Strategic superiority clinches Schumacher’s first Ferrari title

2000 Japanese Grand Prix flashback

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Formula 1’s return to America had produced a dramatic swing in the title fight. Michael Schumacher’a victory and Mika Hakkinen’s retirement meant the Ferrari driver went to Suzuka eight points clear of his McLaren rival – with just 20 points available over the final two races.

The first of those was the Japanese Grand Prix. Suzuka had been the scene of disappointing season finales for Ferrari in the previous two seasons. This year it was holding the penultimate round, and Schumacher was keen to put a lock on the title at the first opportunity, avoiding the added risks and pressures of a last-race showdown.

The main pre-race controversy came via an FIA announcement that any blocking moves which interfered with the title fight would be met (if sustained) by a black flag. This had been a feature in recent title-deciders, notably when Ferrari-powered Sauber racer Norberto Fontana blocked Schumacher’s previous title rival Jacques Villeneuve in 1997. Depending on one’s perspective, the FIA edict either cleaned up, or removed an element of tactics from the battle.

Button qualified a superb fifth for penultimate Williams appearance
The points leader set the pace in the first three practice sessions, with Hakkinen the quickest in the final Saturday morning run. The second session was notable for an earthquake which registered 7.1 on the Richter scale being felt at the circuit. It caused no significant structural damage either to the circuit infrastructure or Flavio Briatore’s hairstyle.

Qualifying

The qualifying session was a thriller, the two title rivals exchanging fastest times as they bid for the coveted pole position. Eventually Schumacher claimed his eighth pole of the season just nine thousandths of a second clear of Hakkinen, setting up the race perfectly.

The second row saw David Coulthard clear of Barrichello, before the Williams pair on row three. At this, one of the great driver’s tracks, it was notable that Ralf Schumacher had been out-qualified by his rookie team mate Jenson Button, though the latter was already on his way out of the team, to be replaced by Juan Pablo Montoya.

This ‘Noah’s Ark’ formation continued along much of the rest of the grid, with the Benetton, Arrows, Prost, Sauber and Minardi drivers all qualifying adjacent to each other.

PositionDriverTeamTime
1Michael SchumacherFerrari1’35.825
2Mika HakkinenMcLaren1’35.834
3David CoulthardMcLaren1’36.236
4Rubens BarrichelloFerrari1’36.330
5Jenson ButtonWilliams1’36.628
6Ralf SchumacherWilliams1’36.788
7Eddie IrvineJaguar1’36.899
8Heinz-Harald FrentzenJordan1’37.243
9Jacques VilleneuveBAR1’37.267
10Johnny HerbertJaguar1’37.329
11Alexander WurzBenetton1’37.348
12Giancarlo FisichellaBenetton1’37.479
13Pedro de la RosaArrows1’37.652
14Jos VerstappenArrows1’37.674
15Jarno TrulliJordan1’37.679
16Nick HeidfeldProst1’38.141
17Jean AlesiProst1’38.209
18Ricardo ZontaBAR1’38.269
19Mika SaloSauber1’38.490
20Pedro DinizSauber1’38.576
21Marc GeneMinardi1’39.972
22Gaston MazzacaneMinardi1’40.462

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2000 Japanese Grand Prix

The race itself took place in dry and overcast conditions with a vast crowd of over 150,000 in attendance.

Hakkinen made a superb start, passing Schumacher
There was initial drama on the parade lap when a hydraulic leak on Hakkinen’s McLaren caused the car to smoke. Fortunately the fault turned out to be no more than cosmetic.

At the lights a fast-starting Hakkinen got the jump and held his nerve into turn one, fending off a dogged challenge from Schumacher. Coulthard slotted into third ahead of Ralf Schumacher and Barrichello. Behind them Jos Verstappen moved up four places, while Fisichella fell eight spots due to an anti-stall system problem with his Benetton.

In the early running Hakkinen was able to build and maintain a slight buffer of a couple of seconds over Schumacher, as both eased away from the rest of the field. This was tense stuff, both drivers on the limit pushing for the advantage.

However for the first third of the race the action was tactical rather than wheel-to-wheel. Through the first round of pit stops Hakkinen retained the advantage, though Schumacher staying out a lap longer, which would later prove important.

The fight at the front was tense all race long
In the middle phase of the race the weather changed slightly, tipping the battle at the front. Light rain fell, the track became slippery. Hakkinen, the first driver around each time, was more tentative than Schumacher, who closed within a second of the McLaren.

The Ferrari couldn’t quite draw within striking distance, but was able to pile on the pressure. This was despite Schumacher making slight contact with Ricardo Zonta’s BAR when he passed it.

At the second round of pit stops Schumacher stayed out three laps longer than the McLaren, the Ferrari took full advantage of the clear air, light fuel load and slick pit work to emerge four seconds clear of Hakkinen after his final stop. It wasn’t quite to the drama of past Suzuka deciders, but the combination of on-track action and astute strategy typified the era. Hakkinen pressed on to the flag, but to no avail.

Behind there were adventures with both Wurz and Ralf Schumacher spinning into retirement, while mechanical problems put paid to both Prosts – as was typical – plus Verstappen’s Arrows, Frentzen’s Jordan and Gene in the Minardi.

Schumacher became Ferrari’s first champion since 1979
In the fight for the other points placings, Coulthard had the edge on Barrichello throughout the race, with the pair finishing as they qualified and the remaining points going to Button in fifth ahead of Villeneuve in the BAR.

Schumacher’s eighth victory of the season sealed his third world title, and his first for Ferrari. Outgoing champion Hakkinen was appreciably gracious in defat and his post-race remarks about his rival, though given some of the mechanical woes he was surely left pondering what might have been.

Meanwhile celebrations were fully underway at Ferrari. President Luca di Montezemolo declared Schumacher’s victory ‘the most beautiful day of my life’ – given di Montezemolo had got married earlier in the year (July 7th), one can only imagine how glacial the reception was on his return home.

The season was not yet over: There was still one race left to run in Malaysia and a constructors championship still up for grabs, with Ferrari 13 points ahead of their rivals. That mattered far less to them, however, than Schumacher’s triumph, which ended their 21-year run without a drivers champion.

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2000 Japanese Grand Prix result

PositionDriverTeamLapsTime / laps / reason
1Michael SchumacherFerrari531:29’53.435
2Mika HakkinenMcLaren53+1.837
3David CoulthardMcLaren53+9.914
4Rubens BarrichelloFerrari53+19.191
5Jenson ButtonWilliams53+25.694
6Jacques VilleneuveBAR52+1 lap
7Johnny HerbertJaguar52+1 lap
8Eddie IrvineJaguar52+1 lap
9Ricardo ZontaBAR52+1 lap
10Mika SaloSauber52+1 lap
11Pedro DinizSauber52+1 lap
12Pedro de la RosaArrows52+1 lap
13Jarno TrulliJordan52+1 lap
14Giancarlo FisichellaBenetton52+1 lap
15Gaston MazzacaneMinardi51+2 laps
16Marc GeneMinardi46Engine
17Ralf SchumacherWilliams41Accident
18Nick HeidfeldProst41Suspension
19Alexander WurzBenetton37Accident
20Heinz-Harald FrentzenJordan29Hydraulics
21Jean AlesiProst19Engine
22Jos VerstappenArrows9Electrical

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2000 Japanese Grand Prix championship standings

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Ben Evans
Motorsport commentator Ben is RaceFans' resident bookworm. Look out for his verdict on the latest motor racing publications on Sundays....

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10 comments on “Strategic superiority clinches Schumacher’s first Ferrari title”

  1. IIRC, Hakkinen all but burnt out the previous year defending his title against…Eddie Irvine. He never really recovered. He was like a man on crutches for the 2000 season.
    Kimi as replacement was an easy decision for Ron Dennis.

    1. LOL Hakkinen was burnt out in 2001. 2000 he put a famous magnificant pass on Schuamcher in Spa.

      The title fight was close in 2000 and Hakkinen had the edge and all the momentum going into Monza.

      1. You are correct. Thanks for that clarification.

  2. Hakkinen’s retirement at Indy was as pivotal to the outcome of the 2000 title as Hamilton’s in Malaysia in was to 2016.

    1. No more so than Schumacher getting taken out on the first corner at Hockenheim, engine blowing up at Magny Cours.

      Hamilton lost to Rosberg in 2016 because he botched 7 starts, crashed in Baku qualifying, had a dummy spit in Shanghai.

  3. It wasn’t strategic superiority that won it for Ferrari but simply Schumacher was much better in the greasy conditions (as he was throughout his career).

    His greatest win and the greatest, most meaningful in Ferrari’s history.

  4. It’s almost impossible to remember this without knowledge of the next four championships. This was a really big deal at the time. Ferrari finally getting one over the McLaren winning machine that had won the previous two championships. Easy to look back and think it was inevitable, but it certainly didn’t feel it at the time!

  5. The qualifying session was a thriller, the two title rivals exchanging fastest times as they bid for the coveted pole position

    This is available on youtube and it’s 15 minutes of epicness. I wish I had seen it live…

  6. a car spun right before the start finish straight the lap Schumacher mad his last stop, I wonder how much time Mika lost

  7. While trying to stay awake for the presidential “debate” (which I turned off in frustration after a few minutes) I watched the replay of that very race with live commentary by Murray Walker and Martin Brundle.
    Boy, that was intense… They were head and shoulders above anyone else this weekend. Hakkinen seemed to have a little bit more speed speed initially but slightly faded away after the first stop. I think they lost the race for for reasons:
    The Ferrari, which tended to be harder on its tyres and was really suffering from that earlier this season, was able to maintain tyre temperature better than the Mclaren in those conditions.
    Schumacher in the wet was second to none in that era and he had the ability to push each lap and every corner in every race and maximize the grip that was out there. In comparison to that, Hakkinen simply wasn’t fast enough when he was jumped. Those three laps were the only laps in which there was a significant difference in speed between them the whole race. It wasn’t only because he was heavier. In Suzuka the fresh tyres compensated for that. He set his fastest lap earlier with fresh tyres and a high fuel load. So he was just struggling for a short time but enough to loose him the race.

    Fun Fact: The whole blocking thing was brought before the FIA by Ferrari. After the Infamous 97 Season finale not only they used lapped cars as mobile chicanes.
    It fired back at them in Suzuka 1999 where Coulthard held up Schumacher badly. At the US GP in Indianapolis 2000, the very race before Suzuka, he blocked him a bit as well so they were a bit anxious…

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