Japanese GP history, 2000-2007 (Video)

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Michael Schumacher won world titles number three and six (above) at Suzuka

Sorry for the delay in bringing you the final instalment of Journeyer’s guide to Japanese GP history. Parts one and two are here.

The start of the decade pointed to dominance for a certain red team, but as the decade passed, we still saw some spectacular races, including a couple of championship showdowns, as well as a race that could be one of the greatest of all time.

So which is which? Let’s take a look.

2000 Japanese Grand Prix

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

It was the final year of a trio of Ferrari-McLaren showdowns at Suzuka. But this was different from the first two: Ferrari won the race and they finally won a championship after 21 painful years of waiting. If there’s one Japanese Grand Prix the Tifosi will remember forever, this is it.

The emotion broke out as soon as Michael Schumacher took the flag. It was actually pretty incredible how Ross Brawn still sounded cool and calm while talking on the radio. Schumacher was well and truly out of words.

2001 Japanese Grand Prix

Championship Showdown? NO

But Ferrari didn’t rest on their laurels – far from it. This time around, they made sure of sealing both titles in Europe. As a result, there wasn’t much to fight for here other than second place in the Drivers Championship. Schumacher was ready to help team mate Rubens Barrichello if needed, but Rubens just didn’t have the pace.

In contrast, Michael had tons of pace and won easily, while David Coulthard sealed second place in the championship. This was also the last race for Mika Hakkinen – he went on sabbatical, which turned out to be retirement.

2002 Japanese Grand Prix

Championship Showdown? NO

At this point, the Ferraris were so dominant, it was almost scary to watch. Indeed, there were only two talking points that weekend. There was McNish’s shocking shunt during qualifying, ending his F1 racing career sooner than expected.

But there was also some good news. Formula 1 was just about ready to forget Takuma Sato. But the Japanese rookie was driving out of his skin, beating the best-of-the-rest Renaults to 5th place, which meant Jordan would finish ahead of Jaguar and BAR in the constructors championship. While that wouldn’t be enough to get him a drive for the start of 2003, it looked like he could still come back to F1.

2003 Japanese Grand Prix

Championship Showdown? YES
Contenders: Michael Schumacher (Ferrari), Kimi Raikkonen (McLaren)

The Ferraris couldn’t be dominant forever and in 2003 we finally saw a competitive championship again. In the final round at Suzuka, Schumacher only had to score a point to win the title. On the other hand, Kimi had to win with Schumacher not scoring to snatch the title.

But Schumacher found it very hard going. Wet-dry qualifying meant he started outside the top 10, and had to battle back through the field. Things got worse when he lost his front wing while trying to pass Sato, now with BAR, at the Casio Triangle. And his final climb back to eighth was marred by a fracas with brother Ralf’s Williams, whose front wing got knocked off by Schumacher in the process.

Good thing then that Barrichello was in command all weekend and there was nothing Kimi or McLaren could do about it. Cue title number six for Schumacher, finally beating Juan Manuel Fangio’s 46 year-old record of five championship titles.

2004 Japanese Grand Prix

Championship Showdown? NO

Ferrari dominated again in 2004 which killed practically any excitement at this race… unless you were a Sato fan. Honda desperately wanted Sato to win, or at least finish on the podium. Alas, Sato could do neither – team mate Jenson Button beat him to the podium. Ahead of him were the Schumacher brothers in their last ever one-two.

2005 Japanese Grand Prix

Championship Showdown? NO

Sure, only the constructors title was on the line, but more than that, this race was about the fundamentals of racing: pride, guts, and absolute speed.

So many memories from this race: There was Ralf Schumacher taking pole out of nowhere for Toyota. There was Fernando Alonso battling from 16th to third, passing Michael Schumacher round the outside of 130R in the process.

And of course, there was Kimi Raikkonen: from 17th on the grid to overtake Giancarlo Fisichella on the final lap – round the outside! It brought Ron Dennis to tears – and for the rest of us, it was absolutely stunning stuff.

Read more about the 2005 Japanese Grand Prix

2006 Japanese Grand Prix

Championship Showdown? NO, but title still undecided
Contenders: Michael Schumacher (Ferrari), Fernando Alonso (Renault)

For any Michael Schumacher fan, this is probably one of the most painful videos to watch. A race Schumacher should’ve won, his Ferrari engine made sure that he all but lost the championship to Alonso. Sure, the title chase was still alive heading into Brazil, but the title was lost here.

Read more about the 2006 Japanese Grand Prix

2007 Japanese Grand Prix

Championship Showdown? NO, but title still undecided
Contenders: Lewis Hamilton (McLaren), Fernando Alonso (McLaren), Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari)

Many F1 fans were dismyed by Formula 1 dumping Suzuka for Fuji, but the weather tried its best to make up for it. But in a situation verging on farce, the first 19 laps were spent behind the safety car. Meanwhile Ferrari threw away their grid positions with a tyre gamble on standard wets – contradicting an instruction from the stewards to start on extreme wets, which Ferrari claim not to have received.

But there was more. Lewis Hamilton and Robert Kubica collided, and Fernando Alonso threw away a chance to score points by spinning into the barrier. Then came the controversial incident behind the safety car when Toro Rosso rookie Sebastian Vettel crashed into Red Bull’s Mark Webber, which Hamilton was later investigated for.

The Ferraris fought back through the field: Felipe Massa had a fantastic scrap at the end with Kubica for sixth, while Kimi Raikkonen managed to nab third from the back of the pack. That would come in very handy by the final race in Brazil.

Read more about the 2007 Japanese Grand Prix

This is a guest article by Journeyer. If you want to write a guest article for F1 Fanatic you can find all the information you need here.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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