On this day… 21st July
For those who think F1 became predictable with the advent of the V6 turbo engines, there was a time not so long ago when others felt the same. And maybe with just cause.
On this day in 2002, Michael Schumacher took his 3rd consecutive Formula One world drivers’ championship, in what was by all accounts a relatively dull French Grand Prix.
Yes, it was just two thirds of the way through July and the championship was over. Schumacher’s closest rival and team mate Rubens Barrichello demonstrated that some things never change in Maranello, when engine failure prevented him from taking to the grid.
Schumacher was cruising to victory, but then he made an uncharacteristic mistake. He touched the white line when exiting the pits and promptly received a stop and go penalty.
With the one lap specialist pole sitter (yes again), Pablo Montoya demonstrating the Williams was great on Saturday and fairly useless on Sunday, this left Michael battling it out from P2 with a young McLaren driver called Kimi Raikkonen, who was set for his maiden F1 win.
Lap after lap the ‘maestro’ failed to pass the yet to be dedicated ‘ice man’ – though to be fair the aerodynamics of the cars and the nature of the Magny Cours circuit meant overtaking was nigh on impossible anyway.
Then with 5 laps to go, an otherwise dour Scot called McNish, inadvertently created the excitement craved by fans. His Toyota gave up the ghost, and disgorged copious litres of Esso across the track.
Kimi happened upon this scene with little time to react, running wide – and Schumacher pounced. The German had track position, so Kimi had to lift, and the rest is history.
Certain quarters of the F1 press were hysterical. “Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them,” wrote one popular publication. Schumacher had equalled Fangio’s long standing record of five Formula One titles.
Ironically, as the events of the race panned out, the win was rather thrust upon Michael Schumacher.
GrandPrix.com commented, “Perhaps one cannot compare different eras in the sport but the domination we have seen his year from Schumacher and Ferrari is a thing to behold. It will not last long and so we should enjoy it while we have it.
Formula 1 is a sport which operates in cycles and, soon enough, we will see McLaren or Williams topple the mighty Ferrari. Perhaps a new challenger will emerge from the chasing pack. Who knows? But at the moment we should just enjoy what we have and not say that it is dull racing.
Michael may have won eight victories in 11 races but they have all been quite interesting. Perhaps the most impressive thing is that it is 16 races now since Michael did not finish in the points – a new record – and in that time he has won 11 of them. He has been on the podium in every race this year”.
Schumacher’s domination was to run for two more years, creating an inimitable streak of 5 consecutive F1 drivers’ world titles and 7 championships in total.
During the ‘Schumacher years’, there was a like for like year on year fall in the global TV viewership of around 23% from 1999-2004. According to the BBC, 57 billion people cumulatively watched F1 in 1999.
Lewis Hamilton’s 2016 win at the British GP took him to four wins for the event and four wins at Silverstone. However, the record for wins in blighty still rests with Jim Clarke, who on this day took the first of
five British Grand Prix victories. Clark had secured pole, took the fastest lap along with the win, though the race at Aintree was described as a rather dull affair.
The home fans were happy anyway as John Surtees claimed P2 joining Clarke on the podium.