While every race in a Grand Prix season is equally important, nobody can deny that the final event with the Championship in the balance is more special than the rest. Success in the Japanese Grand Prix will bring Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro a record...
While every race in a Grand Prix season is equally important, nobody can deny that the final event with the Championship in the balance is more special than the rest. Success in the Japanese Grand Prix will bring Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro a record breaking sixth consecutive Constructors' Championship title and a record breaking sixth World Championship title for Michael Schumacher. Does the team treat this race any differently to the rest?
"With both the Drivers' and Constructors' Championships to win, too conservative of an approach might not get the job done. Equally, we cannot take too many unnecessary risks, so it will be a fine balancing act. At this stage of the season everything will be checked and double checked, but other than that we will try to run a normal race programme," says Ross Brawn. This year has been one of the hardest fought championships for many years, but the team has taken it in their stride.
"Every year throws up its own challenges. Sometimes it is a technical challenge because the package is not good enough; sometimes it is a challenge because the team, including the drivers, is not performing well enough. Intermixed with this are the political challenges that come from a hugely competitive and funded business full of extremely tough and competitive individuals. This has been a normal year with its technical, management and political challenges. Tough, but I hope a rewarding one. It was certainly not as easy as 2002, but 2002 was an abnormal year…" explains Ross.
Winning the title after such a tough year and ahead of such tough opposition would certainly be special. "For Michael to win a 6th Championship and Ferrari to win a 5th Consecutive Constructors would be something never achieved before, so it is a huge incentive for us. It would be very special," admits Ross.
No matter what the result of any season, there are also the moments a team would like to forget and 2003 as had its bad moments as well as it's good for Ferrari-Marlboro.
"It has been a very mixed year for us. I think the most significant points were Michael's mid-season performance of four race wins out of five, following a very mediocre start to the season. Another high point was his last two race wins, following a very poor run of results. Rubens win at Silverstone was also fantastic, his performance that day was outstanding and to beat the British Teams on their home ground was special for the team. The significance for me was that the Team never once gave up. There were major disappointments of course, but never did the Team lose faith in its ability to get the job done."
"This season also had more disappointments than last year of course. The significant disappointments were Michael's accident in Brazil and Rubens' car running out of fuel whilst easily leading. Michael's tyre failure in Hockenheim was also difficult to accept. Again, I am proud to say that the Team never gave up, and with a team like this you know you will always have a chance."
A season without mistakes is something which not only the driver but the team are also likely to have. With the advantage of hindsight, what would Ross have changed in the overall strategy for the year, if anything? "Put more fuel in Rubens car in Brazil," says Ross with a smile.
Rubens Barrichello has been a lot closer to Michael Schumacher in qualifying this year and ahead of him for much of the latter part of the season. Is that a sign that Michael is losing his edge or his interest?
"Not at all. I think one lap qualifying brings a different pressure on the drivers and that is influenced by their Championship positions and aspirations. As the season goes on, the consequence for a mistake in Qualifying becomes more far reaching and I am sure it affects the drivers psyche. Rubens is a very fast driver, and has always given Michael a hard time."
"Michael has not changed a great deal over the years and I think that is one of his strengths. He certainly has not lost any of his enthusiasm, determination or skill. He has simply gained experience and it is that that still makes him the reference point for all Formula One Drivers," explains Ross.
Although the car remains unchanged since the last race, the team has still be working hard between races to prepare for this final event of the year. "We have had several days tyre testing at Mugello along with some experimental work for next years car. Michael came to Mugello for a day to make the final choice of tyres for Suzuka," points out Ross.
With this final race so important to the team there are always fears of a technical problem, like the clutch problem that Michael had at the start of the 1998 race when he was in the title fight with Hakkinen. However, the team is relying on their strong reliability record throughout the season just one more time.
"There is nothing specific to worry about, but when everything depends on one race result, then you can always be vulnerable to the un-expected. You can only do what is within your power to do, and not worry about the rest. The new points system and regulation changes have certainly influenced the outcome of this season and made the championship more exciting for the public. Is there still more to be done in Brawn's eyes?
"I think we have had a fantastic Championship this year, and probably as good as we are ever going to get, from the Public perspective. Some of this is due to the regulation changes and some is down to two or three teams doing a better job than before. I think we should avoid too many changes to allow the format to settle down. I believe that too many changes will confuse the public and send the wrong message."
"I do believe that we need to make final qualifying perhaps a little more exciting and add at bit more activity on Sunday morning. We need to make sure that the paying public gets good value for their money. I think the free pit lane walkabout in Indy on Thursday was a fantastic success and that it should be built upon.
Although nobody likes to tempt fate by making post race celebratory plans before the last race, there is certain to be a big party for Ferrari fans all over the world if the team can take another landmark title on Sunday afternoon.
"If we win we will have a big party. We still value and enjoy our successes," points out Ross. "If we lose, then we will need a little time to recover..."