The name Ferrari will stir up memories of some description for almost every motorsport fan. A global brand name that has won in almost every category it has entered from Formula One, Le Mans and GT racing as well. With multiple championships and an adoring, yet expectant following with the Tifosi being a Ferrari driver can be rewarding and stressful all at once.
So imagine how good it must have been for Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello in 2002 when the F2002 car was launched. The car was a revolutionary development of the previous season F2001 model that won both championships. It was revolutionary mainly in the re development of the gearbox mainly. The team made a new ultra lightweight box made from high strength titanium, reducing the weight by around 15% and lowering the centre of gravity.
But the team were not happy at the start of the season with the aero development of the car, the numbers and gains not showing in the same way as the mechanical gains. So Ferrari actually started the first two races of the year with last years car before introducing the F2002 from the third round in Brazil, initially just for Schumacher before Barrichello got his new car for round four at the San Marino.
What followed was utter dominance. The car was a masterpiece, taking the win on its debut in Brazil with Schumacher while taking a 1-2. In fact this started a run where at least one car finished on the podium for the rest of the season, Schumacher taking a then record 11 wins in one season (1 of them was in the F2001 in Australia) while Barrichello took four wins himself including the Italian Grand Prix in Ferrari’s back yard of Monza.
The dominance of the car was such that in 2002 since its debut in Brazil Schumacher finished every race either 1st or 2nd, securing the title by the French Grand Prix in July, taking his fifth drivers title and tying with Juan Manuel Fangio as the most drivers titles in history. The only race the car didn’t win in 2002 was Monaco while the car didn’t run at Malaysia. Ferrari repeated the trick in 2003, running an updated version of the car in the first four races but it was not to the same success with others having caught up to the Scuderia. The car won the San Marino Grand Prix in 2003 with Schumacher on its final outing meaning that in 19 races it won 15 times in total, securing 11 poles, 15 fastest laps and 28 podiums combined between both cars.
The season is remembered more however for two things. One the dominance seeing many start to get bored with the sport and its predictability, where in general it was Ferrari just doing a better job than the rest. The second was controversy and included Ferrari as well.
The Austrian Grand Prix of 2002 is a dark day in the sport for many. Barrichello was leading most the race before yielding on the final lap to allow Schumacher the win, despite the fact the title was never going to be in doubt. The crowd were furious and the sheepish drivers hit the podium, Schumacher even putting Rubens to the top step but it was all too late. The backlash was felt for weeks and resulted in the banning of team orders from 2003.
The other controversy was the ‘staged’ finish at the US Grand Prix at Indianapolis. Schumacher led most the race with Barrichello no more than 1 to 4 seconds back. Ferrari said pre race that no team orders would be implemented. On the final corner Schumacher slowed down and Barrichello crossed the line first, by 0.011 seconds making it the closest finish to a race since the introduction of nearest thousandth of a second to the timing.
Many seen it as Ferrari bringing the sport into disrepute once again while Schumacher says he was attempting to stage a formation finish that went wrong. But many believe it was Michael repaying Rubens for Austria, especially when Schumacher said “I felt Rubens deserved the win.” in the post race interview.
But regardless of the ins and outs the car was going to win no matter what in 2002 and the stats and records back it up. It was to be one of two highly dominant cars that came from Maranello in three years (we will get to the other one next time).
For Schumacher it was a record tying title and the car played a huge part in this with its amazing design from Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne in what many term the glory years for the Italian side and rightfully takes it place as one of the best we have seen.