The Thrill of the Chase: 2005 Japanese Grand Prix

To many Formula One fans, the 2005 season was over in the race before the 2005 Japanese Grand Prix taking place in the historic Suzuka circuit over the weekend of 7-9th October, 2005. The Brazilian Grand Prix crowned the then-youngest Formula One World Champion in Fernando Alonso, ending the five-year domination on Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher, who struggled badly throughout the season. But to F1 enthusiasts, the fastest driver of the 2005 season was not Fernando Alonso, but one Kimi Matias Raikkonen driving for McLaren Mercedes. And if it wasn’t for the very powerful and very unreliable Mercedes engine, Raikkonen should have wrapped up the championship a long while back.


Kimi Raikkonen was eager to prove this point as well as he stormed from 17th in the grid to win the Japanese Grand Prix in a most dramatic fashion, by overtaking Renault’s Giancarlo Fisichella in the last lap of the race through an absolute scorcher of a maneuver. The heavy rain on the day before in qualifying means the grid was topsy turvy and the usual suspects were found way down the pecking order. Taking his last pole in Formula One was Toyota’s Ralf Schumacher – no doubt much to the delight of the Japanese crowd. It was a Japanese manufacturer one-two with Englishman Jenson Button qualifying second with his BAR Honda. The eventual runner-up of the race, Giancarlo Fisichella qualified third. World Champion Fernando Alonso was down on 16th, Michael Schumacher qualified 14th, Raikkonen’s team-mate Juan Pablo Montoya was 18th and the Japanese dream qualifying session was complete when homeboy Takuma Sato qualified 5th with his BAR Honda.


As the five lights illuminated and then went out on a sunny Suzuka on Sunday, disaster was literally around the first corner. Juan Pablo Montoya, having made a good start from the back of the grid found himself forced very wide by Jacques Villeneuve, before being hit from the back by the former World Champion. It was race over for Montoya as the safety car was brought out to clear the debris on the track.


“I never even saw him,” said Jacques, “So I really have no idea what he might have been trying to do when he went off.”


After racing resumed, the order was Ralf, Fisichella, Button, Coulthard, Webber, Klien, Michael and Alonso in the point scoring zone. Immediately, the much slower Christian Klien’s Red Bull was passed first by Michael Schumacher and then by Fernando Alonso. Although it is soon revealed that Alonso took an unfair advantage by cutting a chicane to pass Klien, and has to relinquish the position back to Klien. It is however temporary, and soon Alonso passed Klien legally with his target being Michael Schumacher. Kimi Raikkonen meanwhile had snuck up upon them and soon the battle for 6th became a battle of the three best drivers in the grid.


It was a disaster for the Japanese fans on Lap 9, as Takuma Sato and Jarno Trulli of Toyota came together sending the Toyota out of the race and earning the erratic Japanese the ignominy of disqualification from his home Grand Prix. This would spell the end of Sato’s career in BAR Honda as we has dropped from the outfit after the 2005 season, scoring just a single point comparing to 37 scored by his team-mate Jenson Button. On the same lap, Antonio Pizzonia of Williams BMW found himself out of the race after spinning off the Degner Curve and getting stuck in the gravel trap.


“Sato tried a maneuver that was obviously impossible,” said Jarno. “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.”


In Lap 20 of the 53 Lap Race, Race leader Fisichella pitted while his team-mate Fernando Alonso made a blinder of a move around the very difficult 130R corner to pass Michael Schumacher. Alonso was clearly being held up by the slower Schumacher and sprinted off to the distance while The German had to deal with Kimi Raikkonen.


“That was very nice,” said Fernando later. “I was on the outside, flat out and risky but I had nothing to lose.”


After a round of pit-stops, Raikkonen passed Michael Schumacher on the main straight while Alonso found himself behind the Ferrari again. In a few laps of time, he did the honours and was off after Raikkonen. All the while, Fisichella still managed to hold on to the race lead- Ralf Schumacher’s three-stop strategy clearly not working out. However, Raikkonen was stuck behind Webber and Button and only after a brave “splash and dash” pit strategy was able to get ahead of them and turn his attention towards Giancarlo Fisichella.


When racing resumed after the final round of pit stops, the order was Fisichella, Raikkonen, Webber, Alonso, Button, Coulthard, Michael and Ralf in the points scoring position. Alonso soon hoodwinked Webber by passing him on the main straight and was up to third. Meanwhile, Kimi Raikkonen was clearly a man on a mission taking a second of the gap in every lap. Fisichella was told to “push, push and push” by his Race Engineer Alan Permaine, but to no avail. Kimi Raikkonen was catching up to Fisichella on an incredible rate and we had a battle on our hands. Meanwhile, Michael Schumacher tried desperately to pass his old nemesis David Coulthard, but the wily Scott in a much weaker Red Bull, held on.


Fisichella’s brush with a Minardi allowed Raikkonen to be right on the rear-end of Fisichella and the battle raged on till the last lap, when taking advantage of a slight twitch from the Italian, Kimi Raikkonen closed right up on to the run up to the first corner and then decisively took the Italian as they raced on the main straight, streaking ahead and taking the chequered flag to win a scintillating 2005 Japanese Grand Prix.


“He was just quicker than me on the straight,” Fisichella said. “I did my best.”


Flavio Briatore, Boss of the Renault F1 Team was not too impressed by the “Best” Fisichella had to offer, but really the day was Raikkonen’s and victory was for him to take and I don’t think even legendary drivers could have done anything to prevent Kimi Raikkonen from taking first place in the 2005 Japanese Grand Prix. A truly amazing drive, the highlight of an amazing race showed why fans regarded Kimi to be the best driver of 2005 despite not being officially crowned so. Kimi would finally realize his dream of being the Formula One World Champion in 2007 with Ferrari, after coming so close in 2003 and 2005 with their arch-rivals, McLaren. Giancarlo Fisichella’s career however went downhill after this and he was soundly beaten by Alonso in 2006 as the latter romped to his second World Championship and then by rookie Heikki Kovalainen in 2007. Briatore had enough of Fisichella by the end of 2007 and dumped him to recruit young charger Nelson Piquet Jr. Fisichella has since found his new home in the back marking Force India team.


Quotes Source: Race Report


Arijit Sen

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