The penultimate part of the top ten series sees us back in the land of the rising sun for a race that seen a topsy curvy grid, ridiculous passing and a winner that started 17th on the grid. Japan 2005 was action packed from start to finish.
It’s an old saying that to spice up the action add a bit of water. At the Japanese Grand Prix in 2005 a lot of water in the form of a typhoon, amongst other things, made a big difference. The rain was so substantial that the grid was turned up side down in comparison to the norm. It would see Ralf Schumacher in the Toyota take his sixth (and the team’s second) pole position. It was also to be the German driver’s last in his career. The usual suspects of Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen were 14th, 16th and 17th respectively as the rain messed with the timing they were on track for their one qualifying lap.
Race day was dry and the start chaotic as was to be expected with so many cars out of position. Local hero Takuma Sato in the Jordan made a near kamikaze attempt to get up the order, causing Rubens Barrichello to run wide and thus giving the Brazilian a punctured left rear. David Coulthard ran wide at 130R and into the chicane is where it all kicked off. Raikkonen took a look outside the Sauber of Jacques Villeneuve, causing both to run across the chicane, the Canadian pushing the Finn wide, a move that would see the 1997 champ incur a 25 second post race penalty. Both drivers re joined the action in front of Raikkonen’s McLaren team mate Juan Pablo Montoya. The Colombian took a left to avoid the pair but Villeneuve also turned left, forcing the McLaren off the track and into the tyre wall and speed, the front left ripped from the Mercedes powered car. A safety car period ensued.
At the re start Ralf maintained his lead with Fisichella passing Button. Michael passed the Red Bull of Christian Klien at the chicane with the Renault of Alonso trying to keep pace with the Ferrari and darting past. However it took the Spaniard across the chicane, gaining the position by unfair advantage. The Renault slowed enough down the straight to allow the Austrian drive back past before darting into his slipstream and re passing him into turn one. The stewards took a dim view to this and a few laps later instructed Alonso to let the Red Bull back through. By this time he was away up the road chasing Schumacher and was annoyed.
The annoyance got worse when after letting him through the stewards changed their mind and advised the Renault pit wall there is no need to let Klien through but by this time the Austrian was already back past Alonso. Furious the newly crowned World Champion (he was crowned champion at the previous round in Brazil) had to wait two laps before he could get back past and to make matters worse Raikkonen was now on his tail. It took a few laps but the duo caught the Ferrari driver. With pit stops and superior pace the trio were now fighting for fifth on track but had not pitted themselves yet. Alonso, who had the lightest fuel load of the three, was all over the rear wing of the seven time champion.
The Renault got a great run out of spoon corner for the run up to 130R. Schumacher defended, not expecting what was to follow. Alonso kept his foot down and passed the Ferrari driver round the outside of 130R in a daring move that, if misjudged, could have been catastrophic. But it was judged perfectly with Schumacher realising he was beat and giving the corner to Alonso rather than have a massive crash. It was to be short lived as Alonso pitted two laps later but the move is remembered even today. Raikkonen tried to get past himself but couldn’t find a way through and both Schumacher and Kimi pitted four laps later, leaving the pits in order but ahead of Alonso thus giving Kimi the jump.
By this point up ahead the pace of the Toyota was proven to be fuel related as Ralf had pitted on lap 12, even though there was six laps behind the safety car. Fisichella took a comfortable lead and held it after the pit stops phases. Button and Webber were fighting over position behind while Ralf Schumacher was the only Toyota running on home soil after Sato took out his team mate Jarno Trulli. The Japanese driver would be disqualified after the race for the incident.
Lap 28 was the point that Michael could no longer hold of Raikkonen and he swept around the outside of turn one with Alonso following a few laps later after getting the German off line at the final chicane. It meant that it was Fisichella leading from Button and Webber with Raikkonen and Alonso following behind. Raikkonen caught the duelling BAR of Button and Williams of Webber easily but with lighter fuel loads he had to hang fire for them to pit. When they did pit the Williams crew got their man out ahead of Button with a great pit stop while Fisichella pitted as well. This put Kimi in the lead and he only had a couple of laps to make the difference. And boy did he. At the point Renault pitted the race leader the gap between the two was around 20 seconds. By the time both had pitted Raikkonen was now second having been able to jump Button and Webber but was only nine seconds down from the Italian having halved the gap.
Fisichella seemed to be struggling. This was the year that there was no pit stops for tyres, one set for the whole race. His team mate Alonso was flying but his lighter fuel strategy and issues with Klien earlier had put paid to his chances of winning. Raikkonen was on fire and was cutting into the nine second gap at the rate of a second a lap. Fisichella seemed to go to pieces at the rate the gap was closing and managed to baulk himself behind a backmarker bringing the McLaren into range. The Italian even started defending the inside line at the chicane when Raikkonen was not within range to pass. All this led to the final lap.
Coming out of the final chicane Raikkonen was tucked under the rear wing of the Renault. Coming down the front straight Fisichella moved to the left to defend. Raikkonen followed to keep the slipstream before pulling back to the left, missing the rear left of the race leader by millimetres. The Finn swept past into turn one and was in the lead and took the flag. Having started in 17th the McLaren driver had only led a couple of laps but it included the one that mattered, the last one. Despite having lost out on the title at the last round to Alonso the result was celebrated as if it was a title win itself with Ron Dennis hugging Raikkonen in parc ferme. The huge odds and action packed race left everyone speechless but what a race it was.
Photo Credits: Main: matome.naver.jp
Start: green flag f1.com
Montoya Crash: thejudge13.com
Podium: China Daily