2002: Ferrari and the Million Dollar Austrian Mess

Heading to Austria this season, Ferrari are in better shape than they have been for years with Vettel in contention for the Title and the team sitting 2nd in the Constructors. It couldn’t get anymore controversial for Ferrari heading to Austria, although this was the case fifteen years ago.

In 2002, the Austrian Grand Prix was held at the A-1 Ring in Spielberg and was the sixth race of the season. Michael Schumacher was already dominating, with four victories and a third place finish marking the German out as the clear title favourite.

But it was Rubens Barrichello in the other Ferrari who put in a stunning lap in quali, claiming pole by a whopping six-tenths over Schumacher, who could only manage 3rd and was three-tenths quicker than fellow front-row starter Ralf Schumacher in the Williams.

As the race developed, it became clear that Barrichello was putting in a strong enough performance to cause a headache for the Ferrari pit wall, who wanted Schumacher to pick up the maximum points again to strengthen his position at the top of the standings. You’d expect most teams to be happy with a 1-2 finish at any Grand Prix, but Ferrari had to do something quite shortsighted to get Schumacher another win – force Barrichello to give up his victory on the line and allow Schumacher past.

The move was one that the team never needed to make given that at the end of the year, Schumacher would go on to score finish no lower than 2nd for the remaining races and secure 144-points to take the title with a more than comfortable margin. Ferrari would also accrue enough points in the Constructors to equal the sum of the rest of the field. It was an extremely dominant season for Ferrari, tainted by this decision.

On the podium, Schumacher was received with a choir of booing, and handed the first place trophy over to his teammate on the second step of the podium, at least regretting the move in the public ceremony. Ferrari were eventually fined $1m for ignoring the proper podium practices. The move stands as an example to what F1 and racing further afield should never be about – manipulating the result. Fans paid to watch a race and instead they got a circus.

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