F1: The 2001 Season 20 Years On
The 2001 Formula One Season was another year of domination with Michael Schumacher and Ferrari breaking and setting new records. It was the end of the road for some teams, future champions made their debut and where a motorsport icon would commentate for the final time in his career.
Michael Schumacher battled McLaren’s Mika Hakkinen for the previous year’s Championship with Schumacher prevailing making him the first driver to win the title for the Scuderia in 21 long years. However, for 2001, it would be the other McLaren of David Coulthard, who would at first, take the fight to Schumacher.
A win and three podium finishes in the first four races meant that Coulthard’s early season consistency brought him level on points with Schumacher but from then on, the Scot’s title challenge fell apart and he was left in Schumacher’s wake.
A controlled win in Hungary saw Schumacher equal Alain Prost with 51 race wins and with Coulthard finishing in third and now 43 points behind, Schumacher was champion for the fourth time in his career – wrapping up the title four races early.
VICTORY: The whole Ferrari team along with Schumacher celebrate winning both World Championships after their success in Hungary.
In the wake of the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington D.C., Ferrari and other teams on the grid paid respect to the victims of the attacks. The Scuderia removed their cars of all advertising and painted their nose cones black while podium celebrations were cancelled. A reluctant Schumacher took part but felt it was a "bad sign" to be driving so soon and even tried to organise a no-overtaking pact for the first half of the opening lap which failed.
After 17 races, Schumacher ended the year with a record winning margin of 58 points over Coulthard and won an incredible nine times.
Having ended the 20th Century with back-to-back titles in 1998 and in 1999, Hakkinen was seemingly uninspired and not firing on all cylinders. “The Flying Finn”, who Schumacher labelled as his “toughest rival”, suffered from horrible mechanical failure and robbed him of winning in Spain with just half a lap to go. Hakkinen found some form and won round Silverstone in Great Britain and at the penultimate race of the season in the U.S.
The United States GP was to be Hakkinen’s final win of his career while it was the last time fans heard Murray Walker’s legendary commentary. The voice of Formula One started his commentator career in 1948 reporting on motorcycles but it was in 1976 that Walker started to commentate of F1 full-time. His overwhelming enthusiasm, authoritative voice and comical blunders provided much enjoyment for the listening fans while he inspired a new generation of motorsport fanatics.
Hakkinen decided to take a year sabbatical from the sport but by mid-2002, it became a full retirement. Before he left, he had convinced McLaren to sign fellow Finnish driver Kimi Raikkonen for the following year.
Raikkonen made his debut in the sport that year with Sauber but at the time, it was a controversial signing by the Swiss team. “The Iceman” had just 23 race starts to his name in all categories of motorsport and many doubted that he would be ready for the challenge of F1. He proved his doubters wrong by scoring in his first race and ended the season just three points shy of more experienced team-mate Nick Heidfeld. Six years after his debut, Raikkonen would win the 2007 World Championship.
Another future champion who also made his debut in 2001 was Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard’s performances in various junior series prompted back-marker team Minardi to promote him but in such an uncompetitive and unreliable car, Alonso finished a lowly 23rd in the championship. However, there were glimpses of exceptional talent. His one lap pace in Qualifying saw him out-perform the car and qualify higher than more experienced drivers in better cars. He re-wrote the history books in 2005 and 2006 where he became Double World Champion with Renault.
FRESH FACES: Raikkonen (pictured first L-R) and Alonso (pictured third) made their debuts along with two other drivers in 2001.
2001 would be the last time the sport would see the names of Benetton and Prost before they disappeared at the end of the year.
The Benetton team was most famous for its two titles with Schumacher in 1994 and in 1995 which was the German’s first two of his seven titles. The team was owned by the Benetton family who ran clothing stores around the world. The team first competed in the sport in 1986 and was purchased by Renault in 2000 for the French manufacturer to take over in 2002.
Prost GP was founded by Four Time World Champion Alain Prost in 1997. However, the team struggled for survival, racing at the rear of the gird and eventually folded at the end of 2001 with huge debts after a lack of finance.
Now 20 years ago, most of the teams, in one form or another, are still on the grid with the likes of Ferrari, McLaren and Williams. Alonso and Raikkonen are still enjoying the challenges of the sport while Schumacher’s son, Mick, will make his F1 debut.