Japanese GP closes out season, and more

By Cameron Curwood - Motorsport.com The final Grand Prix of the 2001 Formula One season had many storylines. Michael Schumacher could surpass Alain Prost with the most points scored in F1 history, and was the last Grand Prix in the career of...

By Cameron Curwood - Motorsport.com

The final Grand Prix of the 2001 Formula One season had many storylines. Michael Schumacher could surpass Alain Prost with the most points scored in F1 history, and was the last Grand Prix in the career of Jean Alesi, and perhaps the last for Mika Hakkinen.

The race would also settle second position in the drivers' championships, as well as many of the lower positions in both the drivers' and constructors' championships. David Coulthard led Rubens Barrichello by seven points for second position in the drivers' championship coming into the race.

At the start Michael Schumacher moved over in front of second place Juan Pablo Montoya, then moved back to the outside before turning into corner one in first place. The rest of the field got away just about in order, with the Benettons getting their usual quick starts. Giancarlo Fisichella managed to move ahead of both the McLarens. Schumacher led by over three seconds at the end of the first lap, and was never challenged for the rest of the race. "We had probably the advantage that we were fast in the first couple of laps from our tyres," said Schumacher. "We then remained very consistent whereas maybe the other guys struggled a little bit in the beginning, but then I started to be consistent and the times started to match."

The only question was what fuel strategy each car was running. Barrichello was quick early on, but soon pitted and it was clear he was running a three-stop strategy, and he was never a factor. Montoya, Hakkinen and Schumacher stayed out for various different lengths of time, and these different strategies meant that there were various exciting battles with drivers on different fuel loads. When all of the pit stops were made and the cars settled down, Schumacher always had a comfortable lead over Montoya and Hakkinen in that order.

Ralf Schumacher was slightly slower than his Williams-BMW teammate, and a 10 second stop-and-go penalty for cutting a chicane took him out of the main running. Ralf was under investigation for passing Barrichello out of the pits and crossing the white line, and then again later for cutting a chicane and holding his position over Barrichello, but he was not penalized again.

Jean Alesi's last race came to an end fairly quickly. Kimi Raikkonen spun on lap 6 and took Alesi with him. Raikkonen got airborne slightly and hit the wall hard, losing all four wheels off his car, but the two drivers were all right. It was a sad way to see Alesi's career end, but despite only one victory in that career, Alesi will be remembered for some brilliant drives and his never-ending passion.

For a long time those were the only two retirements in the race. Eddie Irvine retired on lap 24 when they were unable to fuel up his car. Much later, Tomas Enge and Pedro de la Rosa retired on laps 42 and 45 respectively. Those were the only retirements of the race. One of the biggest advances F1 has had in recent years is reliability, and three mechanical retirements from a field of 22 is quite an achievement.

Mika Hakkinen's last race for at least a year was more memorable than Alesi's. Hakkinen held the lead during the various pit-stops, and battled with the front runners. However, towards the end of the race, while sitting in third, he slowed, allowing his teammate David Coulthard to pass into the third spot. Coulthard admitted he was perhaps let through by Mika. "I think I was helped a little bit by Mika at the end there, who, I think, didn't want to have to come and talk to you this afternoon, so I thank him for that," he said at the press conference.

Hakkinen would finish in fourth behind Schumacher, Montoya and Coulthard, with Barrichello 5th and Ralf 6th. These 6 were the only drivers ever challenging for points, and the only other driver to finish on the lead lap was Jenson Button, a good minute behind 6th placed Ralf. The big three teams getting all the points meant that none of the championship positions changed.

Schumacher's 10 points give him 801 overall for his career, surpassing Alain Prost's 798.5. Hakkinen ends up half a point short of Niki Lauda's 420.5 for 6th overall. Alesi finished in 21st overall. Schumacher now has the most points, wins and fastest laps overall for a career, but it is unlikely he will catch Ayrton Senna's pole record next year.

Despite that, we look to next year with interest and excitement. No Jean Alesi, and for the first time in 10 years, no Mika Hakkinen at McLaren. Young Kimi Raikkonen joins Coulthard, and will McLaren be able to challenge with this line-up and no Hakkinen? Williams-BWM gained a lot of momentum this year, could they be the favourites next year? And if so, will it be Ralf Schumacher or Montoya who will emerge as the front runner? Will we see Honda finally regain their dominance, and how will the Michelin vs. Bridgestone battle work out? Or, will we see Michael Schumacher tie Juan Manuel Fangio's record of 5 World Championships?

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Giancarlo Fisichella , Jenson Button , Ralf Schumacher , Pedro de la Rosa , Michael Schumacher , Rubens Barrichello , Jean Alesi , David Coulthard , Mika Hakkinen , Kimi Raikkonen , Tomas Enge , Niki Lauda , Alain Prost , Ayrton Senna
Teams McLaren , Williams , Benetton