French Grand Prix 2002 - a look back 01 Jul 2003
The 2002 French Grand Prix wrote a new chapter in the history of Formula One for it was here that Michael Schumacher notched up his fifth world championship, putting him on a statistical par with the legendary Juan Manuel Fangio.
The Magny-Cours circuit threw up a good number of surprises and some fantastic racing last year, not to mention numerous drive-through penalties and a good few retirements. But Schumacher overcame it all and, utilising that little bit of luck which always seems to follow him around, took the win - and with it, the championship.
Had Allan McNish's Toyota not expired and strewn oil over the track, the results might well have been different. But when Kimi Raikkonen's attention was taken away from his battle with Michael Schumacher to concentrate on the slippery track and the Toyota sitting by the side of the road, the German launched past the young Finn and drove on to victory. It was, without doubt, the best performance that anyone had seen from Raikkonen at that time, but he would soon declare it to be the worst race he had ever driven.
Such self-deprecation spoke volumes about the Finn's attitude to his sport and ambitions. In the aftermath of the race, while Ferrari and Schumacher celebrated their success, what remained clearest in the mind of fans and journalists alike was that the 2002 French grand prix had not only established Schumacher as one of the all-time greats, but had established Kimi Räikkönen as a definite contender for future success. In the opening race of 2003, the first time since Magny-Cours that the two would be in direct competition again, it was clear that the 2002 French Grand Prix had made Raikkonen grow up. Fast.
For 2003 Magny-Cours features quite a big modification. Following the now reprofiled Chateau d'Eau corner, the cars used to accelerate along a short straight before tackling a tight chicane which was immediately followed by a tight right-hander to take them back onto the start-finish straight.
This year the straight has been lengthened and the chicane moved. The cars will now shoot down the hill and brake hard for the Lycee right-hander before coming to a new chicane which will lead onto the start-finish straight. This new sequence of turns should provide some great overtaking opportunities, not to mention a brand new challenge for the one-lap qualifying format.