Ferrari dominance leaves rivals in its wake
If anyone thought that they could prevent Michael Schumacher from winning two titles in a row, they were fooling themselves. Indeed, the German trounced all-comers, leaving McLaren's David Coulthard as best of the rest.
Michael Schumacher started the year as reigning World Champion. And, unusually for Ferrari, but depressingly for the opposition, the team in red hit the ground running, with Michael winning the opening race in Australia. He followed this up with victory in Malaysia, but this owed a lot to fortune as rain fell just after he'd slipped off the track and out of the lead, with the fitment of intermediate tyres when all others fitted wets proving inspired.
However hard the opposition tried, with both McLaren and Williams getting in on the act, Ferrari remained the team in control and the remainder of Michael's year was one of domination as he won fully seven more times, wrapping up his fourth title as early as the Hungarian GP, with four races still to run.
David Coulthard was consistent in the first two races, then inspired in victory in Brazil, but McLaren's failure to develop its launch control sufficiently left him stranded at the start at Barcelona. David then produced his lap of the year to qualify on pole at Monaco, only to have his launch control fail again, meaning he'd have to start from the back of the grid on this track on which overtaking is so difficult. As at Barcelona, he was restricted to a fifth-place finish, with Michael taking a maximum score both times to stretch his points advantage. Despite winning the French GP, David then spent the rest of the year very much in Michael's wake.
Coulthard's team-mate Mika Hakkinen was seemingly uninspired and not firing on all cylinders. Much of this was down to mechanical failure, and this never hit him harder than at the Spanish GP where he was half a lap away from a dominant win when his car broke, allowing Michael Schumacher through to victory. However, Mika was reinvigorated by winning at Silverstone, then one race after announcing his intention to take a sabbatical, he won again at Indianapolis. Despite Mika's protestations at the final round at Suzuka that he'd be taking just one year out to recharge his batteries, many felt that the curtains had just been drawn on the great Finn's illustrious career.
Rubens Barrichello came out of Michael's shadow more in the second Ferrari. But he was put back in his place when told to cease his pursuit of Coulthard for the lead in the closing laps of the Austrian GP to let Michael through. This Rubens did, grudgingly, coming out of the final corner. Only when Michael had wrapped up the title did the team start to help his challenge to beat Coulthard and Ralf Schumacher to be the season's runner-up. His form picked up noticeably, although strong runs at Monza and Indianapolis didn't produce the points the Brazilian's input deserved, as Coulthard collected sufficient points to end the year as runner-up.
Running on Michelins was always going to be a gamble for the Williams team, as the French tyre manufacturer was making its return to the grand prix scene against the vastly more experienced Bridgestone. However, with ever more powerful engines from BMW, Williams was confident. Off the pace whenever the conditions were cold and wet, they struggled at Imola, until it warmed up and Ralf Schumacher romped clear of the McLarens for his first win. This was repeated at Montreal, and a further win was added at Hockenheim. However, by this stage in the season, new team-mate Juan Pablo Montoya had stopped making mistakes. The Colombian had showed his speed as early as the third race, muscling his way past Michael Schumacher in Brazil, later being deprived of victory at Hockenheim by a delayed pit stop that led to a blown engine. However, the former Champ Car star's day of days came at Indianapolis when he scored what will surely be the first of many wins.
Fourth overall in the Constructors' Cup, went to Sauber in 2001, the little-fancied team surprising everyone by being consistent point-scorers. Equipped with the previous year's Ferrari engines - badged as Petronas engines - they had power aplenty. But the fact that designer Sergio Rinland quit before the opening race didn't augur well for this team that traditionally loses ground through the year through lack of development. However, the chassis was a good one and not only did Nick Heidfeld finally have a car in which to shine, but his rookie team-mate Kimi Raikkonen did too. The Finn arrived with just 23 car races to his name, having bypassed not only Formula 3000 but Formula Three as well. FIA president Max Mosley wasn't happy about this, putting the Finn under observation, but this proved unneccessary when he scored a point on his debut and continued to impress. In fact, so much so that Hakkinen urged McLaren's Ron Dennis to take on his compatriot during his year off in 2002.
Considering that Jordan had hoped to finish at least fourth overall, 2001 was a disappointment. Indeed, they ended up fifth only after Jarno Trulli's disqualification from fourth in the US GP was overturned on a technicality. It was the least that the luckless Italian deserved before effecting a straight swap with Giancarlo Fisichella for 2002. Heinz-Harald Frentzen also left the team, but before the year was out, being dropped to make way for Jean Alesi.
Renault tried to be different in 2001, returning to Formula One with a radical, wide-angle engine in the back of the Benettons of Fisichella and Jenson Button. They were off the pace and their running was restricted, leaving them perilously close to the rear of the grid in the first half of the season. However, Renault upped the power and promise was revealed in the German GP when both scored points. Two races later, in Belgium, Fisichella ran second for much of the race before being demoted to an eventual third by Coulthard. This left everyone sure that when the team was rebranded as Renault for 2002, it would be running much closer to the pace of Formula One's big three: Ferrari, McLaren and Williams. BAR, like Jordan, lacked the ultimate grunt from their Honda engines, but their main worry was the chassis, leaving Jacques Villeneuve and Olivier Panis to scrap for points, although the Canadian twice lucked into a podium position.
Jaguar was another team that failed to shine, with team boss Bobby Rahal being shown the door to make way for Niki Lauda taking sole charge. Eddie Irvine claimed a surprise third at Monaco, but neither he nor Pedro de la Rosa had much else to smile about. Arrows lacked power and budget, but Jos Verstappen often showed well in the early stages of races, although this pace was artificial as he would start the race on a two-stop strategy and thus be running with a light fuel load while others planned to stop just the once.
While the arrival of Australian airline magnate Paul Stoddart brought the finance to save tailenders Minardi, Alain Prost's team spent the season heading for meltdown. Financial top-ups kept it going and the battle for survival continued into the close-season, but the French team folded in the New Year, with various rescue bids doomed for hard-to-understand reasons, meaning that Alesi's hard-won points were to count for nothing. At least the numbers on the grid wouldn't drop in 2002 as their place was being taken by a new team: Toyota.
Reproduced from The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Formula One published by Carlton Books