Above Image: Ferrari’s enforcement of team orders resulted in one of Formula One’s most infamous moments
Image Source: © Danny Briggs via Wikipedia
The 2002 season saw Michael Schumacher’s supremacy at Ferrari continue, blowing away the competition by finishing every race on the podium and setting a then-record of 11 wins. However, thanks to team orders, one of those wins was severely reputed as team-mate Rubens Barrichello gave way in controversial and infamous circumstances.
Barrichello had dominated most of the practice sessions and unsurprisingly took pole position, more than sixth tenths faster than Michael Schumacher, who was third behind his brother Ralf in second. Juan Pablo Montoya was fourth in the sister Williams-BMW, with Nick Heidfeld fifth for Sauber-Petronas and the McLaren-Mercedes of Kimi Rӓikkӧnen alongside him in sixth.
The opening two laps contained a lot of action across the field. At the start, both Williams’ were sluggish off the line, allowing Michael to take second and Heidfeld pass Ralf around the outside of Turn 1 for third. Jenson Button (Renault) also had a great start, gaining four positions to move into ninth. Felipe Massa (Sauber-Petronas) went wide at Turn 1 and caused damage to his suspension which would in his retirement on Lap 7.
At Turn 2, Jacques Villeneuve (BAR-Honda) loses the rear of the car under braking and bumps into Heinz-Harald Frentzen (Arrows-Asiatech) in the process, forcing the German wide and ruining a good chance to score points having started 11th. Frentzen’s team-mate Enrique Bernoldi was forced to retire after Lap 2 due to a collision, Pedro de la Rosa (Jaguar-Cosworth) failed to complete a single lap because of a throttle linkage issue and Kimi Rӓikkӧnen’s engine blew up on Lap 6.
Back at the front, the Ferrari’s were galloping away and had pull a gap of 14.2 seconds to Ralf Schumacher in third after Heidfeld had dropped to fifth after running wide. As the two drivers traded fastest laps, Villeneuve was on a charge, passing Jarno Trulli (Renault) and Alan McNish (Toyota) in quick succession before overtaking Giancarlo Fisichella (Jordan-Honda) at Turn 1 for ninth on Lap 8. Six laps later, Michael sets the fastest lap of 1:09.914 as he and leader Barrichello approach the backmarkers. Villeneuve continued to demonstrate signs of his former self, passing Button at Turn 3 before doing the same to Mika Salo (Toyota) for seventh at Turn 1. This time though, he must defend on the climb into Turn 2, but the former champion holds position.
On Lap 22, team-mate Olivier Panis spins on the pit straight after his Honda engine is set alight and deceases. Although the Frenchman avoids contacting the wall, the Safety Car is deployed and the first round of pit stops are made. Ferrari have no choice but to stack their cars and Michael concedes second place to Ralf. Villeneuve also pits and drops to 12th. The race restarted on Lap 28, and Heidfeld pulls alongside David Coulthard (McLaren-Mercedes) to attempt an overtake at Turn 2. Like Villeneuve on the opening lap, he loses the rear of the car under braking but unlikely the Canadian, he spins and crashes into the lapped car of Takuma Sato (Jordan-Honda) and narrowly avoids Montoya’s as well.
Despite the heavy impact involved with the crash, both Nick Heidfeld and Takuma Sato escaped without major injuries.
Thankfully, both drivers are well and are taken to the medical centre for check-ups. Team Principal Eddie Jordan talked to pit lane reporter Peter Windsor about what he was told by Professor Sid Watkins: “Prof said it was a miracle, and he should know he was there. There’s not much, you know he is obviously concussed and it was a huge accident. But thankfully, someone up there likes him and he is okay”. Many drivers decided to pit, but Williams keep their cars out on track, as Villeneuve serves a drive through penalty for his first lap incident with former team-mate Frentzen.
The race resumes on Lap 37 and Eddie Irvine (Jaguar-Cosworth) pulls into the pits to retire shortly after with a hydraulics problem. Having regained several places behind the safety car, Villeneuve continue his assault on securing BAR’s first points finish of the season, overtaking Coulthard fifth at Turn 3 on Lap 40. Four laps later, the engines of Trulli and Alex Yoong (Minardi-Asiatech) expire simultaneously at different parts of the track, whilst Minardi’s Mark Webber receives a drive through penalty for ignoring blue flags.
On Lap 47, Ralf pits from second for a full service and re-joins in fifth, just ahead Fisichella. Now in clean air, Montoya put the hammer down to pull a big enough gap to his team-mate ahead of his stop, which he does on Lap 51, and maintains position. A lap later, Villeneuve also pits, and exits in eighth behind Button. Nevertheless, the fifth and sixth placed cars of Fisichella and Coulthard are within three seconds of the Canadian.
Once again, the Ferrari’s trade fastest laps before making their final stops. Barrichello sets a 1:09.320 before pitting with a gap of 4 seconds. Michael stops a lap later and the Brazilian reclaims first place. Yet, Michael continues to push setting a 1:09.298 to close the gap to 2.5 seconds as Jean Todt and Ross Brawn communicate with each other on the pit wall, sparking fear that team orders will be issued. These fears were unfortunately realised when Barrichello slowed significantly to allow Michael passed after the final corner and take the chequered flag. This understandably angered the crowd, who booed the driver as they made their way to the podium.
In the post-race conference, Barrichello was asked if he found it difficult to let Michael by: “I think I had the experience actually, so it wasn’t. I’m not joking and that is something that I’ve been asked. I’ve said nothing and just think of it as a team decision. I’ve just signed a two-year contract with them and I thought I should have respect”
He added: “Well, I mean it’s…I’m going through a period of a very good time in my life. I’m becoming a better person, a better driver so there is no point arguing. My determination will take me more wins and that’s the way I see it, so there is no point arguing its…you saw it. Michael giving me the trophy, I take it home today, but I’m happy for them”
Michael then explained his thoughts on what happened: “Yeah, very obvious, as Rubens pointed out it was a team decision last year. I was sort of involved in the situation because I felt the championship was much more tighter than it was this year. This year I didn’t even think about this and before the race I was asking, I said I don’t believe there’s going to be a team strategy…involved and suddenly they told me he’d move over and…yeah. I mean I’m not very pleased about it either. I think nobody, of us, is honestly happy and we have to look what is the team’s ambitions and the team’s ambition is to win the championship and you have to secure this because you never what is going to happen in the next races. Therefore, well, I have to thanks Rubens because he has done a fantastic race. He has been outstanding all weekend honestly, and this gesture, the way we have done it shows, how we say, the work we do together. The belief we have each other and the relationship to some degree because it’s not natural what he has been doing, the way he’s been doing it and I’m just thankful for him, the points, but I don’t take a lot of joy from the victory”
Michael continued: “In the end of the day, Ferrari itself, there is a top person of Ferrari, Mr. Montezemolo, who goes down to Mr. Todt and so on. Who is the person, I don’t know believe me. The team is investing a lot of money for one sort of target, and imagine in the end it would have been not enough by this amount of points, how stupid would we look? We have always had this philosophy and it is very known to everybody that this is our philosophy, it’s within the sport. Some people may like it, some don’t like it. As I said today, I felt a little bit sorry as well and I’m not really in favour of it but then, you never know what happens in the end, and I’m sure the way Rubens drove today he has a lot of opportunities to secure victories this year. I told him on the podium that the championship is soon finished so we go for real racing and I’m sure he is going to win loads of races”.
As the two Ferrari drivers talked amongst themselves, Montoya discussed the incident involving Heidfeld and Sato: “I really couldn’t see anything. I was turning in, I was on the inside of Sato and the Sauber came backwards right in front of me and saw a huge bang. And I was just really lucky there and that made my race as well. Because my strategy was to be on the hard tyres and we didn’t have the pace we needed to”.