Michael Schumacher led the Japanese Grand Prix from pole position to chequered flag, Ferrari's champion breezing to an untroubled victory. No doubt Ferrari will claim it was not that easy but it certainly looked it; Schumacher was never troubled...
Michael Schumacher led the Japanese Grand Prix from pole position to chequered flag, Ferrari's champion breezing to an untroubled victory. No doubt Ferrari will claim it was not that easy but it certainly looked it; Schumacher was never troubled in 53 laps of Suzuka. Ralf Schumacher firmly made his presence felt, holding his second place start all the way to the line for Williams, his first podium finish of the year.
Jenson Button claimed his tenth podium in third for BAR and teammate Takuma Sato followed on in fourth. Early battles made for some interesting track action and although Button challenged for the second place mid-way through the race, Ralf kept his cool to stay ahead. Rubens Barrichello and David Coulthard banged heads at the chicane, putting them both out with suspension damage.
It was dry and sunny for race day after the typhoon troubles that cancelled Saturday. Mark Webber lost out at the start, the Jaguar's third on the grid position slipping back to sixth. The BARs were gainers, Button and Takuma Sato taking third and fourth, and Toyota's Olivier Panis also lost out, down to 14th.
There was a lot of fighting immediately; Giancarlo Fisichella's Sauber beating Jacques Villeneuve's Renault down the home straight, and Villeneuve's teammate Fernando Alonso closing in fast. McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen was catching up behind, with Juan Pablo Montoya's Williams equally determined.
Sato muscled past Button and Montoya did the same to Raikkonen, and Ralf was the first to pit on lap 10. Alonso barrelled past Villeneuve and Coulthard and Fisichella whipped past the ailing Jaguar of Webber at turn one. The first round of pit stops followed Ralf in, Michael maintaining his lead in fine style.
Alonso, Raikkonen, Button, Coulthard and Villeneuve all ducked into the pits and Fisichella had a brief wander off track but managed to keep going. At the front it was all serene for Michael and Ralf, Schumacher Senior some 20 seconds ahead of baby brother. A battle was shaping up for the final points positions, Jarno Trulli's Toyota just holding station ahead of Montoya and Barrichello. In front of them Button, Coulthard and Alonso were squabbling over fourth and fifth.
Webber was the first retiree, his superb efforts in qualifying came to nothing in the race. A singed behind forced him into the pits, something overheating in the cockpit. "It was really strange," the Aussie shrugged. "And it was really bloody frustrating. After five or six laps, the right hand side of the seat was getting hotter and hotter."
Barrichello and Fisichella were back on Montoya's rear wing and dispatched the Williams in due course. Barrichello went on to pass Trulli for seventh but then ducked into the pits. Montoya cleared Fisichella in the next round of pit stops and at the front it was now Button in second and Coulthard in third.
It was short-lived glory for Coulthard, as a chancy Barrichello made a sudden dive at the McLaren at the chicane. Both the Ferrari and the McLaren suffered suspension failures with the clash, Rubens right front and DC right left. It was the first time Barrichello has not finished a race this season.
"I was really quite fast," said Barrichello. "I was trying to take David by surprise at the 130R but he closed the door and I was already going for it. Ummm." The Scot was diplomatic: "I knew he was catching fast," he opined. "I was flat through 130R so I think it was a bit optimistic (by Barrichello)."
At the front it remained static, Michael leading from Ralf and Button and so it remained to the flag. There was a final brief excitement when Felipe Massa gave Villeneuve some problems, the Sauber hassling the Renault and taking him at the first corner but it was not for a points finish.
Michael even pottered quietly out of the way to let Massa unlap himself at the end, then cruised over the line for his 13th win of the season. "It wasn't clear who would be how heavy because we had no indication from practice so we had to be flat-out in the beginning part of the race until the pit stops had been done and then we could judge who was on what strategy," said the winner.
Ralf duly followed home in second and Button in third. "It all worked out in the end, the car worked pretty well, the team did a great job in all the pit stops, they all went trouble-free and quick, and it was the right strategy for us, so I think it was a good weekend for us," said a very cheerful Ralf.
Button opted for a two-stop strategy, which paid off -- but that maiden win remains elusive. "It's BAR's hundredth race and to get on the podium is a great result, I think and with Taku in fourth we have got some fantastic points and pulled away from Renault, which is good." said Button.
Sato in fourth gave BAR a big boost over Renault -- the French squad will need a win and a third in Brazil to beat BAR in the standings. It's not going to happen, is it?
Alonso salvaged some of Renault's pride in fifth, with Raikkonen, Montoya and Fisichella taking the last points positions. Final top eight classification: M. Schumacher. R. Schumacher. Button, Sato, Alonso, Raikkonen, Montoya, Fisichella.