Not since Jim Clark swept all before him in 1963 has the World Championship been so dominated by one driver. Michael Schumacher and his Ferrari controlled proceedings so much that the drivers' title was wrapped up by mid-season.
The Rory Byrne-designed beauty won 11 of the 15 grands prix that it entered in 2002 and was still good enough to win one of the four grands prix in which it was entered in the following season. The F2002 was again from the pen (computer stylus) of Rory Byrne, with the biggest difference from the F2001 being in the sloping shape of the tail of its sidepods, these punctuated by tall, periscope exhausts. Under the skin, the main change was the introduction of traction control and launch control. Finally, the car was able to receive engine management adjustments from the pits while circulating…
The problem with total excellence in any sport is that it usually belittles the stature of what has been achieved. This was the case in 2002 as, instead of applauding Michael's string of victories, they were adjudged dull. Indeed, such was his superiority that the driver's title was already his as early as the French Grand Prix in July - with six of the 17 grands prix still to run. This wasn't a year in which the promoters could look forward to the massive television ratings that a last-round shoot-out attracts. That the German had also been champion in 2000 and 2001 added to the sense of predictability and viewing figures dropped away. As a result, the fact that he had equalled 1950s' star Juan Manuel Fangio's tally of five world titles went largely ignored.
The only real change among the top squads going into 2002 was that Mika Hakkinen was now on the sidelines, happy to be at home by a lake in Finland, with fellow Finn Kimi Raikkonen taking his seat at McLaren. It wasn't until mid-season, though, that Mika announced that rather than simply taking a sabbatical, he had retired from Formula One. Among the teams hoping to escape from the midfield was Renault, now having metamorphosed from Benetton, with Jenson Button being partnered by Jarno Trulli who had joined from Jordan in a straight swap with Giancarlo Fisichella. Although the Prost team had failed to last the winter, the numbers on the grid were kept up by Toyota and its brand new and very well-funded team.
Ferrari had ended 2001 in control, and Michael Schumacher set the ball rolling in Australia after an extremely dramatic start that saw brother Ralf's Williams fly over the back of Barrichello's pole-sitting Ferrari - the ensuing melee took out six other drivers. Juan Pablo Montoya finished second for Williams. The story of the race, though, was centred on Mark Webber as the Formula One debutant raced home fifth in the little-fancied Minardi.
Ralf made amends in the second round in Malaysia and his victory gave Williams every reason to smile as, with Montoya second, it was their first one-two since 1996. Montoya and Michael Schumacher had clashed at the first corner, with both dropping down the order as a result. Michael had to come in for a new nose and finished third.
Having delayed the introduction of its 2002 chassis until the Brazilian Grand Prix, Ferrari then shocked its rivals by shifting up a gear. Revelling in the balance of the F2002, Michael produced a run of four wins in four grands prix, demoralizing his rivals at Interlagos, Imola, Barcelona and at the A1-Ring. It was at the last of these, though, that Ferrari's top brass ought to have ended up with faces as red as their cars; for this is where they ordered Barrichello - who had been fastest all weekend - to give up what would only have been his second-ever win in Formula One to let Michael through to win. As a result, the FIA reconsidered the role of team orders and how their manipulation could cast the sport in a bad light. As it was, the "win" gave Michael a lead of 27 points over Montoya, 54 to 27.
Looking back at those four races, Montoya would have had every reason to regret running too close to Michael in Brazil. A fifth-place finish behind Ralf, McLaren's David Coulthard and Button's Renault was largely the result of him losing his nose on the opening lap. Ralf put up a brave charge at Imola, but fell to third behind Barrichello as Montoya finished a lacklustre fourth. The Colombian gave it his best shot in Spain finishing second, albeit 35 seconds behind Michael. He was third in Austria, a race remembered for a dreadful shunt in which Nick Heidfeld's Sauber T-boned Takuma Sato's Jordan without serious injury to the Japanese driver.
Having been outgunned early on, McLaren came up trumps at Monaco, with Coulthard getting the jump on poleman Montoya and then leading every lap, with Michael rising to second after Montoya's engine failed. Michael resumed his winning ways in Montreal, chased by Coulthard, with Barrichello third as engine failures left the Williams drivers on the sidelines.
A good start for Barrichello at the newly reshaped Nurburgring and a spin for Michael ensured that the Brazilian triumphed. When Michael won the next race at Silverstone, however, he headed to the French GP with a chance of becoming champion. And that is precisely what happened, as he profited from a slip by Raikkonen that let him into the lead with five laps to go, leaving him with an unassailable tally of 96 points, with Montoya fully 62 points behind.
Michael then took to the re-shaped Hockenheim with aplomb, scoring his first win at the German circuit since 1995. It may have been payback for Austria, but Michael played second fiddle to Barrichello at the Hungaroring, thus easing his team-mate into second place overall as Montoya failed to score.
Perhaps the most notable event in Hungary, however, was the non-appearance of Arrows, after severe financial difficulties meant that the team was never to appear again on the Formula One circuit.
The wins kept coming for Ferrari, as Michael dominated at Spa-Francorchamps. There were two Ferrari drivers on the podium at Monza, too, this time with Barrichello first and Michael second. Eddie Irvine was up there with them in third.
The penultimate race at Indianapolis was another Ferrari one-two, but Michael made a mistake in trying to stage a dead-heat, with Barrichello nosing ahead for victory. Coulthard ran strongly to finish third ahead of Montoya. Michael then completed his season by winning at Suzuka - his 11th win from 17 starts.
Ferrari then found itself in hot water at the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix when it ordered Rubens Barrichello to slow on the run to the finish and let Michael Schumacher through to win. It was unfair on Rubens, but Ferrari said that it was merely doing its job in ensuring that its lead driver gathered the most points available.
Team orders were up for discussion, but they were nothing new. Drivers in the 1950s often shared cars, with a team's lead driver taking over that of a team-mate when their own broke so that they could carry on scoring towards hoped-for championship glory. With cars breaking down frequently, it was seen as the norm. However, when Schumacher was handed that win in Austria, it was not the norm and many said that they would have accepted it had it been in the final round, with the title hanging on the outcome, but this was before the halfway point in the season, with Schumacher enjoying a tally double that of his closest rival. It made Formula One look very silly.
McLaren and Williams take an opposite approach to Ferrari, favouring neither of its drivers, indeed expecting them to race each other until one no longer has a mathematical chance of the title.homeboy Sato scored his first points of the year, finishing in fifth place for Jordan.
Reproduced from The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Formula One published by Carlton Books