Words: Matt Master
On the eve of the Japanese Grand Prix, we look back at a famous Ferrari victory at Suzuka
Ominous rain clouds loomed over Suzuka on 8 October 2000. As so often at the winding circuit on shores of Ise Bay, the stage was set for another nail-biting denouement to the Formula One season – Ferrari close to ending over 20 years without a Driver Championship, McLaren closing in on a hat trick.
After years of intensive development, investment and near misses, Scuderia Ferrari was finally on the threshold. Expectations were high, the pressure immense. Suzuka would be the backdrop to another epic showdown in the top tier of F1, one way or the other, but for Maranello it could be a milestone.
Slowing to a halt at the front of the grid formation, Michael Schumacher’s V10 F1-2000 took up pole position, with title rival Mika Häkkinen’s Mercedes powered MP4/15 sharing the front row.
After an engine failure in the previous race, Häkkinen conceded eight-points going into this penultimate race of the year, meaning a win here for Schumacher would secure him and Ferrari that elusive driver title.
As the lights went out a perfect start by Häkkinen immediately put Schumacher on the defensive. Unable to maintain his position into the first corner, the German could only watch as the McLaren took an early lead, which the cool-headed Finn would extend through clean air in the early stages.
Mercifully for McLaren, the rain held off and Häkkinen maintained a sizeable lead over the undisputed master of wet weather drives until midway through the race. For the 150,000 strong Suzuka crowd the gap looked insurmountable, both car and driver faultless and unflappable.
But equally unphased was Ferrari’s Technical Director and incomparable strategist Ross Brawn, whose ability to control a race from the pit wall was already becoming the stuff of legend.
As predicted, the gap began to close as the front runners encountered traffic, and by the time the McLaren pitted for its second stop, Schumacher was perfectly placed to return the favour, building a substantial lead of his own as the back markers cleared the track for their own scheduled stops.
When Häkkinen rejoined the race he was almost half a minute behind the Ferrari, and with the predicted rain now falling hard, had a front row seat for another wet weather masterclass from Schumacher.
An untouchable series of laps on worn rubber in increasingly treacherous conditions would be the defining passage of play that day, ultimately buying him enough time to pit and re-emerge with his lead intact.
Schumacher would eventually cross the line victorious on lap 53, winning his eighth race of the season and with it the driver’s championship. Ferrari had ended a drought that had endured since Jody Scheckter took the title in 1979 and the team would now enter an unprecedented period of dominance in the modern era.
With the indomitable forces of Schumacher and close ally Brawn, Scuderia Ferrari would go on to win five consecutive driver’s and constructor’s titles.