Schumacher and Ferrari created a magnificent racing machine in the F2002, and employed it to devastating effect. But the manner in which Schumacher took his record fifth championship proved controversial.
From the very first race it was clear that the season would be all about Ferrari. McLaren had switched from Bridgestone tyres to Michelin as they felt the Japanese tyre constructor was giving preferential treatment to the Italian team. Bridgestone were now effectively supplying bespoke tyres for Ferrari, and when they turned up in Melbourne and dominated the race using their 2001 car there was no doubt who was going to be winning the championship.
If the watching public were hoping to at least see a battle between the Ferrari drivers for championship honours, those hopes were blown away at the A1-Ring. Rubens Barrichello dominated the race, then let Schumacher pass him within sight of the flag. The crowd booed the dismal spectacle, and the FIA fined Ferrari for messing with the podium ceremony.
Astonishingly the team did it again at Indianapolis, this time Schumacher letting Barrichello pass him at the line. This was not what the sport needed to be doing in a vitally important market that had never developed a fondness for Formula 1.
Schumacher was already champion by then – he took the title at the French Grand Prix after initial leader Raikkonen ran wide on oil. Never before had the title been won so early in the season. From that point onward Schumacher gifted a series of wins to Barrichello, including Indianapolis, presumably as payback for supporting his championship effort.
Williams’ championship bid failed as once again the car struggled with rear tyre wear. Juan Pablo Montoya set five consecutive pole positions in the middle of the season but couldn’t convert any of them into wins. Ralf Schumacher won in Malaysia, but only after Montoya and the elder Schumacher collided at the first corner.
McLaren won only once as well – David Coulthard taking a well-judged victory at Monaco.
It was a largely unspectacular season of Ferrari dominance. Away from the track Alain Prost’s Grand Prix team had collapsed before the first race. Newcomers Toyota set new standards in F1 preparation by running a year-long test programme in 2001, taking in several Grand Prix venues, and arrived in 2002 to score a point on their debut. Surprisingly they dropped both Mika Salo and Allan McNish at the end of the year.
After a poor season’s racing the FIA resolved to make several regulation changes aimed at spicing up the competition.