Formula one, 2001 season Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka: The Race: the jpoc report

Just as he dominated qualifying, Michael Schumacher ruled the roost in the race morning warm up but the times were not really representative. At the head of the timesheets, the order read: Michael Schumacher, David Coulthard, Nick Heidfeld, Jarno Trulli, Jean Alesi & Mika Hakkinen. Clearly, the other front runners were not aiming to set representative times. Presumably they had all of the information that they required and were just bedding in brakes and scrubbing tyres. The abrasive nature of the Suzuka track meant that the latter had to be done gently thus explaining the slow times set by the Williams duo.

Rubens Barrichello was using his team's spare car and, although the team were putting everything into his quest for second place in the constructor's championship, there was also the small matter of Alain Prost's all time record points tally. A win would put yet another F1 record into Michael Schumacher's hands.

Mika Hakkinen had some handling problems in his race car and, like Barrichello, he switched to the spare. Nick Heidfeld was troubled by loss of pressure in one tyre which the team suspected was down to a leaking wheel rim. Jos Verstappen had a minor off over the grass but suffered no damage and that was it until it was time for the race.

There was touble at the start of the race for Alex Yoong and Enrique Bernoldi. Yoong got out of his car on the dummy grid and went to take the spare car which would mean starting from the pit lane. Bernoldi was left on the grid at the start of the parade lap and his mechanics had to push him off into the pit lane for him to line up behind Yoong.

At the start, Michael Schumacher got away cleanly but the two Williams drivers made slightly better starts. Michael Schumacher moved to the right to block Montoya and that allowed Ralf Schumacher to close up on his team mate and begin to move alongside. Montoya held the inside line though and the first three went round the first corner in grid order.

Fisichella made a great start from sixth on the grid. He was soon past Hakkinen and closing on Barrichello. As the cars approach the first corner, he was nosing ahead and on the inside line but Barrichello managed to outbrake him round the outside of the corner. Button made a good start in the second Jordan and managed to get his nose ahead of Trulli but he was on the outside and Trulli kept his place.

Heidfeld had all sorts of first lap problems starting at the first corner when he tangled up with Button and lost places to Alesi, Raikkonen, Irvine and Villeneuve. Raikkonen was going in the opposite direction in the other Sauber and passed Alesi too. Behind that group, Frentzen lost a place to De la Rosa but he stayed close behind the Jaguar which was not to work out so well. A lap later, they tangled and, having damaged his front wing, Frentzen had to pit to get a new nose for his Prost.

From the back of the grid, Verstappen had a pretty quiet start by his standards and only managed to pass Enge, Alonso and Panis. The latter two swapped places and, right at the back, Yoong and Bernoldi both made it out of the pit lane OK and headed off in pursuit of the field.

Half way round the first lap, Barrichello showed that Ferrari meant business as he passed Ralf Schumacher to take third place and then he started to close up on second placed Montoya. Just as he had seemed to be on a different level in qualifying, Michael Schumacher pulled out a 3.6 second lead by the end of the first lap.

One reason that Michael Schumacher was able to pull away was that Montoya was having to work hard to defend his position from Barrichello's determined charge. After driving past one Williams on the opening lap, he lunged down the inside of Montoya as they went into the chicane at the end of the second. Juan Pablo was never an easy man to pass and he did not give in easily so, while Rubens was credited with second place at the end of lap two, he held the position for barely a kilometre as the Colombian regained the position from the Brazilian at the first corner of the third lap. That was some piece of motor racing by the two South Americans.

All of that allowed Michael Schumacher to extend his lead to 6.3 seconds by the end of the second lap.

Just behind the Ferraris and the Williams, Fisichella was working hard to stay ahead of Mika Hakkinen. Too hard as it turned out. He suffered from a half spin which put his front wheels onto the grass for a moment. He recovered very smartly but by the time that he was back up to speed, he had been passed by both McLarens, Trulli, Button, Raikkonen, Alesi and Irvine. Lap three was a poor lap for Michael Schumacher. He was less than two seconds faster than the rest of the field and only increased his lead to 8.2 seconds.

Montoya started the race on a set of very well scrubbed Michelins and they finally came back in on the fourth lap and he was able to establish a comfortable gap over Barrichello but still Micahael Schumacher was able to edge away in the lead.

Further back, Panis reclaimed seventeenth spot from Alonso and on the fifth lap Jean Alesi's last F1 drive came to an end. He was close behind Raikkonen and when the Finn, who was suffering from handling problems, spun at the Dunlop curve, there was nowhere that the Jordan driver could go but into the Sauber. The cars slid together towards the barriers. Raikkonen's mount received a heavy jolt on impact but Alesi had a less severe impact. He was out nonetheless.

As Raikkonen's wheels bounced back across the track, Irvine had to take avoiding action and thus lost a place to the recovering Fisichella.

Those TV stations which cut to an extended ad break after the first half dozen laps were well rewarded because for the next eight minutes, the cars just paraded round in order with little happening. Eventually, Fisichella caught and passed his team mate and the delayed Frentzen caught up with Yoong and passed him to put Minardi's new boy back last on the road.

At the front of the field, Montoya had stabilised Schumacher's lead to around ten seconds and the Ferrari was clearly right on the ragged edge as Schumacher repeatedly locked up his brakes and at one point even straight lined the chicane after outbraking himself. His brother managed to repeat that feat while trying to close up on Barrichello. While the Michael Schumacher got away with the manouvre, his brother picked up a stop go penalty for his trouble.

On lap fifteen, Barrichello headed for the pits. The rest of the field had opted for two stops but Rubens was making three. It appeared not to be working though as he was behind his team leader and Montoya before the stop when really, he needed to have been in the lead by that point.

He rejoined in eighth place, behind Trulli and Fisichella having also lost places to Ralf Schumacher and the two McLarens. He took seventh place back from the Benetton at the chicane but Fisichella was pitting anyway so perhaps he was not defending hard. Trulli also pitted on the same lap so that saw Barrichello back up to sixth place but still he had a lot of work to do if he was going to win the race and come second in the championship.

While Trulli and Fisichella were in the pits, they were passed by Button, Irvine, Villeneuve, Heidfeld and De la Rosa. Further back, Panis made a very long stop and dropped to last but one.

At the front, the Williams drivers were finding that their Michelins were really coming back strongly and Ralf Schumacher broke the lap record and then immediately repeated the feat. Michael Schumacher pitted while in the lead and dropped back behind the two Williams and Hakkinen. That left Montoya in the lead for a couple of laps before his own pit stop.

Had he been able to stay out for a few more laps, Montoya might have resumed ahead of Michael Schumacher but it was not to be. Juan Pablo stopped just three laps later and rejoined in fifth. Michael Schumacher even had the benefit of David Coulthard's McLaren providing a buffer between himself and the Williams for one lap until the Scot made his first stop.

Montoya's stop allowed Ralf Schumacher to lead for two laps and, when he pitted, his brother retook the lead. The front six completed their first round of stops a lap later when the McLarens pitted on successive laps and the order then was Michael Schumacher, Montoya, Barrichello, Ralf Schumacher, Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard.

Further down the field, everyone else managed their first pit stops with few problems. Eddie Irvine suffered the most. At the start of the pit stops, he was running tenth. That had become seventh as a result of Trulli and the two Benettons pitting before Irvine made his first stop. His team attampted to refuel his car but there was a fault in the fueling rig and the team sent him out for one more lap while they tried to fix the problem. He duly returned and the Jaguar mechanics had another go at putting some petrol into the car with the second fuel rig. This one too failed and there was nothing that they could do. Irvine got out of the car and walked away.

The chicane had caused problems for a number of cars and, in addition to Ralf Schumacher, Enrique Bernoldi was given a ten second stop go penalty for straight lining the chicane and gaining advantage. Ralf made his penalty stop at the same time as Barrichello made his second refuelling stop.

Despite Rubens being on a three stop strategy, his second stop took a long time. An electronic problem with the gearbox meant that it was slow to engage first gear when commanded. The stop took just over twelve and a half seconds and of course that was two and a half seconds more than Ralf's stop go penalty. The result was that the Williams car started moving before the Ferrari. Unusually, in Suzuka the pit lane is such that the leading teams take the garages close to the exit and so Barrichello left his pit just ahead of Ralf Schumacher.

The Ferrari was very slow to get going. The gearbox trouble meant that the pit lane speed limiter had disengaged and so Rubens could not simply floor the throttle and let the computers do the rest. Then, when he reached the end of the speed limit section, the limiter was slow to disengage.

All of that meant that Ralf was moving a lot faster than Barrichello and actually overtook the Ferrari while the cars were still just in the pit lane. In the process he repeated his Nurburgring offence of putting a wheel over the white line delimiting the pit lane and the team started to prepare for another stop go penalty.

He was in luck as the stewards decided that he should not be penalised as Barrichello was slow away and Ralf's action was deemed to be an avoiding manouvre as much as overtaking. That left Barrichello right behind the Williams and putting Ralf under a lot of pressure. Rubens repeated what was becoming his trade mark manouvre and dived down the inside of the Williams as the cars entered the chicane at the end of lap 32. Ralf straightlined the second part of the chicane. Had he not done so, he would almost certainly have struck the Ferrari but that excuse was not going to work with the stewards and Ralf was forced to allow Barrichello to pass at the end of the straight.

As far as the front runners were concerned, that was it. Everyone had one more stop to make and although Michael Schumacher's stop allowed Montoya to lead for a couple of laps, by the time that the stops had been completed, there were no changes in position. Mika Hakkinen allowed David Coulthard to pass for third place. One lap after that Villeneuve spun at the chicane and resumed losing ninth place to Heidfeld and that was pretty much it.

Enge, De la Rosa and Fisichella all pulled into the pits and retired with an assortment of mechanical woes and the two Arrows switched places on the last lap.

All in all, it was a dominant win for Michael Schumacher in a weekend in which he showed that the combination of his talents and the 2001 Ferrari was just too good for the other teams. He set three more records, the greatest winning margin for the driver's championship, the highest number of points in a single season and the highest number of points over a career, and he equalled the record of nine wins in a season. Before 2001, he shared that record with Nigel Mansell.

The final result saw Michael Suchmacher sharing the podium with Montoya and Coulthard while Hakkinen, Barrichello and Ralf Schumacher rounded out the top six. Jenson Button, who benefitted from the timing of his second pit stop was the only other man to complete the full race distance and he thus finished seventh. Despite not winning, it was a good race for Williams. It was only the second time in 2001 that they got both cars into the points. A key to 2002 will be if they can repeat that feat in rather more races.


The whole 2001 season All the races and the behind the scenes games
Japanese GP at Suzuka October 14th Who drives what?
Japanese GP at Suzuka October 14th Business and politics
Japanese GP at Suzuka October 14th Teams and personnel
Japanese GP at Suzuka October 14th Circuit news
Japanese GP at Suzuka October 14th Setting the scene
Japanese GP at Suzuka October 14th Practice and qualifying
Japanese GP at Suzuka October 14th The starting grid
Japanese GP at Suzuka October 14th Results
Japanese GP at Suzuka October 14th Championship standings after the race
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