Japanese GP history 1991-1999 (Video)

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Damon Hill won the 1996 world championship at Suzuka (C) Sutton
Damon Hill won the 1996 world championship at Suzuka (C) Sutton

Here’s the second part of Journeyer’s guide to the Japanese Grand Prix.

Part one showed Japan’s rich history of title showdowns started a long time ago. Six title showdowns in the first seven Japanese GPs made for some astounding viewing. While title showdowns became rarer in later races, these races often played crucial rules in deciding world championships.

1992 Japanese Grand Prix

Championship Showdown? NO

The Williams cars were just too good to let the title battle get toas far as Japan that year – they had sealed both titles in Europe. As it was, it was a chance for Riccardo Patrese to do some winning, after teammate Mansell first waved him by, then went out for good with an engine failure. Berger finished second, giving Honda something to smile about before they left F1 that year.

This is part one of a set of videos containing race highlights, all from the onboard cameras.

1993 Japanese Grand Prix

Championship Showdown? NO

Once again Williams had wrapped up both title before the Japanese round. Home drivers Ukyo Katayama and Aguri Suzuki tried their best in front of the home crowd, but failed to achieve much. The true star of the race was debutante Eddie Irvine, who unlapped himself from Ayrton Senna who was battling Damon Hill at the time. Irvine and Senna nearly came to blows after the race!

In the same race, Senna’s teammate Mika Hakkinen scored his first career podium. Irvine and Hakkinen would meet again at Suzuka, but for now, both youngsters looked like stars of the future.

1994 Japanese Grand Prix

Championship Showdown? NO, but title still undecided
Contenders: Michael Schumacher (Benetton), Damon Hill (Williams)

Michael Schumacher certainly looked quick enough and consistent enough in the first half of the year to seal the title in Europe like Mansell and Prost before him. But a series of errors and a few dubious decisions from the FIA kept the title wide open as they came to Japan.

The rain was horrendous: so bad, in fact, that the race had to be stopped with Schumacher leading. But it was Damon Hill who shone in the second half and won on aggregate timing.

Behind the title contenders, we were also treated to a fantastic scrap between the returning Mansell in the Williams and Jean Alesi in the Ferrari.

1995 Japanese Grand Prix

Championship Showdown? NO

While the drivers title had already gone to Schumacher, the constructors title was still theoretically up for grabs. But Williams needed a nightmare race from Benetton to keep their chances alive. A nightmare race did occur – but it happened to Williams, as it seemed their drivers had an unhealthy attraction to the gravel trap at the Spoon curve. Meanwhile, Schumacher won again and clinched their sole constructors title as Benetton. Its next constructors title came in 2005, with their current incarnation as Renault.

1996 Japanese Grand Prix

Championship Showdown? YES
Contenders: Damon Hill (Williams), Jacques Villeneuve (Williams)

While it was the first championship showdown at Suzuka in five years, this came off as a bit of a letdown. Hill only needed to score a point to win the title. Jacques Villeneuve, on the other hand, had to win AND see Hill not score to snatch the title.

As it was, it was Hill who was dominant all race, while Jacques struggled to stay in the points, before going out for good with a wheel failure. Finally, Damon had won the title he had wanted for so long. But with Williams dumping him for 1997, he would never get to drive a title-contending car again.

This is the first from a series of videos showing the race in full.

1997 Japanese Grand Prix

Championship Showdown? NO, but title still undecided
Contenders: Michael Schumacher (Ferrari), Jacques Villeneuve (Williams)

This was supposed to be Villeneuve’s turn at dominance. But he made rather hard work of winning the title. Before the race he incurred a penalty for passing yellow flags without slowing during practice during practice, and had to race under appeal.

Schumacher needed to win to keep his title hopes alive, and he and team mate Irvine managed the race perfectly to ensure that happened.

In a bizarre sequence of events, Villeneuve ran the opening laps slowly, presumaly hoping someone would get ahead of Schumacher and delay the Ferrari driver. But Schumacher carefully blocked Hakkinen, allowing Irvine to pass them both and attack Villeneuve.

Irvine got ahead of Villeneuve and sprinted away. When Villeneuve caught him later more synchronished swimming by the Ferrari drivers neatly baulked Villeneuve while Schumacher took over the lead.

Although Williams eventually dropped the appeal, Schumacher’s win set up a title showdown between him and Villeneuve at Jerez in Spain.

1998 Japanese Grand Prix

Championship Showdown? YES
Contenders: Michael Schumacher (Ferrari), Mika Hakkinen (McLaren)

One of Michael Schumacher’s greatest skills was his ability to drag a bad car to race wins, and develop it further into a brilliant car.

In 1998 he was stuck in a less competitive Ferrari while McLalren’s MP4-14 dominated. But just as in 1997, Schumacher took the title race down to the wire to Suzuka.

But then it all fell apart. First, he stalled on the grid – not good news considering he was already four points behind Hakkinen and needed to win to take the title. Next, while charging back up the field, his tyre blew. Hakkinen won the race and the championship.

It probably came as no consolation to Schumacher and Ferrari that it would be their last race on the Goodyear tyres as the company left the sport.

1999 Japanese Grand Prix

Championship Showdown? YES
Contenders: Eddie Irvine (Ferrari), Mika Hakkinen (McLaren)

It wasn’t just Murray Walker whose heart was coming up into his mouth. The tension was there, and surely people thought at least once, “Could Michael Schumacher actually help his team mate win Ferrari’s first world title in 20 years?” It was unthinkable before the year started, but by the final race there seemed a real chance of it happening.

But things didn’t quite turn out as planned. Hakkinen beat Schumacher at the start, and the Ferrari never got anywhere near him all race. Meanwhile, David Coulthard nipped pasy Irvine at the pit stops, which killed Irvine’s chances of taking the title. For the second year running, Hakkinen was champion.

It probably came as little consolation to Ferrari that they won the constructors title for the first time in 16 years.

But the good times were just around the corner for Ferrari. We’ll cover the 2000s tomorrow.

Read the first part of this series: Japanese GP history 1976-1990 (Video)

7 comments on “Japanese GP history 1991-1999 (Video)”

  1. Nick Caulfield
    10th October 2008, 9:53

    “One of Michael Schumacher’s reatest skills” – I think this should be “…greatest…”

  2. Nick – Fixed, ta.

  3. Love this, so many fond memories.

  4. Mansell v Alesi was absolutely awesome stuff. They were duking it out lap after lap, yet as soon as they got out of their cars they were hugging each other and having a laugh.
    IMO It kind of showed up the difference between the old breed of “racers” and the more modern “drivers” that were starting to fill out the grid…

  5. Kevin Queally
    10th October 2008, 14:47

    With relation to the comment below

    “But with Williams dumping him for 1997, he would never get to drive a title-contending car again”

    Wasn’t the 1999 Jordan a title contending car????

  6. Wasn’t the 1999 Jordan a title contending car????

    You can make the contention that it only contended for the drivers title because Schumacher got injured that year. Otherwise, they had no business being up there.

  7. (sigh!)… I do miss the days of Senna and Mansell

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