McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen made a superb drive to victory from near the back of the grid at the Japanese Grand Prix, overtaking the Renault of Giancarlo Fisichella for the lead on the last lap from the chequered flag. Fisichella came home second and...
McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen made a superb drive to victory from near the back of the grid at the Japanese Grand Prix, overtaking the Renault of Giancarlo Fisichella for the lead on the last lap from the chequered flag. Fisichella came home second and his teammate Fernando Alonso also drove an amazing race to cross the line in third.
After the last few days of poor weather, race day at Suzuka was fine and sunny with a track temperature of around 36 degrees. Toyota's Jarno Trulli opted to start from the pit lane, as he was at the back anyway, and his teammate and pole-sitter Ralf Schumacher led a rather slow formation lap. The leaders got away at the start but BAR's Takuma Sato and the Ferrari of Rubens Barrichello both had a trip through the gravel at the first corner.
David Coulthard's Red Bull had a good start, up to fourth, and Alonso, who was another at the back of the grid, was up to 10th by the end of the first lap. Barrichello had a puncture from his little off track excursion and had to pit, as did Sato, while Juan Pablo Montoya's McLaren had a big shunt at the Triangle.
Forced wide by the Sauber of Jacques Villeneuve, Montoya's car impacted with the tyre barrier quite heavily but the Colombian was fine. "Villeneuve came in front of me real slow," Montoya said. "He just pushed me off, he went wide and I just ran out of road."
The safety car was deployed while the McLaren was recovered and it took six laps before the race went green. Michael Schumacher's Ferrari made short work of the Red Bull of Christian Klien, who dropped from fourth down to sixth. The points order was then Ralf leading Fisichella from the BAR of Jenson Button, Coulthard, Mark Webber's Williams, Michael, Klien and Alonso up to eighth.
Raikkonen had worked his way up to 12th and Alonso got past Klein but cut the chicane so had to cede. He then dispatched the Red Bull again and homed in on Michael, while Raikkonen had disposed of Antonio Pizzonia's Williams and Felipe Massa's Sauber for 10th. Pizzonia then spun into the gravel at the Degner to end his race.
Alonso was compromised by a bit of nonsense from the FIA -- stewards told Renault that Fernando had to let Klien past (again) due to yellow flags, then they changed their minds! Too late by then, Alonso had already ceded to Klien then had to pass him all over again. Trulli came to grief with Sato at the final chicane, it was all madness.
"I think we have a dangerous person on track and he has been for years," said a clearly disgruntled Trulli about Sato. "I think the FIA needs to take action."
Ralf was the first to pit, on lap 13, so had evidently been running light in qualifying, not to detract from him gaining pole, and Fisichella inherited the lead. Raikkonen was harassing Klien for seventh, while the Sauber duo of Massa and Villeneuve were having a little battle of their own in 10th and 11th. Raikkonen cleared Klien and homed in on Alonso, who was all over Michael's Ferrari.
The Spaniard tried at turn one but Michael held him off, then Alonso just flew past the Ferrari round the outside of the 130R. The outside! Impressive stuff -- Fernando and Kimi were in a league of their own at Suzuka. Raikkonen was then closing on Michael but couldn't find a way past.
Alonso and Button pitted together, and Klien, and Button had a fuel rig problem that lost him a couple of places. Coulthard was then leading from Webber but the pair hadn't stopped yet and Raikkonen was still harassing Michael. The Ferrari and the McLaren dived into the pits together and Michael came out ahead.
Raikkonen finally got past Michael at turn one, leaving Alonso to once again home in on the Ferrari. Michael was defending like mad but Fernando was on a mission. Down the pit straight the Renault howled past -- off the title fight leash, Alonso is every inch as scary as Raikkonen in full flight.
Anyway, I digress. Pour a bucket of cold water on me, why don't you. Christijan Albers' Minardi went up in flames in the pit lane, a fuel rig gremlin causing the fiery affair. The mechanics were quick to put it out and Albers managed to return to the track without too many scorch marks. At the front Fisichella had a healthy lead, while Button, Webber, Raikkonen and Alonso were all nose to tail from second onwards.
Alonso was the first to duck into the pits for the second time and rejoined in eighth. Fisichella did likewise and returned behind Raikkonen, who was yet to pit, leaving Button in the lead. Jenson and Webber then took their second stops and Mark got the advantage to rejoin in front of the BAR. Fisichella went back into the lead after Raikkonen pitted but Kimi rejoined second, homing in on the Renault while Alonso did likewise to Webber's Williams.
Alonso dispatched the Williams down the pit straight, even taking a bit of grass while he did so -- there was no stopping him. And so I'm not playing favourites, Raikkonen was equally amazing, even more so seeing as he actually won the race. Fisichella was hampered by a backmarker and Raikkonen swarmed all over the Renault. With three laps to go Kimi was harassing Fisichella like mad.
The Finn went side by side with the Italian and stormed past round the outside at turn one for the lead on the final lap. Great driving by Kimi, who was on even more of a mission than Alonso. Raikkonen duly led home from Fisichella and Alonso, followed by Webber, Button, Coulthard, Michael and Ralf. I don't know about you but I'm completely worn out with tension! The best race of the year by far.
"Just before my last pit stop I was able to go fast and I pulled out a bit of a gap and I was not too far behind any more when I came out so I thought maybe I would have a chance to catch him (Fisichella) up and try to overtake and just into the last lap I was able to get him on the main straight and then I started to hit the rev limiter again but I just went as quickly as I could outside on the first corner and luckily I made it through, so it was very good," said Raikkonen.
Fisichella was happy enough: "I was pushing 100 percent but he (Raikkonen) was much quicker than me and in the end, in the last three laps he was behind me and in the main straight he was much, much quicker than me, maybe because I was a bit slower at the exit of the chicane. Anyway, I did my best, second for me is good anyway, and we are higher again in the Constructors' Championship and it is good."
Alonso was mildly disappointed. "I think the strategy this time did not work too well for us," he said. "We had an extremely competitive car, I felt quicker than Kimi today for the first time in the last part of the championship but unfortunately I was not able to beat him because before my first stop I was in front of him by a long way and because of the stops and the traffic I was third at the end. But it's okay, starting 16th, it is good for the Constructors'"
The result puts Renault back in front of McLaren in the constructors' standings by two points, so it's still a frantic battle to come at Shanghai. Toyota could equal Ferrari for third if they score a one-two in China… not going to happen, is it? Ralf's sole point in eight was pretty poor for a pole-sitter but Toyota just doesn't have the grunt of the front runners.
Webber did a stellar job for Williams in fourth, although Button's BAR just didn't have the stamina in the race, coming home fifth. Coulthard did well to wrestle the Red Bull to sixth and the Schumacher brothers came home seventh and eighth, Michael leading Ralf.
Raikkonen started 17th and won -- five years ago Barrichello won in Germany from 18th on the grid and back in 1983 John Watson won the US GP at Long Beach from 22nd. If you want more stats, Bill Vukovich won the 1954 Indy 500 from 19th -- but I'm digressing again.
Klien and Massa made up the top ten but Suzuka was all about Raikkonen and Alonso. Kimi was just amazing to win and Fernando was not far behind in the lunatic stakes. F1 was everything it should be in Japan -- typical, it gets exciting when there's only one race left! Final top eight classification: Raikkonen, Fisichella, Alonso, Webber, Button, Coulthard, M. Schumacher, R. Schumacher.