Schumacher Wins as Sato Scores in Japan

Michael Schumacher completed the season, as he began it, in triumphant and record-breaking fashion on Sunday when he drove to an accomplished, convincing and majestic victory in the Japanese Grand Prix.

Schumacher Wins as Sato Scores in Japan

Michael Schumacher completed the season, as he began it, in triumphant and record-breaking fashion on Sunday when he drove to an accomplished, convincing and majestic victory in the Japanese Grand Prix.

Making the most of his 50th pole position, a blue sky and warm sunshine, he delivered a trademark collection of fastest record laps around the unique Suzuka circuit to become the first man to finish on the podium at every one of the 17 races in a single season.

It was his 64th win, an enlargement of the record he held already, and it was Ferrari's record equalling 15th win in a single season. It was also their fifth successive one-two finish, a remarkable fact, and their ninth one-two of the season.

The five times World Champion came home a comfortable distance ahead of his Ferrari teammate Rubens Barrichello to ensure that the Italian team had every right for painting the town red at the conclusion of another extraordinary season. The younger Schumacher, Ralf, in his Williams BMW, looked certain to finish third and make it a happy family occasion, too, until he was forced to retire with mechanical problems five laps from the end.

That meant that Kimi Raikkonen finished third in his McLaren Mercedes-Benz and Juan Pablo Montoya fourth in the second Williams, elevating local hero Takuma Sato to fifth in his Jordan-Honda to the delight of a capacity crowd of Japanese flag-waving fans. It also meant that Jenson Button, who joins BAR-Honda from Renault at the end of the season, took a point for finishing sixth.

Sato's performance was the most delightful of the day for neutrals as well and lit up an otherwise unexceptional afternoon dominated, in their usual fashion, by the Maranello team's faultless reliability, tactics and technical supremacy.

The debut of remote control by the absent pit-wall boffin 'virtual Ross Brawn' had had its desired effect, even if he was controlling events from the other side of the world at his home in England and linked to the team only by satellite.

Unfortunately, following his big accident on Saturday, Allan McNish was unable to take part as he failed a medical examination following the warm-up on Sunday morning and that, together with the early retirement of David Coulthard, in his McLaren, with electrical problems, deprived the race of two of its three British drivers. It would have been McNish's last outing for Toyota, too.

With Jacques Villeneuve in his BAR Honda and Giancarlo Fisichella, in his Jordan Honda, both retiring with engine problems, it was not a good day for the Japanese power supplier, but Sato's performance drew a great roar from the Nippon crowd and saw a smile spread across Eddie Jordan's face as his team's season ended in style with sixth place in the constructors' title race, jumping ahead of both Jaguar and BAR in the final analysis.

Sato also became the first Japanese driver to score a point since Shinji Nakano in 1997 for the Prost team at the Hungarian Grand Prix.

The finish, anticipated with nervous apprehension by Ferrari-lovers following the fiasco in Indianapolis, saw Schumacher cross the line half a second ahead of Barrichello this time, in formation, before tucking in to greet the red group of Ferrari staff on the pit wall.

It was a final demonstration of the Maranello men's utter supremacy, a job done well, a year crushed to their will with a spate of records that left the rest helpless again. "You are just fantastic," said Schumacher over the team radio on his slow down lap. The same deserved to be said for him.

PROVISIONAL RACE RESULTS The Japanese Grand Prix Suzuka, Japan; 53 laps; 310.331km; Weather: Hot and dry. Classified: Pos Driver Team-Engine Tyres Time 1. M.Schumacher Ferrari (B) 1h 26:59.698 2. Barrichello Ferrari (B) + 0.506 3. Raikkonen McLaren Mercedes (M) + 23.292 4. Montoya Williams BMW (M) + 36.275 5. Sato Jordan Honda (B) + 1:22.694 6. Button Renault (M) + 1 lap 7. Heidfeld Sauber Petronas (B) + 1 lap 8. Salo Toyota (M) + 1 lap 9. Irvine Jaguar Cosworth (M) + 1 lap 10. Webber Minardi Asiatech (B) + 2 laps 11. R.Schumacher Williams BMW (M) + 5 laps Fastest Lap: M. Schumacher, 1:36.125, lap 15 Not Classified/Retirements: Driver Team On Lap De la Rosa Jaguar Cosworth (M) 39 Fisichella Jordan Honda (B) 37 Trulli Renault (M) 32 Villeneuve BAR Honda (B) 27 Yoong Minardi Asiatech (M) 14 Panis BAR Honda (B) 8 Coulthard McLaren Mercedes (M) 7 Massa Sauber Petronas (B) 3 World Championship Standing, Round 17: Drivers: Constructors: 1. M.Schumacher 144 WC 1. Ferrari 221 CC 2. Barrichello 77 2. Williams-BMW 92 3. Montoya 50 3. McLaren-Mercedes 65 4. R.Schumacher 42 4. Renault 23 5. Coulthard 41 5. Sauber-Petronas 11 6. Raikkonen 24 6. Jordan-Honda 9 7. Button 14 7. Jaguar-Cosworth 8 8. Trulli 9 8. BAR 7 9. Irvine 8 9. Toyota 2 10. Fisichella 7 = Arrows 2 = Heidfeld 7 = Minardi-Asiatech 2 12. Massa 4 =. Villeneuve 4 14. Panis 3 15. Webber 2 = Salo 2 = Frentzen 2 = Sato 2 All timing unofficial

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