2002 Monaco Grand Prix: Feels Like Home
By: Jeremy McMullen
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By: Jeremy McMullen
| Winning the Monaco Grand Prix is certainly something very special within the world of Formula One. Just scoring a victory in the famed race places a racing driver in very special company. So when David Coulthard would make his way through an eventful 2000 Monaco Grand Prix to take the victory it was truly something special. Two years later, and after having lived in Monaco for a few years, it would be like coming home.
A win is a win no matter how one looks at it. In the results there is no explanation of how one earned a win, just that he or she won. This would be the case for David Coulthard at Monaco in 2000. Coulthard had started the race well earning a 3rd place spot on the grid. However, at the start of the race, and throughout nearly half of the race, Coulthard would be stuck behind a much slower Jarno Trulli driving for Jordan. But as is normal at Monaco, overtaking was nearly impossible and the Scot would be left frustrated behind the Jordan while Michael Schumacher disappeared into the distance.
But then, climbing up the hill toward the casino, Trulli's gearbox fails and Coulthard is set free. Immediately David would be on the gas hard and would begin setting fastest lap times in an attempt to haul in Schumacher. Unfortunately, Schumacher had a lead of over thirty seconds when Trulli's troubles promoted DC.
Nonetheless, it would be Coulthard's day as Schumacher would begin fish-tailing coming down the main straight. It was apparent he had problems. He would limp all the way around to the pits and would find out that a cracked exhaust had broken the suspension due to overheating. Once again, Coulthard was promoted. And while it may not have come via wheel-to-wheel racing, he would still take it.
Gift or not, Coulthard would carefully make his way to his first victory at the famous circuit. He didn't feel one bit bad for taking what many would consider a gift. But just two years later, he would earn yet another victory at Formula One's crown jewel race and he would do so in a most deserving fashion.
The 2000 season would be the last time David Coulthard would find himself in contention for the Drivers' World Championship. 2001 would see him as the biggest threat from McLaren-Mercedes but the team was nowhere near the pace of the Ferrari team and Michael Schumacher.
The same would be true in 2002. Over the course of the whole season, which would be seventeen races in length, Ferrari would win all but two of the races. In the races leading up to the Monaco Grand Prix that had been six races and Schumacher had won all but one of them. By the end of the embarrassing Austrian Grand Prix, Schumacher would have a 27 point advantage over Juan Pablo Montoya who was 2nd in the championship standings. In the case of David Coulthard, he only had 10 championship points to Michael's 54. It was clear the season was, by far, not one of the best for the squad from Woking, England and the season was only half over.
Reliability issues would plague the new car. Kimi Raikkonen would only finish in two of the first six races of the 2002 season. Coulthard would have better reliability, but not much as he would fail to finish in two events leading up to Monaco. And compared to Scuderia Ferrari and Williams-BMW it was clear McLaren were lacking top end speed and overall handling. This would not be a good recipe for success coming into one of the narrowest and most difficult of street courses in the world.
Throughout the first six races it was clear that every other team was well off the pace of Ferrari. Were it not for Ralf Schumacher at Imola Ferrari would have a perfect string of victories. But even with Ralf's victory, it was clear Ferrari was the clear favorite, especially heading to the streets of Monaco.
Over the course of his career, at least through 2001, Michael Schumacher had become the new undisputed king of Monaco. His five victories would tie him with the late Graham Hill for the most on the streets of the principality. Following along the line of the former king of Monaco, Aryton Senna, Schumacher had proven to be unbeatable in all kinds of weather. And after having scored five victories already, he would certainly be the favorite as the teams unloaded their cars and equipment in preparation for the 78 lap race on the 26th of May.
Monaco is one of those circuits, perhaps the only one, where mechanical grip would be of much more importance than grip generated by the wings and undertray of a car. Of course, teams would load out just about every possible inch of their car with wings and other devices to help generate more downforce, but the tires would make up a large portion of the grip used around the 2.08 mile circuit.
Michelin would take this to heart and would bring to the race a brand new tire. And as the teams headed out onto the circuit for the first practice on Thursday it seemed apparent those with the new Michelin tires were quite quicker than what they had been in any of the previous races. And so, while Schumacher would be fastest in the first practice he would find his advantage was just about three-tenths of a second over David Coulthard in a McLaren that certainly had not been amongst the fastest throughout the first six races.
Then, in the second practice on Thursday, it would be all Michelins at the top of the timetable. Jarno Trulli would be fastest in a Renault followed by Allan McNish and David Coulthard. McNish and Coulthard both lived in Monaco and clearly were using their local knowledge to good effect.
The two practice session on Saturday would be split. While the Ferrari teammates would lead the way in the first, the top four in the second session would be all cars driving Michelin tires. And once again, Coulthard would be amongst the top three. All of this meant qualifying was going to be a very interesting enterprise, and it had the potential of deciding the race even before it started.
Timing and providence would make the difference around the streets of Monaco during qualifying. It would be easy to be fastest throughout the first half of a lap only to have it all fall apart by the end because of traffic or an accident.
This appeared to be of real concern when Alex Yoong would be the first to hit the track and would promptly put his Minardi into one of the Armco barriers. A good deal of time would be lost in qualifying as a result. But as the front-runners set out to set their first times it was clear a real battle was going to rage for the all-important front row starting positions.
Montoya would set out and would set the fastest time only to have it eclipsed by Coulthard. Rubens Barrichello, Jarno Trulli and Michael Schumacher would each have a moment at the top of the starting grid. However, there was still plenty of time left for the lap times to drop even lower and throw everything back up into the air.
In all, there would be 10 changes as to who would be on pole for the race on Sunday and Montoya and Coulthard would provide the best show as they two would be locked in an impressive duel around the streets. Montoya would set the fastest time and take the pole only to have Coulthard immediately take it back from him. Montoya would then push a little harder and would take it back only to have Coulthard take it back once again. It was a tremendous battle that was, incredibly, leaving Schumacher behind. In the waning minutes, it was Coulthard that had the provisional pole. But at nearly the last moment Montoya would be on one last flier lap. In a last-ditch effort Montoya would manage to pull out just a little more and would take the pole for the race with a lap time of 1:16.676. His lap time would end up beating Coulthard by four-tenths of a second and would be seven-tenths of a second faster than the pole time of the previous year. Nonetheless, Coulthard would also have a front row starting position, which would be very important heading into the race.
A beautiful day was in store for the race. The weather was nice and sunny. The temperature would be nice and mild, perfect for a day of racing around the streets of Monaco.
Coming around at the end of the parade lap, Juan Pablo Montoya would take his place on pole having set a lap time of 1:16.676. Just to his left, and a few back, would be David Coulthard. His lap time of 1:17.068 would be good enough for the 2nd, and final, position on the front row. What's more, the time would push Michael Schumacher to the second row of the grid. Michael's time of 1:17.118 was nearly half a second slower than Montoya and signaled that the Michelin-shod cars clearly had an advantage around the tight city streets.
The lights would begin to illuminate one at a time. With just about each one the revs would come up a little more, then the pause. Awaiting the lights going out, engines are absolutely screaming just aching to launch the car into motion. Out go the lights and the engines dim momentarily before screaming again driving the cars toward Sainte Devote.
Coulthard would look like he was shot out of a gun compared to Montoya as the cars left the line. The two wouldn't even be side-by-side heading into the first turn. Coulthard had the clear advantage and would already be in front as they started the turn into the corner. Schumacher would be tucked right in behind Montoya in 3rd.
Clear of Montoya through Sainte Devote, Coulthard shifted his focus on keeping his car off the Armco barriers and looked strong through the first few laps of the race. Lap after lap David would wield his McLaren-Mercedes MP4/17 through the streets and breakneck speeds but continued to drive error free.
He would need to drive error free as Montoya continued to apply the pressure being just a second adrift. Montoya, however, would have his hands full keeping Michael Schumacher behind him each and every corner of every lap.
The race was going absolutely perfectly for the immigrant from Scotland. It was evident he felt at home on the streets of the tiny principality. He was driving the perfect race. He needed to as it was clear the McLaren didn't have the outright pace to leave the rest of the front-runners behind. His advantage of about a second would remain and he just would not be able to add more to it throughout the first half of the race.
Trying everything he could to get around Montoya, Schumacher would find the going rather rough. It was clear the German's race pace was actually quicker than that of the Colombian's but he just could not get by. But while he could not get by out on the track he still had the opportunity to leap-frog Montoya in the pits. Therefore, the German would be the first of the front-runners to make a pitstop. The move would pay off as Michael would come out ahead of Montoya.
It wouldn't matter all that much. Juan was just a mere couple of laps away from his own pitstop. However, as he powered through Anthony Noghes and up the start/finish straight his engine would let go in a cloud of smoke. His race was over.
Montoya now permanently out of Schumacher's way, he was free to let it all loose in an attempt to overhaul Coulthard at the front of the field. Michael would respond by setting fast lap after fast lap. It was clear to the McLaren team that Coulthard, who was now driving well-worn tires, needed new tires if the team had any hopes of holding on for victory.
The team needed to act quickly. The decision would be made. David would be ordered into the pits earlier than had been originally planned in order to take advantage of the gap it had back to Schumacher after the Ferrari driver's pitstop. Understanding full well the situation, Coulthard would bring his MP4/17 down the pitlane. He would bring it to a stop as the crew swarmed around the car. In less than ten seconds new tires would be on the car and fuel pumped into the tank. Just like that, David was heading back out onto the circuit, and he needed to. As Coulthard emerge from the pitlane, Schumacher was powering his way toward the start/finish line. It was going to be a race into turn one. It was going to likely be the race to determine the outcome of the race.
The McLaren crew had performed brilliantly. Coulthard was on the power and had the advantage of about a second over Schumacher going into Sainte Devote. And like the first half of the race, being in front meant even the faster car behind would likely be prohibited from getting through.
To many spectators, Coulthard had already dodged a bullet a little earlier on in the race. Around the 30th lap of the race, smoke started to become visible from Coulthard's McLaren. Each lap and every time he stepped on the gas the smoke seemed to get worse and worse until it was widely believed everyone was witnessing a Mercedes engine about to blow its top. However, David would continue to carry on. Suddenly, the smoke would stop and the problem seemed to go away. It would later be found that an oil transfer valve was the culprit. Telemetry would point out the problem to the engineers would fixed the problem so that it went away.
Overcoming the worrisome smoke issue, and, keeping Schumacher behind him after the pitstops meant Coulthard had really dodged some bullets but still he emerged unscathed, still in the lead of the race.
If Coulthard had to drive perfectly throughout the first half of the race, he would have to drive even better throughout the later half with Schumacher right up his exhaust. Lacking the horsepower of the Ferrari, David would need to be smooth into, through and out of every single corner. It needed to be a perfect race in order to keep the World Champion behind him. Each and every lap, Coulthard would barely miss an apex, if any, and would continue to frustrate Michael.
Michael, about a second behind, was really in no hurry. He had 6 points in hand and was under no pressure. However, he would continue to just stalk David in hopes in would make a mistake and hand the victory over to him. But David had overcome his fear of the German all the way back in 2000. He would not be pressured into making a mistake.
And he wouldn't. After one hours, forty-five minutes and thirty-nine seconds, Coulthard would cross the finish line for the final time to take his second victory on the streets of Monaco. It had been an absolutely dominating performance. It had been absolutely dominating but not from the perspective of outright speed and leaving the competition well behind. Instead, it was a study in perfection. While Montoya would be fighting hard, touching barriers and overdriving the car to get the absolute most out of it while he was in 2nd place, Coulthard would be out front driving on the limit at every moment but never appearing for one moment to be that hard-pressed. His advantage over Schumacher at the line would be just over a second. Michael's brother Ralf would finish the race in 3rd place over a minute and seventeen seconds behind Coulthard.
It had been the perfect race and David knew it. He would later comment, 'I'm so pleased…I was giving 100 percent all the time. This track is so unforgiving.'
Going back to his victory at the French Grand Prix in 2000, his victory on the streets of Monaco would be one of Coulthard's best drives of his entire career. In an inferior car he had managed as close to the perfect race as one could get on the toughest of circuits. It certainly had shades of Monaco 1992 when Senna held off a much more powerful Nigel Mansell to take victory. It certainly would be a highlight of Coulthard's already successful career. As providence would have it, it would also be one of his final victories, the very last coming at the Australian Grand Prix the following year, once again in an inferior car.
Coulthard's performance in the 2002 Monaco Grand Prix was something very special to behold. Monaco is either loved or hated. But even those that love it can still feel unwelcomed. In 2000, David had been gifted victory as if a wanderer searching for a home. But in May of 2002, he would drive as if were his own, he would drive as if he was the king himself and even the barriers bowed low in his presence. On this day, he had become a citizen. He was home. And it felt good.
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