October 10, 2005 Having won nine of the previous 12 Grands Prix the team contested, a McLaren Mercedes victory was predictable at the Japanese Grand Prix held yesterday, but in the end the team’s sixth consecutive victory was a complete surprise. Having finished the last Grand Prix in first and second positions, Juan Pablo Montoya and Kimi Raikkonen were the last drivers in the qualifying order and when torrential rain hit during the last part of qualifying, their qualifying times were so handicapped by the flooded track they began the race in 17th and 18th positions respectively.
In a sport where passing is extremely difficult, that gave the team almost no chance of a victory but such is the competitiveness of the McLaren, Raikkonen drove through the field to 12th on the first lap and picked off those in front of him one by one, passing Giancarlo Fisichella’s Renault part way through the last of 53 laps to take the win. McLaren must be ruing its early season fragility as this championship is surely one that got away.
For the new champion Alonso, the race was also a triumph of sorts, as he too fell foul of the qualifying deluge and started in 16th place on the grid. Alonso’s opening lap was even more stunning than Raikkonen’s and he was running eighth after just one circuit. He lost seven seconds in the middle of the second stint, when he was obliged by the FIA to concede a position to Klien for the second time, and then drove aggressively throughout, making up positions with some of the season’s most dramatic overtaking manoeuvres. He ran a short middle stint but the time lost during the opening stint had cost him track position, and left him with too much to do to fight for the lead at the end of the race. Nevertheless, he finished third – his fourteenth podium of the year and assisted the Mild Seven Renault F1 Team to a double podium (second and third) and the 14 point haul (8 + 6) which enabled it to wrest back the lead in the constructors championship table from McLaren. The teams go to the final race of the year in China next weekend with Renault leading McLaren by two points.
The early race was dominated by the barnstorming Raikkonen and Montoya and the fall-out from their charge from the rear of the grid. Juan Pablo was side by side with Jacques Villeneuve (Sauber Petronas) coming out of the chicane on the first lap just before the start/finish line and was pushed off the track. The accident caused the race to be neutralised as the safety car was deployed.
At the end of the seventh lap the safety car was withdrawn and the race proper was resumed. By lap 14, with just seven more laps of racing, Raikkonen had clawed back another five positions and was up to seventh place behind Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) and Fernando Alonso (Renault). By lap 24 Raikkonen was up to second place behind Michael Schumacher coming up to the first round of refuelling stops.
At the end of lap 26 Raikkonen followed Schumacher in to make his first stop in 8.3s. He resumed sixth, then moved up to fifth and then overtook Schumacher for fourth place going into lap 30. Race leader Giancarlo Fisichella made his second stop on lap 38. This allowed Jenson Button (BAR-Honda) into the lead ahead of Mark Webber (Williams-BMW) and Raikkonen, the three of them covered by 1.1sec. Button and Webber made their second stops on lap 41 with Raikkonen setting the fastest race lap in 1m 31.540s on lap 44 before making his final stop in 4.9sec on lap 45, resuming second behind Fisichella. He reduced Fisichella's lead steadily and overtook him going into the final lap to win by just under two seconds.
Kimi Räikkönen, McLaren Mercedes, first: “That was one of my best races ever with a lot of hard work and I really enjoyed myself. Considering all the problems we have had here to come away with a win is just fantastic. I was pushing as hard as I could and the car just got better and better. After my second stop I had gained enough on Fisichella to go for it and I did. I got past him on the last lap coming into the first corner and it was one of those opportunities you have to take. Today’s result means that I have the best possible position for qualifying in China but as this weekend showed that is no guarantee. I look forward to Shanghai where we will do everything we can to win the Constructors’ Championship.”
Ron Dennis, McLaren Team Principal: “Probably the best race of Kimi’s career and a fantastic reward for the team’s efforts in what has been a challenging weekend. The strategy was executed in a professional and disciplined manner and Michelin also performed to their usual high standard. Unfortunately Juan Pablo was the victim of an incident with Jacques Villeneuve which is currently being investigated by the Stewards and we expect them to share our opinion.”
Norbert Haug, Vice President Mercedes-Benz Motorsport: “Congratulations to Kimi and the entire team for this outstanding performance. Both drivers had a big handicap starting from the back which meant that Juan Pablo was a victim in the traffic on the first lap. Kimi had to fight hard to make progress being hampered by lots of traffic. The team’s strategy helped him and he gave it his all. Passing Fisichella on the outside of the first corner on the last lap was one of the greatest moves we have seen for a long time – probably since Mika’s in Spa 2000. Thanks to Michelin for an excellent job and their first Formula One win in Japan. Thanks to all the team members and we give it our all in China next week.”
Giancarlo Fisichella, Renault F1, 2nd position: “That was a tough race this afternoon. I got a good start, but the early safety car period certainly cost me – it kept the field very close together in the early stages, and I wasn’t able to pull out the kind of gap over the quick cars at the back of the field that I would have hoped for. Even so, the strategy worked well to get me out in front of Ralf and Jenson, and after that I just concentrated on doing my race, and trying to lap quickly and consistently. The team told me Kimi was close after the last stop, and he caught me up quite quickly – especially when I got chopped by a backmarker into 130R, which cost me a lot of time. He was very fast in the final part of the lap, and I did my best to hold him off, but he held the line into the first corner and that was that. I am disappointed, of course, but this is still a good result for the team in the championship.”
Fernando Alonso, Renault F1, 3rd position: “It sounds strange, but I am quite disappointed with third: the car felt just fantastic today, and I thought that we were probably a match for McLaren for the first time since the start of the season. So after starting ahead of them and having the opportunity to beat them, it didn’t really work out for us today. There was a strange incident with Klien, when I was seven seconds ahead and told to give the position back, which surprised me a little bit. And then with the strategy today, I just seemed to end up in traffic behind slower cars all the time. But for the first time at Suzuka, I had a car that was good enough to overtake, and there were some special moments – especially with Schumacher and Webber. I think I have done maybe two or three overtaking manoeuvres all year up to now, and today there were about fourteen, but I could afford to take the risks because there was nothing to lose. It was good to get my fourteenth podium of the year this afternoon, and I want number fifteen in China.
Flavio Briatore, Managing Director, Renault F1: “What a fantastic race! It was a great spectacle for all the fans here at Suzuka, and watching on television. We had overtaking, dramatic incidents and a battle for the lead that went down to the final lap. Honestly, I think the key moment of this race was not at the end, but in the first stint when Fernando was forced to give his position back to Klien. We didn’t understand why, because he had already done it once, but the FIA asked him to do it again. That cost him nine seconds, and meant he was in much more traffic during the rest of the race. Without that delay, he could have been in front of Raikkonen after the second stop, and maybe we would have seen a different result. As for Fisico, he led for much of the way but couldn’t hold Raikkonen off at the end. But honestly, we must look at the positives now. We have one race left, we are leading the constructors’ championship again, and there is a new engine upgrade to come in China. There is everything still to play for there.”
Pat Symonds, Executive Director of Engineering, Renault F1: “After securing our third double podium finish of the season, it is strange to come away with a slight feeling of disappointment, but losing the lead so close to the end of a race we had led for much of the way, is hard to stomach. Undoubtedly, this was one of the most exciting races of the year, but things didn’t go our way. Fernando drove fantastically well from sixteenth position, but the curious decision by the FIA to let Klien regain his position twice certainly cost him time, and left him battling traffic for much of the race. Even so, it was a great sight to see him cut close and put in the kind of aggressive race he had promised us. As for Giancarlo, he had executed his planned strategy perfectly, and it gave him a comfortable lead over the cars that started around him on the grid. However, he couldn’t find the pace at the end to hold off Raikkonen. Even so, we have done a great job today: McLaren only finished with one car, and we took advantage of the situation to reclaim the championship lead. We will be looking to finish the job in China.”
Mark Webber, Williams F1, 4th: “We did pretty well today, but I am not completely happy with my position, because this is not the result we wanted, after all. The most positive part today was the job the team did at both pit-stops, when we passed Coulthard first and then Button, but in the final laps I just could not hold Alonso behind me. The car has clearly improved because the guys in the aerodynamic department keep pushing and BMW is giving us a strong engine but today we couldn’t compete on the straight.”
Sam Michael, Technical Director, WilliamsF1: “It was a good effort by Mark, he drove well. We also had a good strategy and our crew did a good job on the pit stops to beat David Coulthard’s Red Bull and also later on Jenson Button in his BAR. The pace of our car has improved. Unfortunately Antonio was out early. However, we are a winning race team so we continue to push until we get back there.”
Mario Theissen, BMW Motorsport Director: “It was a great Grand Prix with many battles and overtaking manoeuvres. Mark drove a clean race. He only finally had to bend under the pressure of Kimi Räikkönen and Fernando Alonso. The pit crew did a fantastic job by gaining Mark two places and therefore enabling him to finish fourth. It is a shame Antonio retired early. Compliments to Kimi, one doesn't see often a driver winning a race from grid position 17.”
Jenson Button, BAR-Honda , fifth: "I'm obviously very disappointed to finish 5th after starting from 2nd on the grid. I lost a place off the start but the early part of the race was looking good and I was able to keep pace with Fisichella. At my first stop the fuel flap failed to open and the crew had to do it manually, which lengthened my pitstop by over six seconds. After that we were struggling for pace and then I lost another position in the second stop. It's very frustrating from where we started and we have to do better in China."
David Coulthard, Red Bull Racing, sixth place: “From the team’s point of view, we’ve got to be satisfied, as there are some strong teams out there. I had a good battle with Jenson (Button) in Turn one and our pace was good at the start. It was only after the fuel stop I began to struggle. We have to put quite a lot of fuel in our car, which can upset the balance. However, as more fuel gets burnt off, it improves. It’s happened quite often this year - we put fuel in the car and lose some performance in the middle stint of the race compared to the others. We were competitive with Williams all weekend, and they finished fourth, so, while we’ll gratefully take the points, I was hoping for more.”
Christian Horner, Sporting Director, Red Bull Racing: “To start sixth and finish sixth is a solid result, but the potential was there to beat BAR and Williams today. David led the race briefly prior to his first stop, but unfortunately the car wasn’t quick enough after it was re-fuelled and he sacrificed some time. We made up ground later on when David completed an excellent sequence of laps and went past Schumacher through his final pit-stop. Unfortunately, Christian lost too much time in the first sector. He picked up the pace in the second half of the race but, by then, he’d given up bit too much ground to the cars ahead and it was another frustrating ninth place finish for him.”
Michael Janes, Cosworth F1 Race Engineering: “All Cosworth TJ engines performed faultlessly throughout the Suzuka GP weekend, the second event for both race engines. We are obviously very pleased to have assisted David in his hard-earned points finish and look forward to repeating the same next weekend in Shanghai.”
Michael Schumacher, Ferrari, seventh place: “The best thing to come out of today is that we have secured third place in this year’s Constructors’ championship. Considering the performance of our package this season and the tough time we have had, this is not such a bad result. Especially, when you consider that, in the ten years I have been with Ferrari, this will have been our worst season. As for the race, I was disappointed that, unlike in Brazil, I was unable to keep pace with the Renaults. Sure, it is fun to have a good fight on the track, but it would have been better if I had been more competitive. At my second stop, we had to make some adjustments to the car, which cost us time and lost me a place. All in all, going to Shanghai two points ahead of Montoya is nice but unexpected.”
Ross Brawn, Ferrari: “Rubens got caught up in the mess at the beginning, which made his race very difficult from then on. Michael made a great start and I think we had a very good strategy today. But the performance of the package just faded in the middle of the race and became difficult to deal with. This then put us in a defensive position from about lap 20 onwards, which meant we had to try and protect our position. At the second pit stop, we had to make some adjustments to the car which meant we lost a place to Coulthard. We were not as fast as the front runners, but nevertheless we did a good job today, within the limits of our performance at the moment.”
Jean Todt, Ferrari: “This result lived up to our admittedly un-ambitious expectations. Michael had to dig deep into his reserves of talent to get the Ferrari-Bridgestone package home in seventh place. Rubens’ chance of finishing in the points was compromised by the accident at the first corner. The subsequent Safety Car period offered the possibility of regaining some ground, but nothing much came out of it. Today’s result confirms us in third place in the Constructors’ championship behind the two teams which, running on the rival tyre to Bridgestone, have dominated the season. Objectively, this was the best we could do. Two points is not much, but all the same, we dedicate them to one of our team, Ivan Petterlini, who tragically died last Sunday. These last few days, all of us have been thinking of him. In a few days, we will be back on track in Shanghai for the final race of the year. The only pleasure we can derive from that is that this negative season is coming to an end. Then, along with Bridgestone, we will be able to turn our full attention to preparing for 2006.”
Ralf Schumacher, Panasonic Toyota Racing, 8th: "That was a pretty tough end to a weekend that promised so much. I made a great start and was getting away from the rest of the pack when the safety car came out, which was bad news for our three-stop strategy. When it stayed out for so many laps it effectively put an end to our chances. We still raced as hard as we could and fought to grab as much out of the race as possible. Unfortunately in the second half of the race I had quite a heavy vibration and so I had to back off again. Without the safety car our strategy could have put us somewhere between third and fifth place but I guess a point is better than nothing. We'll hope to do better next time." Tsutomu Tomita, Panasonic Toyota Racing, Team Principal: "It's disappointing not to have scored more points after being on pole. Ralf made a fine start and he succeeded in building up a lead with two quick laps before the safety car came out. Unfortunately the safety car stayed out far longer than we expected and that effectively ruined our three-stop strategy. Later on he had a problem with tyre vibration which meant he couldn't get back more places, but without the safety car we could have had a podium. Jarno was always going to have a difficult day starting from the pit lane but he was put out of the race by a hopelessly ambitious move on the part of Takuma Sato. A driver should be aggressive but fair. So it was a disappointing end to a good weekend, but that's racing. I'm sorry for all the fans who have come to support us, but unfortunately things didn't work out for us today. We will now hope for a better race in Shanghai next week."
Christian Klien, Red Bull Racing, ninth position: “I had a good start, although the car felt a bit sluggish off the grid; I’m not sure what caused that. I was fighting hard with Sato in Turn one; he tried to overtake me, but I defended my place, although the first ten laps were difficult. The car felt heavy and my hard tyres made it tricky on the green track, meaning I lost some time. The Renaults and McLarens were in a different league to us and there was just no chance to defend from them. The car improved as the race went on and I began to set faster lap times, but by then it was too late. I’m not so happy, I must say. From fourth on the grid you expect a lot more, not really to finish in ninth position.”
Jacques Villeneuve, Sauber, tenth place: "We changed my strategy after the safety car came out, but once the others who had already pitted came by ahead of me as I rejoined after refuelling I knew that was it. The car was good, and I think mine was faster than Felipe’s. I was catching him at the end but big deal, we fought for 10th place. Not a glorious day! "As for Montoya on the first lap, I never even saw him so I have no idea what he might have been trying to do when he went off."
Felipe Massa, Sauber, 11th: "I had a problem with the anti-stall activating itself at the start, which didn’t help as I lost places. I got past Jacques with my two-stop strategy, which was good, and the car was okay. The balance was fine, but we just weren’t quick enough today."
Peter Sauber, Sauber Team Principal: "Both drivers had strong and consistent races. Although we split the strategies after the safety car came out, Felipe and Jacques were less than a second apart at the finish which suggests that our result was the best we could have hoped for today."
Rubens Barrichello, Ferrari, 12th: “This was a tough race for me, ruined by what happened on the opening lap. I was trying really hard to overtake Villeneuve around the outside and everything was going okay. I could not close the door too much on Jacques. I had Sato in my sight so I could see him going off the track. With him in front of me as he went off the track, I found myself with no downforce and also ended up in the gravel. Then I had to come in as my left rear tyre was punctured. With the Safety Car on track, we changed strategy, going for a single refuelling stop, but I was too far back and there was not much I could do.”
Takuma Sato, BAR-Honda, 13th: "This is a very disappointing result for me after the incredible support that I have experienced here from the fans. The start was difficult and through the first corner I was side by side with Klien and ran wide. Rubens came from behind, ran off in front of me and we made contact, which damaged the front of my car and then both of us went into the gravel. We changed the strategy but it didn't work well for me and then I had the coming together with Trulli which was another blow to my race. I'm hugely disappointed for the myself, the fans, the team and Honda, but I will be back here racing at Suzuka."
Tiago Monteiro, Jordan, 14th: “I think I had a good race on a track I did not really know in the dry. I was wondering how it was going to be, but I managed to get quickly behind my direct competitors at the beginning and I pushed really hard all the way. We were on a great optimum fuel strategy, I needed to be really close to them and push as much as possible when they came to pit. I didn’t make any mistakes and I am very happy to finish 14th here on a difficult track.”
Robert Doornbos, Minardi F1, 15th: “It was a good race. We brought it to the chequered flag, so I’m happy about that. My rhythm when the Safety Car first came out, though, was not as good as it could have been. I still have to learn a more about how the tyres react in such situations, but the result was that I wasn’t able to push as hard as I would have liked once the race restarted. After the first pit stop, though, I started to push hard, and was able to pass Karthikeyan’s Jordan in the last chicane, which was good motivation. Finally, I have to say sorry to the pit crew, as I lost a bit of concentration, missed my braking point for the second pit stop, and clipped one of my mechanics, Roberto Venturi. I now know that he is okay, if bruised, but I’m relieved for that”.
Paul Stoddart, Team Principal, Minardi Cosworth: “Today really was ‘the one that got away’, as we clearly had a faster race car than Jordan, but due to mistakes by both drivers in their second pit stops, we weren’t able to capitalise on our advantage. The team did derive some satisfaction, however, from the fact that three former Minardi drivers finished in the top four positions of today’s race”.
Narain Karthikeyan, Jordan, 16th: “I made a good start but I got it a little bit wrong in the first corner because it was the first ever lap for me on these race tyres due to my problems on Friday afternoon and the grip level was not perfect. After the safety car went in I was able to hang on behind Massa until my first stop. After the stop the front tyres were graining a lot and after the second pit stop, I have really struggled with the car balance, as it was understeering a lot. Near the end of the race, I had to change my right front tyre, which unfortunately cost me some time. In general, it was an average race.”
Adrian Burgess, Jordan Sporting Director: “We brought both cars to the finish again which is good. Narain had an imbalance with the car, which damaged his front tyres, and eventually he locked up once too often and flat spotted one. We decided to change it for precautionary reasons, as it could have become too dangerous for him to carry on. Tiago had a good race again from the back and finished 14th. Now we are heading to the final race in China next week and try to finish with a good result.”
Christijan Albers, Minardi F1, 17th: “I was having a really good battle with the Jordans and had a faster car, but unfortunately, I made a mistake when I overshot the marks during my second pit stop. That led to a refuelling problem and the fire, which effectively put paid to my race. Apologies to the team, and in particular, to the front jack man, Sandro Parrini, and the refuellers”.
Jarno Trulli, Panasonic Toyota Racing, DNF: "Sato tried a manoeuvre that was obviously impossible. He just tried to overtake me but instead he hit me and pushed me off. There was no reason to try that move so I don't know what he was thinking. He's been causing problems for a long time and the FIA has to take action to stop it. The race had been going okay for me until then. We started from the pit lane to try a different strategy but we never had a chance to see it through. I'm obviously disappointed with how the weekend has gone but I knew that these last two races would be hard before I arrived. The new car has been difficult for me all weekend. But we'll carry on and hope to get something more out of Shanghai."
Juan Pablo Montoya, McLaren DNF: “What a disappointment for me and my team. I got off the line well but it was a bit crowded at the first two corners and I think and Kimi and I gently touched but fortunately nothing happened. However then Villeneuve missed the chicane and pushed me off the track and that was the end of my race.”
Antonio Pizzonia, WilliamsF1, DNF: “I spoilt my race just making a mistake really. I hit a kerb on the inside, which I shouldn’t have done and lost the rear of the car. That was it, really. All I can take for me is the experience of learning the track and putting another race under my belt. Unfortunately it didn’t end the way we wanted.”