Japanese GP: Honda race notes

SATO RACES TO SENSATIONAL FIFTH PLACE AT SUZUKA Jordan Honda driver scores two points in home Grand Prix DHL Jordan Honda's Takuma Sato crossed the line in fifth place in today's Japanese Grand Prix, scoring two points for himself and the...

Jordan Honda driver scores two points in home Grand Prix

DHL Jordan Honda's Takuma Sato crossed the line in fifth place in today's Japanese Grand Prix, scoring two points for himself and the team and securing sixth place in the 2002 FIA Formula One World Constructors' Championship for Jordan Honda. His team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella and Lucky Strike B.A.R Honda's Jacques Villeneuve did not finish the race due to engine failure while Olivier Panis (B.A.R Honda) retired on lap eight.

The excitement started well before the red lights went out at Suzuka for Fisichella as he had to swap to the spare car 15 minutes before the formation lap when his race car engine failed during warm up. The Jordan Honda engineers worked quickly to prepare the spare car, which had been set up for Sato due to his strong qualifying performance yesterday, and the Italian was out on track just before warm up ended. Toyota's Allan McNish did not take part in the race due to a knee injury sustained in his accident in qualifying.

The weather conditions continued to improve (26 degrees) as the season ending Grand Prix got underway at Suzuka. The fans were out in force to support national hero, Takuma Sato, who has impressed all weekend. Sato made a good start, remaining in seventh place off the grid, and by the time he came in for his first pit stop on lap 21 the Japanese rookie was lying in sixth. Having been beaten by the Renaults of Jenson Button and Jarno Trulli during the first round of pit stops, the Jordan Honda driver was on a mission and pushed even harder, putting in some great lap times, before pitting for the second time on lap 37.

This time Sato got out ahead of Button, rejoining the action in sixth place, and moving up into fifth position just four laps from the end when Ralf Scumacher (Williams) retired. The roar from the crowd was deafening as Sato crossed the line in fifth place and collected two hard-earned championship points for himself and the team. The last time a Japanese driver scored points at his home Grand Prix was in 1990 when Aguri Suzuki finished third at Suzuka.

Having qualified eighth on the grid, Giancarlo Fisichella lost three places at the start to 11th, slotting in behind Sauber's Nick Heidfeld. The Jordan Honda driver was up into seventh place by lap 20 when he came in for his first of two scheduled pit stops. Having rejoined in 13th position, the Italian pushed hard to get in some good laps before his second stop on lap 36. The pit crew worked quickly to get him out in 11th place ahead of Mika Salo (Toyota), but just three laps later Fisichella's race was over due to engine failure.

B.A.R Honda's Jacques Villeneuve and Olivier Panis endured a frustrating end to the season, as both drivers were unable to finish the race. Two-stopping Villeneuve lost three places at the start and fell back to 14th on lap two when he ran wide. The Canadian regained 13th position from Sauber's Felipe Massa and by the time he came in for his first pit stop on lap 19 he was running in ninth position. By lap 24 Villeneuve was battling with Fisichella for 11th place, but five laps later the B.A.R Honda driver was forced out of the action when his engine failed.

Olivier Panis, who qualified 16th on the grid, lost one place at the start and by the end of the fifth lap the B.A.R Honda driver had fallen back to 18th position and he could feel something on the car vibrating. Panis came into the pits on lap eight so that his engineers could examine the car and re-set the electrical system. The Frenchman rejoined the action a few laps later, but the problem continued and he was forced to park his car in the garage.

Ferrari's Michael Schumacher took the chequered flag, closely followed by team-mate Rubens Barrichello and the McLaren of Kimi Raikkonen. Juan Pablo Montoya (Williams) and Jordan Honda's Takuma Sato finished fourth and fifth while Jenson Button (Renault) completes the top six positions.

Shuhei Nakamoto Race and Test Team Manager, Honda Racing Development

"Takuma drove a brilliant race today and really fought hard for fifth place and two points. It's a fantastic achievement in front of his home crowd and something we'll never forget. We took the decision to run an engine which had previously only been used in qualifying, to maximise our performance this weekend. Obviously that strategy has had mixed results and it's a great shame that Giancarlo and Jacques weren't able to finish the race because of engine failures. As for Olivier, he's had a torrid weekend and we're sorry that we couldn't finish on a higher note with him. I would like to thank him for all his efforts this year."

Takuma Sato Position: 5th

"That was incredible! One point was what I was after, but I've scored two, which is excellent for the team. I really appreciate what the team and especially the mechanics have done. The car was really good and the strategy, tyres and engine all worked together well today. The crowds were unbelievable, waving at me on every single lap and I saw everything! It was great and I appreciate the fans. This is one of the best feelings in my life and I'm so happy to score two points for the team."

Giancarlo Fisichella Position: DNF

"The start was bad when my race car blew up on its installation lap. I jumped into the T-car, which was set up for Takuma, the engineers and mechanics did a good job to quickly change it for me. My race start wasn't good and unfortunately there was a lot of understeer, which was completely different from this morning's warm-up. Later the engine gave up. I'm really happy for Takuma for finishing fifth though as it's fantastic both for him and the team."

Jacques Villeneuve Position: DNF

"I didn't get a good start and lost 5 places on the first lap, but things started to pick up after the first pitstop. I was having a good battle with Fisichella but he's a very tough guy to overtake because his car can be very wide! If we'd carried on like that we could have ended up going off and that's not a very fair way to go about racing. In the end, the engine gave way and that was the end of my race."

"At least we've made progress throughout this season and this is the first time that has happened at B.A.R so that's a positive. Next year will definitely be a lot better so we have to look forward now. I wish Olivier all the best for the future. He has been a great team-mate and we've worked very well together over the past couple of years."

Olivier Panis Position: DNF

"I felt something tighten just a few laps into the race and I stopped in the pits for the team to check out the car. I did another lap before pulling into the garage and the team did a great job to identify the problem. I rejoined the track for another lap but the car was undriveable and there was no way I could continue. It's disappointing because I really wanted to finish well for the team today but it wasn't to be."

"It's always sad when you leave a team, especially when you have worked well together. This year has been tough for me but the team have made good progress and I'm glad I was able to contribute to that. I want to thank everyone - the race team, the test team and the people back at the factory - for all their hard work over the last two seasons. I have really enjoyed working with them. I would also like to thank Jacques for being a great team-mate. Our relationship has been very good throughout and I wish him and the team every success for the future. Auf Wiedersehen!"


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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Giancarlo Fisichella , Takuma Sato , Jarno Trulli , Jenson Button , Michael Schumacher , Rubens Barrichello , Olivier Panis , Jacques Villeneuve , Nick Heidfeld , Kimi Raikkonen , Mika Salo , Felipe Massa , Shuhei Nakamoto
Teams Ferrari , Sauber , McLaren , Williams , Jordan