Japan GP: Michael Schumacher storms to win
Michael Schumacher put the turmoil of the build-up to the Japanese Grand Prix behind him to storm to one of his most dominant victories of the year on Sunday, as he left his rivals in his wake to finish 14 seconds ahead of brother Ralf Schumacher.
The world champion led every lap from pole position and was in a league of his own - claiming his first win since the Hungarian Grand Prix in August. It was his 13th victory of the season.
Jenson Button and Takuma Sato helped BAR all but clinch second place in the constructors' championship as they finished third and fourth, ahead of Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya. Giancarlo Fisichella took the final point for eighth place.
Rubens Barrichello, who had been chasing a third consecutive victory in Japan, was forced out of the race on lap 39 after he collided with David Coulthard at the chicane.
Jacques Villeneuve had another disappointing afternoon as he came home 10th, while Mark Webber, who had started an impressive third, retired early in the race after being unable to continue because of a cockpit problem causing his race seat to burn him.
Starting from the front row of the grid the Schumacher brothers stormed away when the lights went out, tucking into the first corner in their same grid positions, while Webber could do little to stop the BAR duo of Sato and Button flying past him off the line.
Michael Schumacher had eased out a one second advantage over his brother by the end of the first lap, while a pursuing Button, who leapfrogged Sato around the outside of Turn 1 on the first lap, was almost two seconds further adrift.
The two cars at the front continued their impressive pace, with the lead Ferrari just edging away from the Williams, while the pair of them were pulling away from the pursuing BARs at more than one second per lap.
Behind the top four in the early stages, Jarno Trulli was continuing his impressive switch to Toyota as he ran fifth in the early stages, ahead of Webber, Coulthard and Fisichella. Villeneuve had a chasing pack of Alonso, Raikkonen, Montoya and Barrichello pushing him hard in the early stages.
On lap seven, Sato was allowed to get past Button because he was on a lighter fuel load and the Japanese ace began a chase of the leading two - although at that point he was a massive nine seconds adrift - at almost the same time that Montoya pulled a great move on Raikkonen for 11th and Alonso eased past Villeneuve.
Ralf Schumacher had his first stop at the end of lap nine, stopping for 7.6 seconds, and he emerged in ninth, just behind Alonso. That left Sato 17 seconds behind the lead Ferrari, with Button a further two seconds behind, with the pair of them losing about one second per lap on the world champion.
Michael Schumacher stopped on lap 13, just one lap after Sato made his own stop, and was stationary for 7.0 seconds. He returned to the track just in front of Button - who had lost vital seconds letting Sato past earlier in the race. Button came in for his stop at the end of lap 15, stopping for 9.2 seconds, with Coulthard coming in on the same lap for an 8.1 seconds stop. Villeneuve also stopped that lap.
The first round of stops left Michael Schumacher well clear at the front, with a 16.6 seconds lead over brother Ralf at the end of lap 16. Takuma Sato in third was seven seconds further down the road, with Button in fourth was just three seconds back. Coulthard in fifth was five seconds off his British rival.
Webber's day of highs and lows came to an end on lap 21 when he came into the pits to retire after complaining about something burning him in the cockpit. It was another galling result for the Australian, who had delivered a brilliant performance in qualifying to net third on the grid but slipped back in the race as quicker machinery swallowed up his car.
"It was strange and really frustrating," he said. "After six or seven laps the seat was hot, after the first stop it was getting hotter and hotter, and the buckle on the right side was warm on my skin. The guys put some water over me at my second stop but there was nothing we could do."
The position of the top six was unchanged by this time, although Coulthard had managed to tag onto the back of Button, while there was a big reshuffle on lap 22 in the fight for seventh. Trulli had been holding off Montoya, Barrichello and Fisichella for several laps and it all came to a head at the chicane on lap 21 as the Williams behind him made a dive up the inside.
Montoya locked up, though, running wide through the chicane and allowing Barrichello to sneak past him, before Fisichella also got a run on him into the first corner. Barrichello took no time in getting past Trulli and was through into Turn 1 - instantly closing the gap on the top six cars.
Ralf Schumacher's second stop came at the end of lap 24 and he emerged out of the pits right behind the two-stopping Button and Coulthard - which at the time appeared to have ended the German's chances of a podium finish.
Michael Schumacher had opened out a 35-second advantage at the end of lap 26 by the time he came in for his second stop - getting back out on the track with his lead intact and seemingly set for his first victory since the Hungarian Grand Prix in August. After Sato stopped on the same lap, dropping to sixth, Schumacher had a 20.9 seconds lead over Button, with Coulthard 2.2 seconds behind.
The man on the move now was eighth-placed Barrichello, who set the fastest lap of the race on lap 30, to hunt down Raikkonen ahead of him.
Coulthard's second and final stop came at the end of lap 32 and he was stationary for 9.9 seconds, while Button's stop came at the end of lap 35. He was stationary for 9.0 seconds and came back on the track behind Sato, now running third behind Michael and Ralf Schumacher, and crucially ahead of Coulthard. Behind this fight at the front, Raikkonen was just ahead of Barrichello, with Alonso in eighth and Montoya in ninth.
On lap 39, Coulthard's hopes of a podium finish were dashed when Barrichello and Coulthard clashed at the hairpin - on the same lap that both Michael and Ralf Schumacher stopped.
Barrichello said: "I was coming quite fast past DC and I wanted to get him by surprise because my car was looking so good through 130R. I got him by surprise but I don't know if he didn't see me because the impact was quite severe."
Coulthard's view was slightly different. "I knew he was catching me and I knew he was quick," he explained. "I was flat through 130R so I think it was a little bit optimistic. If you think what I did in China (to Ralf Schumacher) then I suppose it is a payback."
After the stops Schumacher was left clear in the lead, and crucially Ralf got out in front of Button, while the incident on the track promoted Montoya and Fisichella into the points.
After Sato's stop on lap 42, the order at the front remained pretty static. Schumacher was left more than 23 seconds ahead of his brother before easing off in the closing stages, while Ralf was a comfortable six seconds clear of Button. Sato was fourth, ahead of Alonso, Raikkonen, Montoya and Fisichella.
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