WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP AT STAKE IN SHOWDOWN IN SUZUKA INDIANAPOLIS, Oct. 28, 1999 -- After 15 races around the world it has all come down to this: the Showdown in Suzuka. Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix, the final race of the season, will be the race...
WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP AT STAKE IN SHOWDOWN IN SUZUKA
INDIANAPOLIS, Oct. 28, 1999 -- After 15 races around the world it has all come down to this: the Showdown in Suzuka. Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix, the final race of the season, will be the race that determines who will win both the Formula One World Drivers Championship and the World Constructors Championship.
The events following the recent Malaysian Grand Prix have set the stage for an exciting season finale. Eddie Irvine and Michael Schumacher had finished first and second in Malaysia, but their Ferraris were disqualified for illegal bodywork. An FIA International Appeals Court, however, reinstated both drivers.
Irvine now has a four point lead (70-66) over Mika Hakkinen. In the manufacturers' duel, Ferrari leads West McLaren-Mercedes by a margin of 118-114.
"I don't intend to treat it any differently from the way I would treat any other race," Irvine said. "You can't do that: You must do things the same way that you normally do them. If you try to do too much, you cause confusion. I intend to cruise along in my normal mode.
"I'm not nervous yet. There is a lot riding on this race for me, but it's not just that. It is the same for the mechanics, and for all the Ferrari fans around the world. I wasn't at all nervous in Malaysia. We'll see what happens here, but so far, so good.
"The pressure is there, but luckily there seems to be something just above my head which is holding it all off me. I just have to do my best, and if it happens, it happens. If it doesn't happen, then as long as you know you have done your best, there is not a lot you can do about it."
Hakkinen has been through all of this before. Last year he and Schumacher fought for the championship in the season finale in Japan.
"It is a great experience -- if you make it through 100 percent and then succeed," Hakkinen said. "It is obviously a very hard experience, physically and psychologically, to go through what I went through last year and also through what is happening this year. It is an exciting time, and I am trying to get the maximum enjoyment out of it, and to learn something."
Does it give Hakkinen an advantage over Irvine as he was already in this situation last year?
"It could be an advantage," Hakkinen said, "but (the situation) this weekend is different from last year. Through all three days you have to live with the moment as it happens. You have to be ready for new things, you can't rely on past experience. And I am sure this weekend will bring many new things, from which you must be ready to learn -- and to fight." Ferrari team tactics brought Irvine and Schumacher a one-two finish in Malaysia.
"It is a bit easier for me this time," Schumacher said. "I just need to win the race if I can. That would do us all a good favor, and that is my target this weekend."
Schumacher, however, does not expect the Ferrari team to have the same performance advantage over the McLaren-Mercedes team as it did in Malaysia. "Malaysia is a high-downforce circuit, like Monaco and Budapest, which are circuits where we were always good," Schumacher said. "This circuit tends to be more like Spa, which means we will have less of an advantage."
Points are awarded to the top six places (10, 6, 4, 3, 2, 1) for both drivers and constructors.
There are a variety of different points/finish scenarios that could determine who wins the championship but, no matter what, Hakkinen needs to at least finish third or better in Sunday's race.
Should the two drivers tie, the title will go to the driver who has the most wins. If they have the same number of wins, then whomever has the most number of second places will be the determining factor. Should that figure a lso be tied, then it goes on to number of third places, etc.
It all takes place on the demanding Suzuka circuit, a favorite among the drivers.
"Together with Spa in Belgium," BAR's Jacques Villeneuve said, "Suzuka is one of my favorite tracks. It is a difficult and risky place. The circuit adopts the shape of the landscape, and its high-speed corners are very spectacular. It's fun to drive because you are nearly always on the edge. You never get a chance to take a break, and therefore you have to be in top shape to get a good result. I love racing here."
Said Stewart-Ford's Rubens Barrichello: "Suzuka is a real driver's track. It has a mixture of slow- and high-speed corners, and it crosses over itself (to form a figure-8), which is unique. Because of the undulations of the layout, you have to keep very busy in the cockpit. It is not a circuit that offers very much respite for the drivers, but that adds to the challenge."
Besides the contest at the front, other teams and drivers are fighting their own points battles. It's not only the prestige of finishing as high in the standings as possible that is at stake: F1's prize and travel money structure is based on how teams placed in the Constructors Championship.
One such duel is between Stewart-Ford, fourth in the Constructors Championship, and Winfield Williams-Supertec, just three points behind. Three points also separate Heinz-Harald Frentzen and David Coulthard, third and fourth in the standings, respectively.
British American Racing, in its first season of F1, is the only team not to score a point this season. Villeneuve hopes to change that statistic this weekend. The Canadian knows the Suzuka circuit well as he raced in Japan before heading to North America, where he won the 1995 Indianapolis 500 and the 1995 CART championship.
"I think our car should suit Suzuka," Villeneuve. "It is well balanced, and that is exactly what the track requires. This year, I want to finish in the points. We have had such a difficult season, but I have some excellent memories from Japan and hope to relive them when I am there."
Irvine and Hakkinen also have fond memories of Suzuka. Hakkinen won the title here last year. Irvine, who raced here in other formulas, made his F1 debut in 1993 at Suzuka.
"If I were to win the championship and I could choose where to win it," Irvine said, "this is the place I would want to do it. I came out of amateur racing in Europe into what was a very professional series at the time, here in Japan, and this is the country where I feel I became a proper racing driver. I learned so much here that, for me, it would be very fitting to win the championship here."
FORMULA ONE NOTEBOOK
Where to watch: Television viewers in the U.S. can watch the Japanese Grand Prix live on SpeedVision or FOX Sports Net at 12:30 a.m. (EDT) Oct. 31. Check local listings.
SpeedVision will show qualifying live at midnight (EDT) Oct. 30.
Hill's last: This will be the last race for 1996 World Champion Damon Hill, who is retiring. Including the Japanese Grand Prix, Hill, who has driven for Brabham, Williams, Arrows and Jordan, has made 115 Grand Prix starts between 1992 and 1999. He won 22 races, 20 poles and led 1,361 laps.
Besides his 1996 title, he finished second in the championship in 1994 and 1995 and third in 1993.
"Suzuka is a circuit I enjoy driving, and one that has given me some great memories, some of my most satisfying moments in the sport," Hill said. "I honestly believe I can get a good result, hopefully in the points, possibly even a podium."
Happy couple: Heinz-Harald Frentzen married his girlfriend, Tanya Nigge, in Thailand during the break between the races in Malaysia and Japan. It was a private ceremony with no family members or friends present.
Suzuka Showdowns: This marks the seventh time the title has been decided at the Suzuka circuit since 1987 (the first year the Japanese Grand Prix was held at the circuit). It is also the 20th time in the 50 years of the World Championship that the title has been determined in the final race of the year.
Japanese Grand Prix Fast Facts
Date: Sunday, Oct. 31 Race: 16th of 16 on 1999 schedule Venue: Suzuka Circuit length: 3.644 miles, 5.864 km Race length: 53 laps On TV: Race (live) -- 12:30 a.m. (EDT) Oct. 31, SpeedVision, FOX Sports Net. Check local listings. Qualifying (live) -- Midnight (EDT) Oct. 30, SpeedVision Points leader: Eddie Irvine, Ferrari 1998 race winner: Mika Hakkinen, McLaren-Mercedes 1998 pole winner: Michael Schumacher, Ferrari Previous winners: 1997 -- Michael Schumacher; 1996 -- Damon Hill; 1995 --Michael Schumacher; 1994 -- Damon Hill; 1993 -- Ayrton Senna