F1 Rewind: 2002 Austrian Grand Prix

As Formula One finally prepares to commence the 2020 season at the Red Bull Ring, Austria, let rewind to the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix which certainly had plenty of thrills and a controversial finish. 

The track in 2002 was known as the A1 Ring using the exact same configuration as present, albeit with a different race weekend format compared to now. 

Four practice sessions were held with two Friday Practice sessions held at one hour time length, whilst two practice sessions took place on the Saturday in 45 minute slots ahead of a hour of qualifying in which drivers could only run 12 laps each. 

 

Practice

The opening practice session caught out various drivers with very little grip available on the dusty track surface, with no cars suffering serious damage as Ferrari’s Rubens Barrichello topped the session by 0.030s from teammate – Michael Schumacher.

FP2 then saw Nick Heidfeld’s session curtailed early due to an alternator fault, whilst others continued to struggle with the dusty track conditions as Michael Schumacher finished top from Barrichello by 0.713s as Ralf Schumacher rounded out the top three. 

Saturday’s opening practice saw the top two of Michael Schumacher and Barrichello remain unchanged, although it would be McLaren’s Kimi Raikkonen who would end the session in third-place ahead of Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Felipe Massa.

The fourth and final practice session of that weekend however saw several drivers visit the gravel trap as Michael Schumacher again topped the timesheet with a new track record of 1m 08.433 from Barrichello and Ralf Schumacher. 

 

Qualifying

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Rubens Barrichello secured his second pole position of the 2002 season with a 1m 08.082, with Ralf Schumacher surprisingly joining him on the front row after Michael Schumacher lost time with a brake issue after using the spare car.

Juan Pablo Montoya meanwhile qualified fourth ahead of the respective Sauber and McLaren cars of Heidfeld, Raikkonen, Massa and David Coulthard who lined up on third and fourth rows of the grid, ahead of Oliver Panis and Mika Salo who rounded out the top ten. 

Frentzen qualified 11th after spinning on oil which sent him into a gravel trap minus some bodywork, whilst Jenson Button could only qualify 13th after traffic hindered his fast laps. 

Minardi duo of Mark Webber and Alex Yoong rounded out the grid in 21st and 22nd positions respectively on the back row. 

 

Race

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Prior to the race-start, McLaren Team Principal – Ron Dennis argued that Ferrari let Barrichello and Michael Schumacher race each other without application of team orders which were applied in the 2001 race. 

Upon the race start, Barrichello made a quick getaway to maintain his lead ahead of Michael Schumacher who overtook his brother Ralf to snatch second as the younger Schumacher then lost third to Heidfeld. 

Further down the field, Pedro de la Rosa retired with a throttle issue before Enrique Bernoldi then collided with Frentzen to end his race in the pits after just one lap, whilst Frentzen then got hit by Jacques Villeneuve to send him briefly into a gravel trap. 

Ferrari meanwhile extended their lead over the chasing pack through the opening stages in a comfortable performance, as BAR-Honda’s Villeneuve received a drive through penalty on lap 23 for his opening lap collision with Frentzen. 

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Panis then brought out the Safety Car just one lap later when he pulled over on the start/finish straight with an engine failure, which sent the car spinning into the centre of the track once the rear wheels locked up. 

Ferrari and Williams therefore opted for different pit stop strategies with the Scuderia putting Barrichello and Michael Schumacher on a double-stack two stopper, whereas Williams placed Ralf Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya on an one stop strategy. 

Ralf however would jump Michael for second on the restart at end of lap 27 but the Safety Car was soon back out, after Heidfeld locked his rear wheels under braking and slid across Turn Two as he collected Takuma Sato’s car in the process. 

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Sato’s car came off worse after Heidfeld’s rear structure and titanium gearbox punctured a hole, sending Sato’s knees into the steering column which broke in half as the Japanese driver was left with soft-tissue damage to his right thigh and squeezed against the head restraint.

Heidfeld meanwhile escaped with a bruised left leg as both drivers were extricated from their cars and airlifted to hospital for x-rays and overnight observations. 

Everyone else pitted apart from the Ferrari and Williams drivers for extra fuel and fresh tyres, prior to the Safety Car ending at the end of lap 36 of which Barrichello led the restart cleanly ahead of Ralf and Michael Schumacher.

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Barrichello then made his second stop on lap 61 with Michael following a lap later, with Scuderia Team principal, Jean Todt then instructing Barrichello on lap 63 to let Schumacher win to boost his title bid.

Todt also advised Barrichello that his contract would be terminated if he didn’t obey the instruction, of which the Brazilian duly followed when he let Schumacher pass upon exit of the final corner by slowing down to give the German victory by 0.182s in a move which angered the booing crowd. 

Montoya rounded out the podium placings ahead of teammate, Ralf Schumacher whilst Giancarlo Fisichella and Coulthard rounded out the top six point paying positions. 

 

Post Race

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As Ferrari rolled into parc ferme and onto the podium, the crowd continued to boo and jeer as Michael Schumacher pushed Barrichello to stand on the top step, before then handing the Brazilian the winner’s trophy after collecting the trophy himself. 

FIA then held a meeting with Ferrari to discuss the controversy and concluded that although the Scuderia hadn’t breached any rules in regards to team order, they had broken rules on podium in terms of Schumacher not mounting the winner’s podium and then giving Barrichello the winner’s trophy. 

FIA eventually handed Ferrari plus Schumacher and Barrichello a $1m fine of which half had to be paid immediately with amount spread equally amongst all parties, whilst the remaining $500k was suspended then eventually dropped after no repeat performance within the following 12 months. 

Team orders were then banned from 2003 until December 2010 when FIA decided to rescind the ruling, following a controversially coded team order from Ferrari to Felipe Massa to let Fernando Alonso pass and win the 2010 German GP. 

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