The 2002 F1 season saw a major change on the grid. Mika Hakkinen opted for a one-year sabbatical (which later turned into permanent retirement), he was replaced by Kimi Raikkonen at Mclaren Mercedes. This effectively ended the Schumacher – Hakkinen rivalry. Michael later claimed that Hakkinen was the driver who brought out the best in him as a competitor.
On the track, though, the pre-season tests gave enough proof that the Ferrari was the car to beat. Also, the Bridgestone tires suited the Ferraris incredibly well and the Michelin based McLaren and Williams were no match when the “Prancing Horse” was in full flow.
Michael won the season opener from Australia by an 18-second gap over Montoya despite starting 2nd. In Malaysia, understeer issues with the Ferrari and a collusion with Montoya’s Williams meant that Michael could finish only at 3rd. The Brazilian Grand Prix saw a Schumacher 1-2 with Michael coming out on top.
The next race from San Marino witnessed the first Ferrari 1-2 for the season and another Michael win. Spain witnessed another Schumi win, this time from Pole. The Austrian Grand Prix saw Michael booed despite winning the race, team orders had dictated Rubens to hand over the lead to Michael on the last lap. Ferrari wanted their Number 1 driver to get maximum points in the race for the title.
The 7th race of the season from Monaco featured a surprise Mclaren win for Coulthard as Michael finished second. Schumacher won his 6th race of the season from Canada fending off the challenge of Montoya. By this stage, it was clear that the title was going Michael’s way, and it was all about finding out how quickly he could wrap things up. Not even half way into the season and he already had a 43 point lead over the Williams of Montoya and brother Ralf. A Williams 1-2 in qualifying turned into a Ferrari 1-2 at the European Grand Prix, with Rubens taking the win. The 10th race of the season was from England and Michael again won by a canter.
The game was over for the remaining field in France. Another Michael win saw him wrap up the title and he was on 96 points, next in standings was Montoya with mere 34 points. A 62 point lead with 6 races to go meant that it was now mathematically impossible to overtake Michael. Michael celebrated his 5th title (equaling Juan Manuel Fangio’s record) by winning his home Grand Prix from Germany.
Hungary celebrated another Ferrari 1-2 with Rubens taking the victory. Michael became the first driver to win 10 races in a season as he won the next race from Belgium, and Rubens, in second, ensured yet another Ferrari 1-2. The Italian Grand Prix was won by Rubens on a 2 stop strategy ahead of Michael who was one a one stopper.
The US Grand Prix saw Michael slowing down on the last lap to allow Rubens to close up to set up a “dead heat”, and he ended up losing the race up losing the race by 11 thousandths of a second, the closest margin ever in F1. Many saw this as Michael’s way of repaying Rubens for what he did in Austria. The final race of the season was from Japan and Michael won his 11th of the season ahead of Rubens.
The domination of Ferrari and especially Michael in the season was scary, to say the least. Michael finished on the podium for all 17 races of the season with only 1 third place. Ferrari – in total – won 15/17 races. Michael finished on 144 points, meaning his total was double the one of 2nd place Rubens. Ferrari’s total 221 points in the Constructors Championship was more than the collective sum of all the other 11 teams. Such domination led to multiple rule changes by the FIA in 2003 in order to increase competition, a direct result of the supremacy of Michael.