With the 2005 World Drivers' Championship already settled, and the FIA releasing its plans for new 2006 regulations on qualifying Saturday, it seemed that the F1 world's focus was more on the future than on Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix. But nobody told McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen and Renault's Fernando Alonso. Between them, with the help of an able supporting cast, a classic circuit and a Saturday afternoon shower, they produced a modern masterpiece of F1 racing.
It was the prospect that most fans had relished during the second half of the season - Alonso being released from his conservative approach after finally settling the Championship. If anybody believed that the young Spaniard would go off the boil, or fail to shake his 'cruiser' image, Suzuka proved them wrong.
It didn't matter that Alonso's race strategy was hampered by unfortunate timing that saw him pitting at the wrong times, and having to pass the same cars repeatedly. Nor did it matter that a belated call by the stewards forced him to defer to Red Bull's Christian Klien - long after he'd passed the Austrian and opened up a handsome lead over him.
Alonso came to Suzuka to re-establish that he is a racer, not a survivor. In a single belief-defying move around the outside of Michael Schumacher's Ferrari at the flat-out 130R left-hander, he not only put all doubts to rest, but pulled off the best passing move of the new millennium. In recent memory, the only passes that come close are Mika Hakkinen's move on Schumacher (Spa 2000) and Jacques Villeneuve's pass (again on Schumacher) at Estoril 1996.