Michael Schumacher claimed his fifth World Driver's Championship when he won the French Grand Prix at Magny Cours, matching a record set by Juan Manuel Fangio over forty years ago. With an amazing string of eight wins from the eleven races this ...
Michael Schumacher claimed his fifth World Driver's Championship when he won the French Grand Prix at Magny Cours, matching a record set by Juan Manuel Fangio over forty years ago. With an amazing string of eight wins from the eleven races this season, Schumacher also broke the record of the fastest ever won title. Only just over halfway through the racing year --140 days into 210 -- a clearly emotional Schumacher took to the podium to take his record-equaling victory.
While strategy is always to the forefront in races, the most strategic item in the French GP turned out to be a narrow line of white paint. Michael started the race in the spare car, which in warm up he preferred the handling of to his race car. Team mate Rubens Barrichello had no race at all: at the start of the formation lap the Brazilian was stranded up on a front jack while the rest of the grid pulled away.
"Unfortunately I have no idea," said Barrichello when asked what happened shortly afterwards. "With one minute to go, you turn on the car on but it wouldn't turn on. It was different from Silverstone, it just wouldn't turn on at all." Ferrari tried desperate measures to start Barrichello from the pit lane but it was to no avail.
A clean start saw pole-sitter Juan Pablo Montoya gain the lead in the Williams from Michael and McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen, who jumped up to third. A first corner incident saw the sole Jordan of Takuma Sato, BAR's Oliver Panis and Jaguar's Pedro de la Rosa come briefly to grief, but all three managed to continue for a while. Montoya, Michael and Raikkonen set the pace of the day, the three of them exchanging position on the pit stops but Montoya declined after his second stop. The Colombian appeared to struggle with the Michelin tyres and eventually came home fourth.
Raikkonen, aside from Michael's triumphs, was the star of the race. Never letting the leaders get out of his sight, he found himself leading after Michael received a drive through penalty for crossing that narrow line of white paint: the line at the pit lane exit. Four penalties were handed out for that same infringement, three to front runners.
Raikkonen was going strong, a second ahead of Michael and looking like claiming his maiden GP victory until he hit oil from a blown Toyota. Running wide after skidding, he lost the lead to Michael. An irate Ron Dennis, McLaren boss, afterwards claimed Michael had passed under yellow flags but the stewards didn't see it that way. Raikkonen came home second but was obviously disappointed.
David Coulthard also benefited from the white line in a round about way. He received a penalty for crossing it but so did Ralf Schumacher and the resulting shakedown gave Coulthard third and Ralf fifth.
Jenson Button didn't let Renault's announcement yesterday that he would be replaced in 2003 by Fernando Alonso get to him. By far the stronger of the two Renaults all weekend, he drove a solid race to come home sixth. Jarno Trulli, who ran behind his team mate for the duration of his race, retired with engine failure.
Sauber were mainly noticeable for Felipe Massa receiving the first penalty of the day for jumping the start. Unfortunately he compounded it by crossing that ever popular white line at the pit exit on his way out of his drive through, which promptly gave him another one. He ended up retiring with an unknown problem. Nick Heidfeld had an anonymous race and came home seventh.
After the first corner tangle, Sato retired later in the race when he went into a gravel trap. Eddie Irvine's promising qualifying position of ninth came to nothing when his Jaguar suffered a rear wing failure. Luckily Irvine managed to keep it together and retired without any incident. Disappointing as he was running as high as seventh at one point.
"It wasn't so bad," the Irishman said shortly afterwards. "It happened very quickly but it cost me what could have been a points position." Team mate Pedro de la Rosa had an unremarkable race, although he was pulled into the pits briefly to check his rear wing, and finished 9th.
BAR could not repeat their points scoring positions from Silverstone, both Oliver Panis and Jacques Villeneuve failing to finish the Magny Cours race. Panis retired, possibly due to the first corner incident and Villenueve suffered a blown engine.
Toyota faired no better, Mika Salo retiring with an engine on fire and Allan McNish ground to a halt at the side of the track. Minardi's Alex Yoong somehow managed to be half a minute behind Massa, despite the Sauber driver's penalties but Mark Webber put in a fine performance in the midfield and came home eighth.
A very close race over all, less than two seconds separated the top five for most of the duration. McLaren seemed to have the advantage over Williams to make the Michelin tyres work better and very little separated the midfield runners. Congratulations to Michael Schumacher for his fifth world title but the most remarkable thing was that he got a penalty: almost unheard of. Final top six classification: M. Schumacher, Raikkonen, Coulthard, Montoya, R. Schumacher, Button.