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   Sunday, 13 October, 2002, 07:34 GMT 08:34 UK
Schumacher paints F1 red
Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn joins drivers Rubens Barrichello and Michael Schumacher and Williams' Juan Pablo Montoya on the Belgian Grand Prix podium
Only Montoya was a regular challenger to Ferrari

Had it been possible to put a BMW engine in the back of a McLaren and sit Juan Pablo Montoya in it, then there might have been something to watch in Formula One this year.

Combine the best parts of the rest of the field, and Michael Schumacher and Ferrari would have had some serious opposition.

As it was, in Schumacher and the Ferrari F2002, the Italian team had by far the strongest package in the sport, and they duly cantered to their third consecutive championship double.

It was a crushing performance, underlined by the incredible new records established by Schumacher - for the earliest title win and most wins in a season among others.

Ferrari's F2002 swept all before it this season
There was never a threat to Schumacher's number one status

It might not be very romantic to say so, but F1 is all about building the best all-round package - and few teams have ever done that as well as the current Ferrari team.

The F2002 was as superior in its way as the Williams-Renault FW14B that helped Nigel Mansell dominate in 1992.

The difference, though, was that there was an obvious reason for the Williams' domination - it had technological advantages over its rivals like active supension.

The Ferrari, though, was a pretty conventional racing car - just a fantastically good one.

It was not even as if it had the absolute best of everything.

The F2002 chassis, for example, was the best in F1 this year - but McLaren's MP4-17 was not far behind.

Ralf Schumacher (left) and Juan Pablo Montoya congratulate each other on their one-two finish in Malaysia
Ralf Schumacher gave Williams their only win of the year
McLaren, though, had a Mercedes engine, which was a good 60-70bhp shy of Ferrari's for much of the year.

The BMW engine used by Williams, by contrast, was every bit as good as Ferrari's V10 - and probably a little bit better.

But the Williams FW24 chassis was not as good as the Ferrari or the McLaren. It lacked aerodynamic downforce and it used up its tyres too much.

Ferrari also had a tyre advantage with their tailor-made Bridgestones. The Michelins used by McLaren and Williams were rarely a match.

Driver-wise, it was a similar story.

Montoya's tally of seven pole positions suggested that he at least has the pace to worry Schumacher, still unquestionably the finest driver in the world.

Yet the Colombian very rarely had the equipment to do so, and the odd time he did - in Brazil and Malaysia early in the season, for example - he got tangled up with Schumacher.

David Coulthard on his way to victory in Monaco
Coulthard drove superbly to win in Monaco
By no means were those incidents both Montoya's fault, but they betrayed an impetuousness that, while refreshing, will need to be tempered a little before he can realise his true potential.

The F2002 was so good that it was beaten only once all season. Any tarnish on Ferrari's season was self-inflicted by their shameless application of team tactics.

These were employed to such an extent as to both leave a sour taste despite what was undoubtedly a superb achievement, and to make a mockery of the sport.

But if Ferrari handled that aspect of the season with the sensitivity of a charging rhinoceros, it was difficult to fault the way they went about producing as fast a car as possible.

And when you put Schumacher in the best all-round car, the championship is a given.

Moreover, it may be some time before Ferrari face a serious challenge, for both Williams and McLaren are a long way behind.

Williams, as expected, were the most consistent challengers to Ferrari, but only occasionally could they even think about beating them.

Williams' only success came through Ralf Schumacher in Malaysia.

But that was at the beginning of the season, when in successive races the Italian team were still running their 2001 car and then giving the new one its debut.

Jarno Trulli grew stronger as the season progressed
Renault proved best of the rest behind the big three

McLaren had the distinction of being the only team to inflict a defeat on the F2002, thanks to a superbly-judged victory by David Coulthard in Monaco.

McLaren were also absolutely competitive in France - and pretty close at Indianapolis.

Overall, though, the Mercedes-powered team have been slipping slowly back from Ferrari since 2000, when Mika Hakkinen took the title battle to the final race.

The reason for this - largely - is Mercedes.

The German company's Northamptonshire-based engine builder Ilmor has slipped further and further behind in the last two or three years.

The McLaren MP4-17 chassis was reckoned by Coulthard to be the team's best since the MP4-13 that dominated in 1998.

Eddie Irvine spent a lot of time pondering the failings of his Jaguar in 2002
Irvine had a frustrating season with Jaguar

But until Ilmor find a way to close the growing chasm between themselves and BMW and Ferrari, McLaren will struggle to keep up.

These three teams were a country mile clear of the rest, although for a handful of races early in the season, Renault looked capable of upsetting McLaren.

But after four or five Grands Prix they dropped back to a position clear of the rest, but not yet up with the best.

Renault look like the only candidate to challenge the big three in future years, with the possible exception of Toyota, who have a massive budget and made a moderately impressive debut.

Jordan and Sauber stagnated, Jaguar were even more awful than expected, until a late-season rally gave the hint that they may yet get out of the mire.

And Minardi and Arrows are merely battling to hang on - a struggle Arrows appear to have lost.

See also:

21 Jul 02 | Formula One
21 Jul 02 | Formula One
21 Jul 02 | Formula One
11 Oct 02 | Formula One
05 Jul 02 | Formula One
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