Formula one: 2002 Season Preview:

The short version of the preview is this:

Michael Schumacher will win his fifth world drivers title.

Why? Can this really be such a foregone conclusion?

At the end of the 2001 season, the Ferrari was clearly the car to beat. The team went into 2002 with enviable continuity. Keeping the same drivers, management, technical team and tyre suppliers is always a real advantage especially if you have just won two consecutive championships with that line up. Pre season testing has shown that the 2002 Ferrari is a real step forward from the 2001 car. Ferrari's 2001 dominance gave them a huge boost in the light of the severely curtailed close season testing period.

Most teams faced a dilemma in their plans for a 2002 car.

One the one hand, they could aim to make a series of evolutionary improvements to the 2001 car. While this would run the risk of not being enough of an improvement to be competitive, it should at least provide a reliable car despite the limited testing period available.

The alternative strategy would be to produce a heavily changed car which should have the possibility to be substantially faster than the 2001 car but which might suffer from reliability problems in the early races.

Ferrari had the luxury of a third option. Their 2001 car was likely to be competitive against everyone else's early season 2002 cars. Perhaps giving up a little on performance but getting it back on reliability. So, their own 2002 car was a major step forward from the 2001 car but they had the possibility to delay its introduction and rely on the proven 2001 car for the early races.

The only other team to combine a front running position with the sort of stability enjoyed by Ferrari was Williams and they were the only team that started the 2002 season with a prospect of being able to carry the fight to Michael Schumacher's Ferrari over the whole season. McLaren faced a change in driver line up and tyres as Mika Hakkinen and Bridgestone made way for Kimi Raikkonen and Michelin. Their strength in depth gave them the best possible cushion against suffering any disruption from these changes.

Renault and Sauber set off for Australia with high hopes of battling each other for the title of best of the rest albeit with no realistic prospect of anything better than the occasional lucky podium spot. Both teams changed one driver over the closed season but otherwise were to continue with business as usual.

Further down the field, most of the other teams had undergone, suffered or chosen more substantial changes. Jordan had two new drivers in the returning Fisichella and the unblooded Sato. They also had to cope with the distractions of their ongoing dispute with sacked driver Frentzen and changes in their management team. The ructions over Frentzen were consuming time over at Arrows where his arrival as a driver meant that Verstappen was out of work and in the courts as a result. Coping with an engine supply change added to Arrows of the track workload. BAR had continuity in drivers and engines but they had sacked team chief Craig Pollock. Jaguar still had their team chief but he had procured the resignation of Steve Nichols the team's design chief right in the middle of the short test period which was probably just when the team needed him the most.

That just left perennial back of the grid team Minardi to continue on in the own happy manner and new boys Toyota who were preparing for their first ever Formula one season. Out were Prost, financial collapse having put paid to the former Ligier team run by Alain Prost who demonstrated the being one of the sport's most successful drivers was not a passport to the top as a team manager.

So, nobody came into the season looking as though they might pose a consistent threat to Ferrari.

The whole 2002 season All the races and the behind the scenes games
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