Unsurprisingly, the Scuderia Ferrari began the 2001 season as a clear favourite. The Maranello team had won both titles the previous year, and had reconfirmed its drivers and engineers. The fact that there were no huge changes to the rules also provided further reason to believe that Ferrari would once again be the team to beat. The F2001 incorporated the modifications required under FIA rules, including a front wing assembly height 10 cm above ground level to limit downforce. Otherwise, it featured the same successful concepts offered by the 2000 car as well as additional tweaks that made it even lighter with more freedom in ballast allocation.
Michael Schumacher dominated the first two races in Australia and Malaysia, but David Coulthard took the honours in Brazil in the McLaren. The British driver would prove to be Schumacher’s only real rival that season as he turned consistency into his greatest strength. Michael was forced to retire from the race at Imola but then won both the Spanish Grand Prix and the European GP at the Nürburgring. Often that year he found himself doing battle with his younger brother, Ralf, who himself had become one of the top drivers in the sport, racing for Williams. His team-mate, Columbian Juan Pablo Montoya, would engage the Ferrari driver in some spectacular duels too in the course of the season. Michael Schumacher, however, took a definitive lead in the title race at the French Grand Prix which he won ahead of Coulthard who finished third. At that point in the season, the German had a 31-point lead over his rival – the equivalent of three grands prix. The results in the Constructors’ standings looked even more promising. Thanks to Barrichello who, although he wasn’t winning, often featured on the podium, Ferrari had racked up 108 points compared to McLaren’s 56.On August 19, holidaymakers everywhere clustered around TVs showing the Formula 1 action. The Hungarian Grand Prix looked set to seal the deal in both Championships. Schumacher dominated qualifying, beating the track record set in 1993 by Alain Prost. He was 801 milliseconds faster than Coulthard and 894 ahead of Barrichello. Everyone else was over a second behind. In the race itself, Schumacher dominated 71 of the 77 laps, handing over command to his team-mate and McLaren rival only when he pitted. The most interesting sparring match was going on behind him for second position. In the end, Barrichello got ahead at the very last and his second-place finish saw Ferrari sweep the boards to win both the Drivers’ and Constructors’ titles on points.
Schumacher had now taken his second World title with Ferrari and equalled Prost’s tally of four. The German also matched the French champion’s total of 51 grand prix wins. He immediately set his sights firmly on equalling iconic 1950s driver Juan Manuel Fangio’s five titles. Before the end of the season, however, came a very surreal grand prix at Monza. The motor sport world was reeling from a double tragedy: the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York and on Washington had taken place on September 11, while the day before the race, a very dear friend of many in the paddock, Alessandro Zanardi was left in a coma after a horrific accident at the Lausitzring. Many of the drivers felt that the grand prix should not go ahead, particularly as both titles had already been won, but the FOM insisted they all race.
As a mark of respect and mourning, Ferrari removed all sponsor logos from its cars and uniforms, and painted the single-seaters’ nosecones black. The Benetton, BAR and Arrows team principals, however, objected to Schumacher’s suggestion to accelerate only after the second chicane, the Roggia, on the first lap in memory of the accident there the previous year which had cost CEA firefighter, Paolo Gislimberti, his life. The race played out without any major incidents and was won by Montoya in the Williams, in his first career victory, ahead of Barrichello. Nobody, however, felt much like celebrating.