Japanese GP - Suzuka 8 October 2000
The possibility of rain loomed over the Japanese GP as the lights changed. M. Schumacher started well and cut across the track, but Häkkinen pushed off and went into the lead, with the German in second position. Coulthard took third position, R. Schumacher fourth, Irvine fifth and Barrichello, who was squeezed out of his position on the grid, sixth. The leading two drivers immediately started leaving the rest of the pack behind, while maintaining a gap of a less of a second between themselves, and by the end of lap three Coulthard, in third position, was over three seconds behind M. Schumacher. Häkkinen responded to the pressure put on him by the Ferrari driver by pushing harder and slightly increased his advantage on M. Schumacher to just over a second by lap five. Around this time a few drops of rain started falling on Suzuka, but not hard enough to impose a change of tyres. Häkkinen pushed his car even more and by the end of lap eight the German was 1.5 seconds behind the McLaren driver, but over six seconds in front of Coulthard. On lap nine Villeneuve attacked Herbert and overtook the Jaguar driver in a very clean manoeuvre. On lap 10 Verstappen slowed down and limped back to the pits, where the mechanics wheeled the car back into the garage. On lap 14 Mazzacane lost his car and went for a trip on the dirt, but managed to keep his engine going and rejoined, dragging dirt onto the track. On the same lap Diniz had his first, and the race first, pit stop (7.4 seconds). Barrichello had been lapping considerably slower than his team mate and by lap 15 he was 24 seconds behind M. Schumacher. Trulli had his pit stop (6.2 seconds) from 11th position on lap 16. On the following lap the Jaguar mechanics got ready and Irvine pitted (10.2 seconds), letting Barrichello into fifth position, pursued by Button in sixth and Villeneuve in seventh. The second Jaguar pitted at the end of lap 18 (8.2 seconds). Immediately after Herbert several other drivers pitted at the same time, crowding the pit lane. On lap 19 R. Schumacher pitted for the first time (8.3 seconds), immediately followed by Villeneuve (6.9 seconds). The Ferrari mechanics got ready to receive a driver on lap 20. On the same lap Alesi suffered a blown engine, his car went into a spin and stopped in the middle of the track and had to be pushed away by the track personnel. One lap later Barrichello had his first pit stop (7.2 seconds), but the difference in performance between the Brazilian and his team mate suggested that M. Schumacher was on a lighter fuel load, possibly hoping to take the lead by staying out longer than his rival Häkkinen. At this point Häkkinen started closing up on the lapped drivers and the McLaren mechanics got ready to receive the race leader, who came in at the end of lap 22 (6.8 seconds).
M. Schumacher was now in the lead and the Ferrari mechanics got ready to receive him. At the end of the following lap M. Schumacher pitted (7.4 seconds) and rejoined back into second position. His long pit stop suggested that he had put in more fuel than his rival, in view of staying out longer and gaining an advantage on the second pit stop. On the following lap Coulthard had his pit stop too (6.6 seconds) while temporarily in the lead. After the round of pit stops Häkkinen led the race, in front of M. Schumacher (2.4 seconds behind), Coulthard (17 seconds behind M. Schumacher), Barrichello, R. Schumacher, Button, Irvine, Villeneuve and Frentzen. Villeneuve saw a chance, went to the inside of Irvine and took seventh position. On lap 29 Trulli had his second pit stop (9.7 seconds) and rejoined just in front of race leader Häkkinen, one lap down. On the following lap Frentzen slowly drove his car out to the side and retired for the tenth time this season. At the same time M. Schumacher had dealt better than the race leader with the traffic he and Häkkinen had found themselves in and had brought the gap with the Finn down to just less than a second. A few drops of rain coming down on and off had been a constant throughout the Japanese GP, but despite the high wind and the dark sky, it did no look like rain was going to have an influence on the race. Häkkinen and M. Schumacher got up to Zonta, who made room for the two to pass, but closed on the German too soon and his front right tyre almost touched the Ferrari left rear tyre, sending a chill down the spine of the crowd in red. On lap 36 R. Schumacher came in for his second pit stop, putting Villeneuve into the points. On lap 37 the McLaren mechanics prepared to receive Häkkinen, who came in for his second pit stop (7.4 seconds), leaving M. Schumacher yet again in the lead, but stuck behind the two Jaguars, which prevented him from doing the fast lap he needed to give himself an advantage.
At this point the rain, that had been threatening to start all the time, finally kept its promise. Towards the end of the lap M. Schumacher finally cleared the two Jaguars, about 25 seconds ahead of Häkkinen. Barrichello pitted on the following lap (8.5 seconds), while M. Schumacher stayed out for another lap thanks to the extra fuel he had put in during his first pit stop. The McLaren mechanics got ready for Coulthard, at the same time as the Ferrari mechanics got ready for M. Schumacher. With 14 laps to go Wurz span and his car stopped sideways on the track, luckily leaving enough space for other drivers to drive around him. On the same lap M. Schumacher pitted (6.0 seconds) and rejoined the race in the lead just as the McLaren of Häkkinen appeared at the horizon, 4.2 seconds behind. R. Schumacher span on the first bend after touching a damp kerb, went out on the dirt, failed to get his car going again and retired. Fisichella lost his car in the same place as R. Schumacher, again because of the wet kerb, but managed to keep the car out of the dirt and the engine going and carried on. With nine laps to go M. Schumacher had a 4.7 seconds advantage over Häkkinen and was on his way to the possible end of Ferrari's 21 years Drivers title draught. As the drizzle intensified again into light rain, the Finn was giving all he had to catch up with M. Schumacher, steadily reducing the gap. The German came up to his team mate from the previous season and former title contender Irvine, who made room for him. M. Schumacher then came up to the second Jaguar, that of Herbert, who moved aside.
The Ferrari driver now had the two Jaguar in between himself and Häkkinen in the final stages of the race. The Finn came up to Irvine, and got past him, while M. Schumacher tackled some more backmarkers. On lap 49 Gené stopped his Minardi by the side of the track and retired. As M. Schumacher lapped Villeneuve with four laps to go, his advantage over Häkkinen was over five seconds. With two laps to go M. Schumacher, who had been fighting to keep the car steady on the slippery dump surface, lost concentration for a minute and, like it had happened in Indianapolis, the car took his hand for a moment, but the so-called Rainmaster showed his skill and regained control, continuing on his bid to bring the Drivers title to Maranello after 21 years. On the final lap the Ferrari mechanics came out of the pits and crowded the wall by the finishing line, to witness what for them was going to be a historical moment. And indeed, M. Schumacher crossed the finishing line in front of a sea of red flags to bring home the dream. Häkkinen saw his bid for the title crushed with one race to go as he crossed the line in second position, ahead of team mate Coulthard in third, Barrichello in fourth, Button in fifth and Villeneuve in sixth.
The long wait for Scuderia Ferrari is over. Last year they won the Constructors Championship and today, after 21 years, the Drivers title came finally back home for them to replace the memory of Jody Scheckter's victory back in 1979. M. Schumacher also gave Ferrari a new record. He won eight races this season, the most any Ferrari driver has ever won in any one year. Earlier, he had beaten Senna's record of 42 overall career victories, making himself the Formula 1 driver with most wins after Alain Prost. Today's result was not enough for Ferrari to win the Constructors Championship though, so there will still be that to fight for in Malaysia. One thought should go to Irvine, who had to make room and let M. Schumacher go past on his way to the title in the final stages of the race. Irvine was fighting for the title last year at Suzuka with M. Schumacher as his "second driver", while this season he has been very much a backmarker. Without wanting to take any merit away from the drivers, today's race was decided very much by pit stops strategies and the moods of the weather. M. Schumacher showed his well-known expertise in driving on the wet, while Häkkinen never gave up until the very last minute. As M. Schumacher was crossing the finishing line, the Finn was still pushing, hoping for a last-second mechanical problem to occur in the Ferrari.
Button showed again his promise for a brilliant future in F1, after mastering the Suzuka track despite never having set wheel on its tarmac before this weekend. Villeneuve managed to take BAR one step up in the Constructors Championship overtaking Jordan, a great improvement from last year when the new outfit finished on no points.
Next, and last, appointment of 2000 is in Malaysia on 22 October.
|Images from La Gazzetta dello Sport Online and Raisport|
Last updated on by Federica Massagrande