Schumacher claims sixth title at Japanese GP

Schumacher claims sixth title at Japanese GP

Michael Schumacher finally clinched the 2003 Formula One World Championship at the Japanese GP today, writing his name into the history books as the first driver to ever win an unprecedented six championships. World champion Michael ...

Michael Schumacher finally clinched the 2003 Formula One World Championship at the Japanese GP today, writing his name into the history books as the first driver to ever win an unprecedented six championships.

World champion Michael Schumacher.
Photo by Shell Motorsport.
Unlike much of the 2003 season, though, Schumacher didn't demonstrate his famous smooth driving style at the Suzuka circuit, but, rather, scraped his way from a 14th grid position to a points-paying eighth-place finish, with several on-track incidents along the way.

However, the singular point was enough, given that his championship rival, Kimi Raikkonen, was not able to do better than second at the race. The end result was that the German claimed the Championship by two points, 93 to 91.

The race honors went to Schumacher's Ferrari teammate, Rubens Barrichello, who claimed a relatively easy victory with an 11-second margin over Raikkonen's McLaren.

"I find it difficult to say what I am feeling at the moment because, honestly, this has been a tough year, a tough last part of the season and today was one of my toughest races," the new six-time champion said. "But I can say what I feel about the team: they are more important and again today did an incredible job and Rubens had a fantastic drive winning in great style."

Rain, which had hit late in the qualifying session and pushed many of the front-runners well back in the field (Schumacher started the race from 14th, Raikkonen 7th), threatened throughout the race, but never got beyond a few drizzles. And the level of grip produced by the cars was more than enough for the drivers to ignore that level of moisture on track.

Race winner Rubens Barrichello.
Photo by Ferrari Media Center.
"I kept pushing because I was very worried it might rain, in which case I could have lost everything in just one lap," Barrichello explained after the race.

With that mixed-up starting grid, Barrichello was in the right position to take the lead in the start, and he clinched it, arriving at the first clearly before his main challenger, Juan Pablo Montoyoa.

Montoya, starting from second, alongside Barrichello, may have lost that battle, but he was not about to concede the war. He was on Barrichello's rear wing corner after corner, and at the entrance to the Spoon corner, he made the decisive move, putting his Williams-BMW in the lead.

Juan Pablo Montoya.
Photo by Sutton Motorsport Images.
The young Colombian seemed to be able to run away from the Ferrari for some time, stretching the gap to over four seconds, but it was not to last: on the 10th lap, his hydraulic systems failed, leaving his gearbox stuck in a single gear. A cruise back to the pits was all Montoya could do, handing the lead back to Barrichello.

Montoya's DNF practically put an end to Williams' hopes for a Constructors' Championship. With the team three points behind Ferrari entering the race, Barrichello in the lead and Ralf Schumacher mired at the back of the field, there was little likelyhood that the younger Schumacher alone could outscore Ferrari by the requisite margin.

Indeed, Ralf's day turned out to be something to forget. He spun twice at the chicane, trying to effect passed on Jarno Trulli's Renault and Nick Heidfeld's Sauber. At the end of the day, Ralf struggled home in 12th, barely ahead of the usual backmarkers.

Meanwhile, at the front of the race, another eight laps elapsed after Montoya's cruise to the pits, when Fernando Alonso's Renault engine blew while he was in P2, putting an end to the Spaniard's hopes of passing Barrichello.

Kimi Raikkonen.
Photo by DaimlerChrysler.
That, then, elevated Raikkonen to second, with teammate David Coulthard in close tow. Raikkonen momentarily held the lead when Barrichello first pitted, but he did not have the speed to challenge for the victory on the damp and cold Suzuka track.

"I struggled with the handling on my last two sets of tyres but continued to push as hard as I could until the very last lap," Raikkonen recounted after the race. "You never know what might happen in racing, but it was not enough."

So Barrichello took his second race win of the year -- clearly earned, not gifted -- and helped clinch not only the Drivers' Championship for Schumacher, but also yet another Constructors' Championship for the storied Ferrari team.

Coulthard took third place in the second McLaren, just half a second adrift of the young Finn, and never clearly outdriven by his teammate in the final race of the season. He looked like he had the pace to challenge for second, but there was little to be gained from attempting a pass, with his place in the final Championship standings already set.

With Raikkonen unable to make any headway against Barrichello for the win, there was no longer any need for Schumacher to finish in the points, but the team still wanted to play it safe. So the German veteran pushed hard, but did not have one of his most stellar races.

He first lost the front wing in an early incident, trying to pass Takuma Sato's BAR-Honda, the Japanese driver making his BAR debut with Jacques Villeneuve's early departure from the team, when he tried a rather optimistic pass on the inside of Sato at the chicane.

When he later caught up to a seventh-place battle between his brother Ralf and Cristiano da Matta's Toyota, he tried the same move again on da Matta, but had to lock his tires to avoid running into the Brazilian, who held his line.

The elder Schumacher got away with just flat-spotted tires, but his younger brother had to pit again to have the Williams crew fit a new nosecone.

"After the incident with Da Matta, I had a huge flat spot on the tires and the vibration was so bad I had vision problems down the straight," Schumacher recounted afterward. "I was also worried about a puncture and was just trying to get the car to the flag."

At the finish, Barrichello and the two McLaren-Mercedes were followed by Jenson Button in the first BAR-Honda, Jarno Trulli in the surviving Renault, and then Sato, Da Matta and Schumacher's Ferrari.

It was a rather anticlimactic end to an exciting championship season, but it was enough for Schumacher to pass Juan Manuel Fangio in the history books, and claim his place as the only driver to win six championships since the establishment of Formula One in 1950.

Perhaps Jean Todt, the Ferrari team principal, summed it the best: "It has been an historic day. We have won both championships, writing another page in the history book of this sport. No team has ever won five consecutive Constructors' titles and no driver has ever had his name at the top of the record books six times."

And Schumacher has yet to speak of retirement, so there may be more to come yet in the years ahead, unless the new generation of Raikkonens, Montoyas and Alonsos can step up to the plate next year and match him lap for lap.

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Ferrari , Mercedes , Sauber , McLaren , Williams