Michael Schumacher broke his own ten win record by taking number eleven at the Japanese Grand Prix and ended the season leading another 1-2 formation finish for Ferrari. From a great start, through an untroubled, easy race, right to the chequered...
Michael Schumacher broke his own ten win record by taking number eleven at the Japanese Grand Prix and ended the season leading another 1-2 formation finish for Ferrari. From a great start, through an untroubled, easy race, right to the chequered flag, Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello cemented Ferrari's untouchable superiority of 2002.
The challenging Suzuka circuit proved no match for the scarlet cars, which sailed through a race littered with engine blow ups and retirements. Allan McNish didn't even make the starting grid; after yesterday's huge crash in qualifying, the Scot took medical advice and did not race, despite wanting to.
"The doctors are there for a reason," the obviously frustrated Toyota driver said, "And I have to respect their decision. They were a bit worried that my knee might cause problems. Adrenaline gets you through and I felt good this morning. I wasn't expecting any problems this afternoon but it was a medical decision."
While the Ferraris roared off into the distance, for once there was little action between the rest of the front of the grid. Williams had a virtually anonymous race, Ralf Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya lacking any of their usual spark the whole race. Ralf managed to jump the McLaren of Kimi Raikkonen at the start and was up to third after David Coulthard retired. But it came to nothing as his BMW engine expired in the closing stages.
Montoya circled in solitary confinement for most of the race and came home fourth, his consolation being it put him third in Driver's championship ahead of Ralf. Coulthard slowed on track and cruised home to the pits with an unspecified problem of the throttle. McLaren's explanation of the problem was even more incomprehensible than usual and Coulthard was resigned: "It's disappointing," he said. "Naturally, I'd liked to have finished the season. I was pulling away from the other guys, but….."
Raikkonen climbed the order after Coutlhard and Ralf's exits and finished on the podium in third. An unspectacular last race for Williams and McLaren.
Ferrari may have dominated but as far as much of the home crowd were concerned, it was local boy Takuma Sato who was the hero of the day. Scoring his first points of the season, Sato drove a calm and confident race to come home fifth and was understandably overjoyed.
A pleased but somewhat restrained Eddie Jordan complimented Sato afterwards: "It was good not just for us (the team) but for Taku. He displayed huge talent all weekend, qualifying was impeccable and you only have to look at the race. He's done an amazing job all weekend and was the star of the show."
Jordan had a shaky start when Giancarlo Fisichella's engine blew before the race even started. Driving to the grid, the Italian's Honda expired leaving him to rush back for the spare.
Fisichella lost out at the start and had some on track fighting with the BAR of Jacques Villeneuve. Honda will be having a few scratchy beard meetings after today as not only did Villeneuve blow up while hassling the Jordan, Fisichella promptly exploded for a second time shortly afterwards. The other BAR of Olivier Panis was equally unfortunate, cruising into the pits early in the race and retiring.
"It was disappointing as the car was very fast," Villeneuve said of his untimely engine failure. "But, as usual, our starts were useless. I got away with the others around me but then the car just wouldn't go anywhere. That would have lost us the race anyway."
Renault were in line for a possible double points finish until Jarno Trulli ground to a halt at the side of the track with mechanical problems. Both cars had good starts but Jenson Button couldn't manage to catch Sato before the line, finishing sixth for his final point with the team. Nick Heidfeld was the sole survivor for Sauber in seventh: Felipe Massa crashed out of the race early after losing the car at Degner 1.
Mika Salo bought home the single Toyota in eighth, followed by the Jaguar of Eddie Irvine. Pedro de la Rosa was another who retired to the side of the track, his problem being transmission failure, and the final finisher was Minardi's Mark Webber. Both Minardi's had spins early on and Alex Yoong bought his race to an end in a gravel trap.
Suzuka was, sadly, an uninspiring finish to what many have seen as a progressively unexciting season. Ferrari and its fans have many reasons to celebrate and while Takuma Sato was probably the happiest driver of the day, there was little of interest happening on track. There was some action between the Renaults, Jordans and BARs but it was few and far between.
Formula One closed the 2002 racing season by sidling out with a lack of enthusiasm and quietly shutting the door behind it. Except for Allan McNish, who certainly did go out with a bang in qualifying. While Ferrari's superiority is well deserved, many hope we won't be seeing the same walkover in 2003. Final top six classification: M. Schumacher, Barrichello, Raikkonen, Montoya, Sato, Button.