventh, the two Minardi-Asiatech drivers Mark Webber in eighth and Alex Yoong in 10th, and Jaguar's Pedro de la Rosa in ninth.
After the race, Barrichello said he had no idea what had transpired to leave him sidelined before the Grand Prix even began. "The engine never fired up, even though we tried everything we could," said the Brazilian. "We changed the steering wheel, tried all the buttons but there was nothing we could do. After what happened to me at the start, I had left the circuit. I was on the plane ready to go when I heard that Michael had won. I felt I had to return to the track, because we are a family and we stick together through thick and thin."
Montoya had made a great start in the race and took an early lead over Michael Schumacher and Raikkonen, the leading trio closely spaced in the early stages. Felipe Massa of Sauber-Petronas also made a great start, too great in fact, for he had jumped the start and was given a drive-through penalty as a result. He then compounded his error by crossing the blend line at the pit exit, resulting in another drive-through penalty.
That blend line would catch out three others, Coulthard, Ralf Schumacher, and Michael. When Michael crossed the pit lane blend line as he exited the pits following his first stop in an attempt to maintain third place, it appeared as if his chance at winning had gone. He had come out of the pits third, which became first when the leaders pitted. As a result of that, though, the German was given a drive-through penalty, which dropped him back down to third.
"I guess it was millimeters rather than centimeters - but anyway, over is over," Schumacher said of the rules violation.
Both Ralf Schumacher and Coulthard had similar drive-through penalties. Montoya, who had been running well, faded after his pit stops, giving the advantage to Raikkonen and Michael Schumacher. "Our tire choice was good in yesterday's hotter conditions but didn't pay off today, in cooler conditions," said the Colombian. "As the race went on, we were loosing grip more and more."
After taking the checkered flag, Michael punched his fists in the air and flicked his car back and forth on the main straight. He later said he didn't expect to take the championship in France.
"I've never been good at these moments to find appropriate words, in all honesty," the German said. "It just has overcome me. I've been very relaxed all weekend. I didn't think about the championship all weekend, honestly, because I sort of felt it's not going to happen here."
Schumacher said the final laps were the hardest. "I think that was the worst five laps I have had in my career because the weight was on my shoulders, the pressure was on not to make mistakes and not do anything wrong."
In Ferrari's home base of Maranello, Italy, about 600 people celebrated the team's victory as they watched the race on a huge screen set up by the team. Ferrari now has 62 point lead in the constructors' championship over Williams-BMW. McLaren-Mercedes is third with 47 points.
Raikkonen, who had his best F1 career finish, described the race as "the most disappointing" of his life. He said he only saw a caution flag at the Adelaide Hairpin, not a flag warning him of slick conditions.
"I haven't had much good luck this year," said Raikkonen. "Of course it was my mistake because I saw only the yellow flag and no oil flag. I am still quite disappointed not to win the race."
Coulthard, who set the fastest lap of the race, said he didn't expect McLaren to run so well in France. "I was surprised by our relative pace to Williams at the beginning of the race and obviously Michael until he was able to get by Montoya," said the Scot, who won for McLaren in Monaco earlier this season. "Just looking at the laps from the end, where our fastest laps are and everything, it is all quite close. It does surprise me. I didn't go into the race thinking we could be so strong but you go in trying to do the best job you can with the tools."
The field on Sunday was the smallest since the 1982 San Marino Grand Prix, with only 19 of 22 cars taking to the grid before the Grand Prix. That became 18 when Barrichello failed to take the start of the race. Arrows Grand Prix failed to qualify for the race, and Giancarlo Fisichella of Jordan-Honda missed qualifying after a big crash in the final practice on Saturday. The Italian, who was not injured, will return for the German Grand Prix to be held on July 28.
For a short time it looked as if Jordan would bring Arrows' driver Heinz-Harald Frentzen, the winner of the 1999 French Grand Prix, into the team for a one-off race as a replacement for Fisichella. Frentzen, who was fired by Jordan a year ago, is still being paid by the team in a settlement that resulted from his being let go from the team. Though the FIA approved the deal, Frentzen could not accept the offer because of unspecified legal problems, Jordan Grand Prix said. Jordan only ran one car for the weekend, that one for Japan's Takuma Sato, who spun out of the Grand Prix on lap 23.
Michael Schumacher will have only a short time to enjoy his fifth title, as the Grand Prix community heads to a newly redesigned Hockenheim this coming weekend. The circuit, once one of the longest on the calendar and known as an engine-breaker, has been turned into a tight and twisty track. And the German driver knows he also does not have the best of track records there, having suffered his only DNF in 2001 at the circuit.