As we continue to celebrate the build-up to next weekend’s Australian Grand Prix, let’s rewind the clock and look at another one of our favourite races ‘Down Under’. This one is from ten years ago…
That Michael Schumacher emerged as the race-winner was probably the most unremarkable facet of the entire race weekend. It was expected: the Bridgestone-shod Ferrari simply worked better in the unseasonably cooler conditions in Melbourne than its Michelin-shod rivals, Williams and McLaren. What was perhaps more alarming for the Italian team’s rivals was that they were beaten by a one-year-old car, the championship-winning F2001.
All this aside, what made the weekend so special was that, for the first time since 1994, the local fans had a home-grown driver to cheer for in the form of Mark Webber, making his F1 debut with Paul Stoddart’s little Minardi team.
In the preceding seven years, the team had finished in the points just twice. To say that a points-paying finish was a remote prospect would be a masterstroke of understatement. But that’s exactly what happened: Mark took advantage of a carnage-filled race to claim a joyous fifth place. It was a fairy tale result.
With the season-opener typically providing much in the way of on-track action and unexpected results, and while a first-corner tangle wasn’t uncommon at Albert Park, no one had seen one of the scale we were to witness today.
Starting from third place on the grid, Ralf Schumacher made the best getaway, and was trying to find a way by Rubens Barrichello as the pack rushed towards Turn 1. Rubens defended one way and then the other to keep Ralf at bay, before braking for the first corner.
Whether or not Rubens braked too early – or Ralf too late – we may perhaps never know. But what we remember is the almighty accident that was triggered: Ralf sailed over the top of Rubens and into the kitty litter.
Behind ‘Ralf Air’ there was pandemonium. While Michael Schumacher and Kimi Räikkönen tried to steer clear of the mayhem by taking to the grass, Giancarlo Fisichella (Jordan) tangled with the Saubers of Nick Heidfeld and Felipe Massa. All three suffered race-ending damage, and into the melee piled Jenson Button (Renault), Olivier Panis (BAR) and Allan McNish (Toyota), who were also out.
Jacques Villeneuve (BAR), Mika Salo (Toyota), Takuma Sato, and the two Minardis of Webber and Alex Yoong, along with the two Jaguars of Eddie Irvine and Pedro de la Rosa, managed to pick their way through the mayhem.
The Safety Car was called into action, and behind followed race leader David Coulthard (McLaren), Jarno Trulli (Renault), Juan Pablo Montoya (Williams), Schumacher, Irvine, de la Rosa, Sato, Webber, Yoong, Villeneuve and Räikkönen, who had both made visits to the pits.
The Safety Car peeled off and Coulthard quickly shot off into the lead, while an impulsive Montoya made a meal of trying to pass Trulli at Turn 1, running wide a dropping behind Schumacher.
Schumacher quickly turned the wick up on Trulli, whose Renault simply didn’t have the pace to keep him behind. Try as he might, it was inevitable, but before Schumacher could complete the deed, Trulli suffered a rear suspension failure and his Renault was thrown into the Turn 2 wall. Out came the Safety car once again.
On the Safety Car’s in-lap, Coulthard’s McLaren went into neutral instead of second gear on the penultimate corner, throwing the Scot’s car into the grass. Perhaps confused by it all, Schumacher’s new race lead lasted all of a few hundred metres before an opportunistic Montoya stormed by at Turn 1 to claim the lead.
Montoya was left to battle it out with the recovering Räikkönen, who claimed his first podium finish with third place.
Fourth went to Irvine – who inherited the place from an ailing Coulthard (who would eventually retire when his gearbox would only select sixth gear) – and he was perhaps as surprised as anybody, with Jaguar’s R3 challenger proving to be a poor car from the off.
But all of this had nothing on the story of the day: Webber’s fifth place. Running in eighth place after the first lap, a circumspect Webber fell to tenth as the quicker Villeneuve and Räikkönen worked their way by. But as others fell by the wayside, he found himself in sixth place, which became fifth when Coulthard retired.
He suffered a long pit stop when his fuel flap wouldn’t open, and this left him vulnerable to a fast-closing Salo in the Toyota, who was recovering from his early pit stop to change a rear track rod.
The Finn closed right up to Webber’s Minardi, but the Aussie gamely hung on, and forced Salo into a mistake on the penultimate lap: a clumsy half-spin at Turn 3 that ensured the place was Webber’s, and that he would go down in sporting history.
Ten years on, the result remains Webber’s equal-best finish on home soil, with Albert Park proving to be an almighty bogey circuit for him. Can he finally crack the podium – or even the winner’s circle – ten years on? We’ll have to wait and see!
2002 Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix – Final Classification (58 laps):
|1.||Michael Schumacher||Scuderia Ferrari F2001||58||1:35:36.792||2|
|2.||Juan Pablo Montoya||Williams – BMW FW24||58||+ 18.628||6|
|3.||Kimi Räikkönen||McLaren – Mercedes MP4/17||58||+ 25.067||5|
|4.||Eddie Irvine||Jaguar Racing – Cosworth R3||57||1 lap behind||19|
|5.||Mark Webber||KL Minardi – Asiatech PS02||56||2 laps behind||18|
|6.||Mika Salo||Panasonic Toyota Racing TF102||56||2 laps behind||14|
|7.||Alex Yoong||KL Minardi – Asiatech PS02||55||3 laps behind||21|
|8.||Pedro de la Rosa||Jaguar Racing – Cosworth R3||53||5 laps behind||20|
|DNF.||David Coulthard||McLaren – Mercedes MP4/17||33||Gearbox||4|
|DNF.||Jacques Villeneuve||BAR – Honda 004||27||Rear Wing||13|
|DNF.||Takuma Sato||DHL Jordan – Honda EJ12||12||Electrical||22|
|DNF.||Jarno Trulli||Renault F1 Team R202||8||Accident||7|
|DNF.||Jenson Button||Renault F1 Team R202||0||Damage||11|
|DNF.||Rubens Barrichello||Scuderia Ferrari F2001||0||Pile-Up||1|
|DNF.||Ralf Schumacher||Williams – BMW FW24||0||Pile-Up||3|
|DNF.||Giancarlo Fisichella||DHL Jordan – Honda EJ12||0||Pile-Up||8|
|DNF.||Felipe Massa||Sauber – Petronas C21||0||Pile-Up||9|
|DNF.||Nick Heidfeld||Sauber – Petronas C21||0||Pile-Up||10|
|DNF.||Olivier Panis||BAR – Honda 004||0||Pile-Up||12|
|DNF.||Allan McNish||Panasonic Toyota Racing TF102||0||Pile-Up||16|
|DSQ.||Heinz-Harald Frentzen||Arrows – Cosworth A23||16||Disqualified||15|
|DSQ.||Enrique Bernoldi||Arrows – Cosworth A23||15||Disqualified||17|
|Kimi Räikkönen||McLaren – Mercedes MP4/17||37||1:28.541|
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